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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

(p.104) Chapter 3 The Fiction of the Future
Untold Futures

J. K. Barret

Cornell University Press

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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