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Percy's Reliques - Titus Andronicus's Complaint.

Titus Andronicus's Complaint.

            The reader has here an ancient ballad on the same subject as the play of "Titus Andronicus," and it is probable that the one was borrowed from the other: but which of them was the original, it is not easy to decide. And yet, if the argument offered above in the preface to Book ii. no. 11, for the priority of the ballad of the "Jew of Venice" may be admitted, somewhat of the same kind may be urged here; for this ballad differs from the play in several particulars, which a simple ballad-writer would be less likely to alter than an inventive tragedian. Thus in the ballad is no mention of the contest for the empire between the two brothers, the composing of which makes the ungrateful treatment of Titus afterwards the more flagrant: neither is there any notice taken of his sacrificing one of Tamora's sons, which the tragic poet has assigned as the original cause of all her cruelties. In the play Titus loses twenty-one of his sons in war, and kills another for assisting Bassianus to carry off Lavinia: the reader will find it different in the ballad. In the latter she is betrothed to the emperor's son: in the play to his brother. In the tragedy only two of his sons fall into the pit, and the third being banished returns to Rome with a victorious army, to avenge the wrongs of his house: in the ballad all three are entrapped and suffer death. In the scene the emperor kills Titus, and is in return stabbed by Titus's surviving son. Here Titus kills the emperor, and afterwards himself.

            Let the reader weigh these circumstances and some others wherein he will find them unlike, and then pronounce for himself. After all, there is reason to conclude that this play was rather improved by Shakspeare with a few fine touches of his pen, than originally written by him; for, not to mention that the style is less figurative than his others generally are, this tragedy is mentioned with discredit in the Induction to Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, in 1614, as one that had then been exhibited "five-and-twenty or thirty years:" which, if we take the lowest number, throws it back to the year 1589, at which time Shakspeare was but 25: an earlier date than can be found for any other of his pieces:[ 1] and if it does not clear him entirely of it, shows at least it was a first attempt.[ 2]

            The following is given from a copy in The Golden Garland intitled as above; compared with three others, two of them in black-letter in the Pepys Collection, intitled, The Lamentable and Tragical History of Titus Andronicus, &c. To the tune of Fortune.-- Printed for E. Wright.-- Unluckily none of these have any dates.

You noble minds, and famous martial wights,
That in defence of native country fights,
Give eare to me, that ten yeeres fought for Rome,
Yet reaps disgrace at my returning home.

In Rome I lived in fame fulle threescore yeeres,
My name beloved was of all my peeres
Full five and twenty valiant sonnes I had,
Whose forwarde vertues made their father glad.

For when Romes foes their warlike forces bent,
Against them stille my sonnes and I were sent;
Against the Goths full ten yeeres weary warre
We spent, receiving many a bloudy scarre.

Just two and twenty of my sonnes were slaine
Before we did returne to Rome againe:
Of five and twenty sonnes, I brought but three
Alive, the stately towers of Rome to see.

When wars were done, I conquest home did bring,
And did present my prisoners to the king,
The Queene of Goths, her sons, and eke a Moore,
Which did such murders, like was nere before.

The emperour did make this queen his wife,
Which bred in Rome debate and deadlie strife;
The moore, with her two sonnes, did growe soe proud,
That none like them in Rome might bee allowd.

The moore soe pleas'd this new-made empress' eie,
That she consented to him secretlye
For to abuse her husbands marriage bed,
And soe in time a blackamore she bred.

Then she, whose thoughts to murder were inclinde,
Consented with the Moore of bloody minde
Against myselfe, my kin, and all my friendes,
In cruell sort to bring them to their endes.

Soe when in age I thought to live in peace,
Both care and griefe began then to increase:
Amongst my sonnes I had one daughter brighte,
Which joy'd, and pleased best my aged sight;

My deare Lavinia was betrothed than
To Cesars sonne, a young and noble man:
Who in a hunting by the emperours wife,
And her two sonnes, bereaved was of life.

He, being slaine, was cast in cruel wise,
Into a darksome den from light of skies:
The cruell moore did come that way as then
With my three sonnes, who fell into the den.

The Moore then fetcht the emperour with speed,
For to accuse them of that murderous deed;
And when my sonnes within the den were found,
In wrongfull prison they were cast and bound.

But nowe, behold! what wounded most my mind,
The empresses two sonnes of savage kind
My daughter ravished without remorse,
And took away her honour, quite perforce.

When they had tasted of soe sweete a flowre,
Fearing this sweete should shortly turne to sowre,
They cutt her tongue, whereby she could not tell
How that dishonoure unto her befell.

Then both her hands they basely cutt off quite,
Whereby their wickednesse she could not write;
Nor with her needle on her sampler sowe
The bloudye workers of her direfull woe.

My brother Marcus found her in the wood,
Staining the grassie ground with purple blond,
That trickled from her stumpes, and bloudlesse armes:
Noe tongue at all she had to tell her harmes.

But when I sawe her in that woefull case,
With teares of bloud I wet mine aged face:
For my Lavinia I lamented more
Then for my two and twenty sonnes before.

When as I sawe she could not write nor speake,
With grief mine aged heart began to breake;
We speed an heape of sand upon the ground,
Whereby those bloudy tyrants out we found.

For with a staffe, without the helpe of hand,
She writt these wordes upon the plat of sand:
"The lustfull sonnes of the proud emperesse
Are doers of this hateful wickednesse."

I tore the milk-white hairs from off mine head,
I curst the houre, wherein I first was bred,
I wisht this hand, that fought for countrie's fame,
In cradle rockt, had first been stroken lame.

The Moore delighting still in villainy
Did say, to sett my sonnes from prison free
I should unto the king my right hand give,
And then my three imprisoned sonnes should live.

The Moore I caus'd to strike it off with speede,
Whereat I grieved not to see it bleed,
But for my sonnes would willingly impart,
And for their ransome send my bleeding heart.

But as my life did linger thus in Paine,
They sent to me my bootlesse hand againe,
And therewithal the heades of my three sonnes,
Which filld my dying heart with fresher moanes.

Then past reliefe I upp and downe did goe,
And with my tears writ in the dust my woe:
I shot my arrows[ 3] towards heaven hie,
And for revenge to hell did often crye.

The empresse then, thinking that I was mad,
Like Furies she and both her sonnes were clad,
(She nam'd Revenge, and Rape and Murder they)
To undermine and heare what I would say.

I fed their foolish veines[ 4] a certaine space,
Untill my friendes did find a secret place,
Where both her sonnes unto a post were bound,
And just revenge in cruell sort was found.

I cut their throates, my daughter held the pan
Betwixt her stumpes, wherein the blood it ran;
And then I ground their bones to powder small,
And made a paste for pyes streight therewithall.

Then with their fleshe I made two mighty pyes,
And at a banquet served in stately wise:
Before the empresse set this loathsome meat;
So of her sonnes own flesh she well did eat.

Myselfe bereav'd my daughter then of life,
The empresse then I slew with bloudy knife,
And stabb'd the emperour immediatelie,
And then myself: even soe did Titus die.

Then this revenge against the Moore was found,
Alive they sett him halfe into the ground,
Whereas he stood until such time he starv'd.
And soe God send all murderers may be serv'd.


1. Mr. Malone thinks 1591 to be the era when our author commenced a writer for the stage. See in his Shakspeare the ingenious "attempt to ascertain the order in which the plays of Shakspeare were written."

2. Since the above was written, Sbakspeare's memory has been fully vindicated from the charge of writing the above play by the best critics.-- See what has been urged by Steevens and Malone in their excellent editions of Shakspeare, &c.

3. If the ballad was written before the play, I should suppose this to be only a metaphorical expression, taken from that in the Psalms, "They shoot out their arrows, even bitter words."-- Ps. lxiv. 3.

4. i e. encouraged them in their foolish humours or fancies.


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