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Untold FuturesTime and Literary Culture in Renaissance England$
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J. K. Barret

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781501702365

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501702365.001.0001

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The Fiction of the Future

The Fiction of the Future

Dangerous Reading in Titus Andronicus

Chapter:
(p.104) Chapter 3 The Fiction of the Future
Source:
Untold Futures
Author(s):

J. K. Barret

Publisher:
Cornell University Press
DOI:10.7591/cornell/9781501702365.003.0003

This chapter turns to Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy, Titus Andronicus, to initiate an argumentative arc that considers Shakespeare’s treatment of the future in light of his career-long interest in antiquity. It argues that in Shakespeare’ play the literature of antiquity prescribes—and forecloses—the future. Shakespeare links the misuse of ancient literary models to the millennium-long tradition of moralization that had sought to correct Ovid’s Metamorphoses because the pagan text posed a danger to Christian readers. The playwright critiques this practice by inverting its terms: his pagan characters model action on Ovid’s text by employing the hermeneutics that undergird moralizatio. The onstage ramifications are brutal: repetitions of the literary past result in the dismemberment of characters’ bodies, and the play’s ending denies its own rhetorical promises of a brighter future. Shakespeare brings classical literature onstage both to suggest the consequences of bad reading and to show the danger antiquity poses to a Renaissance literary culture too focused on the works of the past.

Keywords:   Shakespeare, plays, Titus Andronicus, future, past, antiquity, Ovid, moralization, literary models, Metamorphoses

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