“Heaven shall hear our prayers; lest our sighs will breathe the welkin dim and stain the sun with fog.” – Titus Andronicus
Ecocritic Jeffrey Jerome Cohen made a bold proposition within the scholarship of ecocriticism by stating that green provides a view of the ecology that is too limiting. Within his essay compilation Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green, he makes the case that the colors of ecological features, such as the sea, ground, gold, and even the pelagic depths of the ocean would represent differing views of ecocriticism. In the case of blue, it is used by Eileen A. Joy, writer of the “Blue” essay, to represent ice and the water, as exemplified in the Anglo-Saxon poems that include these features as well as the melancholy of the characters that associate with them.
What blue ecocriticism attempts to do is intersect the emotions of the characters with that of the audience; more specifically through weather (Cohen, Joy 213). This intersection comes alive in William Shakespeare’s controversial play Titus Andronicus when the titular character makes comparisons throughout his plea between himself and the sea and earth, and between his daughter and the weeping sky. What happened in Titus Andronicus is that the Roman general Titus is at war with the Gothic queen (now Roman empress upon marrying Emperor Saturninus) and one day, his daughter Lavinia is raped and has her tongue and limbs removed by her two sons Demetrius and Chiron while Titus’ two sons are framed for stealing gold. In order to return his two sons, Titus must chop off his own hand in order to do so (except it turns out to be a ruse since his two sons were already dismembered).
In the case of how the ecology affects the plea to heaven that Titus makes shortly before being confronted with that heartbreaking truth, Joy would argue that all ecology stems from the oikos, or home (Cohen, Joy 216). In this way, the view of the ecology is influenced by the troubles that can occur within the household. Titus’ own household has clearly seen so many troubles, since twenty of his own sons were killed in his war with Tamora and the goths, Lavinia is raped, and at this point he lost his own hand and prestige. Within this state, he attempts to empathize with Lavinia who has both of her hands removed in order to not identify Tamora’s sons.
He attempts to comfort her by telling her that heaven will answer their prayers otherwise they would reek havoc via the weather. While Marcus beseeches Titus to calm down, Titus informs him “When the winds rage, doth not the sea wax mad?” He then further uses symbolism by claiming that he is the sea and the earth and that Lavinia is the weeping welkin. Watery temperaments are a prime component of blue ecocriticism, since they best represent sadness.
His speech signifies what Joy would describe as a world “both empty and full” (Cohen, Joy 215). He no longer belongs in the empire that he embodied. Throughout the play, he progressed from a hyper-masculine Roman general–who subjugated entire Gothic tribes and was in line to be the next Emperor–to a tottering old man without a senate to support him or even a hand. He could not stop any of his sons from being killed in both his war with Tamora and by his own hand (no pun intended) or his daughter from being raped.
Because most of the play takes place in the city of Rome, it does not intersect with the phenomena of what might be perceived as natural life. In her analysis of Anglo-Saxon poems, Joy notes the transition between furnished and unfurnished worlds, in other words spaces in the world that are either hospitable or dangerous (Cohen, Joy 214). The rape and dismembering of Lavinia happens in the unfurnished world of the wilderness, which is easy to note that Aaron the Moor, who is Tamora’s slave who orchestrates this deed, marks the difference between the furnished and unfurnished in that “The palace full of tongues, of eyes and ears/the woods are ruthless, dreadful, deaf, and dull.” However, Rome itself might also be unfurnished to the rest of the Andronici since Tamora controls it through her husband, which means that Titus can no longer call upon the Senators to help rescue his sons from execution. He goes so far as to refer to the Roman court as a “den of tigers.”
Within this powerlessness in this “den of tigers,” he shows himself and Lavinia to be selves-as-atmosphere, being that while they are in states of loneliness (with Lavinia being the most loneliest due to her tongue removed), they embrace that state of being as it pertains to the weather. Titus becomes co-melancholic throughout the plea when his weathery fury is affected by Lavinia’s pain. This is exemplified with the phrase “Then must my earth with her continual tears/Become a deluge overflowed and drowned.” The natural process of the storm developing into a flood is shown within Titus’ plea as a way to seek common accordance with the ecology when they could not with the anthroposphere (Cohen, Joy 221).
Since Titus and his daughter are in this state of loneliness yet unity, this plea helps to create aesthetic solidarity, bringing the viewer along with them in their plea for justice. Blue ecocriticism explains that the readers’ interaction with the characters is one that is developed through melancholic intersubjectivity, meaning that even though the characters might appear delusional in their misery, the reader is left to witness it unfold (Cohen, Joy 216, 225). Indeed, the delusions that Titus has are noticeable to Tamora, who is quick to take advantage of it by having herself and her sons disguise themselves as the spirits of Revenge, Rape, and Murder. However, Titus feigns madness by inviting her two sons inside only to take his revenge by baking them into pies.
Within this unusual play, moments of deep understanding can be present, particularly with the use of ecological linguistics. While Lavinia becomes the weeping sky, forever sighing until the end of the play, Titus definitely demonstrates his torrential anger by revenging upon Tamora, her two sons, and her complacent husband. Since green is too narrow to pinpoint ecological readings, it would make sense that different colors would be used to understand nuances that traditional ecocriticism could not comprehend.
Shakespeare, William. “Titus Andronicus.” Project Gutenburg.
Joy, Eileen B. “Blue.” Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green. Edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. University of Minnesota Press. 2013.