Titus Andronicus: The Evidence of the Senses under Threat

  • Derek Dunne
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


In the midst of his ‘ecstasy’ of grief (4.1.125), Titus cries out against the injustices he has suffered, ‘Terras Astraea reliquit: be you remembered, Marcus,/ She’s gone, she’s fled’ (4.3.4–5). Such a sentiment is understandable, to be expected even, in the world of Shakespeare’s play, as Ovid is re-purposed to express Titus’s torment.2 Rather than seeing such a statement as conventional, this chapter investigates the links between the many hardships suffered by the Andronicii and contemporaneous changes within early modern law that were excluding English citizens from the production of justice. Primarily, this manifests itself through the erosion of the powers accorded to the early modern jury, a process which tends to be elided in the triumphalist rhetoric of common law jurists. Trial by jury has been lauded as the defining feature of English common law since at least the fifteenth century, confirming England’s supposed superiority to Continental legal models.3 As Holger Schott Syme puts it, ‘[t]he central place of the jury in the constitution of a particularly English kind of justice is evident everywhere in the early modern literature on legal process’.4


Fifteenth Century Open Hearing Fair Hearing Silent Presence Fearful Word 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    ‘Michaelmas sessions of the peace at Maidstone, 28 September 1591’, from William Lambarde and Local Government: His “Ephemeris” and Twenty-Nine Charges to Juries and Commissions, ed. Conyers Read (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press for The Folger Shakespeare Library, 1962), p. 108.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Sir John Fortescue, In Praise of the Laws of England, ed. Shelley Lockwood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), especially Chapter 21 (‘Here he shows how often the civil law is deficient in justice’) and Chapter 30 (‘The Prince here commends the laws of England in respect of their procedure by juries’). See also the title of a legal treatise written in the mid-sixteenth century, The Excellency and Praeheminence of the Law of England, above All other Humane Lawes in the World. Asserted In a Learned Reading upon the Statute of 35 H. 8. Cap. 6. Concerning Tryals by Iury of Twelve Men, and Tales de Circumstantibus, by Thomas Williams (printed London, 1680) (Wing no. W2772); Thomas Smith, De Republica Anglorum, ed. Mary Dewar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) (first printed in 1583) (STC no. 22857), pp. 112–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    ‘(Mis)representing Justice on the Early Modern Stage’, Studies in Philology, 109 (2012), 63–85 (p. 67). See for example Thomas Green, Verdict According to Conscience: Perspectives on the English Criminal Trial Jury, 1200–1800 (London: University of Chicago Press, 1985); J. S. Cockburn and Thomas A. Green, eds, Twelve Good Men and True: The Criminal Trial Jury in England, 1200–1800 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988). My own focus is on the trial jury who listen to witness testimony and deliberate on the facts of the matter, skills much in use in the early modern playhouse.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 7.
    Hutson, The Invention of Suspicion, p. 95; Paul Raffield, ‘“Terras Astraea reliquit”: Titus Andronicus and the Loss of Justice’, in Shakespeare and the Law, ed. Paul Raffield and Gary Watt (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2008), pp. 203–20 (p. 215).Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    For a fuller account of the precarious place of the trial jury in late sixteenth-century England, see Derek Dunne, ‘Re-assessing Trial by Jury in Early Modern Law and Literature’, Literature Compass, 12.10 (2015), 517–26, which goes into greater depth on the issues discussed in this section.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 15.
    Cockburn, Calendar of Assize Records: Introduction, p. 69. On ‘crimes which, by statute, were triable “summarily”: that is, by magistrates alone’, see J. H. Baker, ‘Criminal Courts and Procedure, 1550–1800’, in The Legal Profession and the Common Law: Historical Essays, ed. J. H. Baker (London: Hambledon Press, 1986), pp. 259–302 (p. 268).Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    William Lambarde and Local Government, p. 106; Eiranarcha, or Of the Office of the Iustices of the Peace … Whereunto is added the newly reformed Commission of the peace (London, 1591) (STC no. 15166), p. 312.Google Scholar
  8. 21.
    Francis Bacon, The Elements of the Common Lavves of England Branched into a Double Tract: The One Contayning a Collection of Some Principall Rules and Maximes of the Common Law … The Other the vse of the Common Law (London, 1630) (STC no. 1134), p. 12.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    Francis Bacon, quoted in William Searle Holdsworth, History of English Law, 10 vols (London: Methuen, 1923–1966) I, p. 333.Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    Thomas Fitzherbert, A Defence of the Catholyke Cause (London, 1602) (STC no. 11016), p. 12, sig. Ev.Google Scholar
  11. 27.
    At least fourteen juries are fined or bound over between 1559 and 1596 according to Cockburn, Calendar of Assize Records: Introduction, p. 70. Thomas Green too talks of Lord Chief Justice Keeling being known for his ‘abusive tactics with respect to trial juries’ in 1667, ‘The Jury and the English Law of Homicide, 1200–1600’, Michigan Law Review, 74 (1976), 413–99 (p. 497, n. 304).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 30.
    The History of the Common Law of England, ed. Charles M. Gray (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 165.Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    James I, By the King. A Proclamation for Jurors (London: Robert Barker, 1607) (STC no. 8406), p. 1.Google Scholar
  14. 35.
    Aristotle, Politics, trans. H. Rackham, 23 vols, Loeb Classical Library Series, XXI (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932), I. 1253a31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 36.
    ‘Seneca in Elizabethan Translation’, in Selected Essays, ed. Valerie Eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1972) 3rd edn (first publ. 1951), p. 82.Google Scholar
  16. 37.
    A Culture of Fact: England, 1550–1720 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), p. 31.Google Scholar
  17. 41.
    ‘Perceiving Shakespeare: A Study of Sight, Sound, and Stage’, Early Modern Literary Studies, 19 (2009) <> [accessed 20 July 2015], para 10. See also Keith M. Botelho, Renaissance Earwitnesses: Rumor and Early Modern Masculinity (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 42.
    William Lambarde, The Courts of Justice Corrected and Amended. Or the Corrupt Lawyer Untrust, Lasht and Quasht (London, 1642) (Wing, 2nd edn L86), p. 5. On the ongoing debate between depictions of Lady Justice as clear-sighted or blind in the period, see Dennis E. Curtis and Judith Resnik, Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy and Rights in City-states and Democratic Courtrooms (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011), chapter 5, ‘Why Eyes? Color, Blindness, and Impartiality’, pp. 91–105.Google Scholar
  19. 43.
    The Lord Coke His Speech and Charge VVith a Discouerie of the Abuses and Corruption of Officers (London, 1607) (STC no. 5491), sig. C4v.Google Scholar
  20. 48.
    It is difficult not to seem reductive of Hutson’s highly nuanced argument, which rightly demonstrates critics’ over-reliance on Foucault and the inscription of power through a theatre of punishment, when the same conditions do not pertain to England’s participatory justice system. See ‘Rethinking the “Spectacle of the Scaffold”: Juridical Epistemologies and English Revenge Tragedy’, Representations, 89 (2005), 30–58 (p. 32). This argument subsequently appears in The Invention of Suspicion, Chapter 2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 50.
    Gillian Murray Kendall, ‘“Lend Me Thy Hand”: Metaphor and Mayhem in Titus Andronicus’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 40 (1989), 299–316 (p. 305).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 53.
    This in itself is a powerful rhetorical strategy, as noted by Quintilian, recalling Cicero’s defence of Milo: ‘A confession of being overcome by grief and fatigue is also wonderfully effective in an Epilogue’, Institutio Oratoria, trans. Donald A. Russell, part of the Loeb Classical Library series (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001) 11.3.175. My thanks to Lorna Hutson for bringing this quotation to my attention.Google Scholar
  23. 55.
    Marjory E. Lange, Telling Tears in the English Renaissance (New York: Brill, 1996), p. 19.Google Scholar
  24. 60.
    Ferdinando Pulton, De Pace Regis et Regni (London, 1609) (STC no. 20495), pp. 184–5 (sig. Ii1v — Ii2r).Google Scholar
  25. 62.
    On the question of whether or not Lucius is to be viewed in a positive light in the final act, see Anthony Brian Taylor, ‘Lucius, the Severely Flawed Redeemer of Titus Andronicus’, Connotations, 6 (1996/7), 138–57; Jonathan Bate, ‘“Lucius, the Severely Flawed Redeemer of Titus Andronicus”: A Reply’, Connotations, 6 (1996/7), 330–33; Maurice Hunt, ‘Exonerating Lucius in Titus Andronicus: A Response to Anthony Brian Taylor’, Connotations, 7 (1997/8), 87–93; Philip C. Kolin, ‘“Lucius, the Severely Flawed Redeemer of Titus Andronicus”: A Reply’, Connotations, 7 (1997/8), 94–6; Anthony Brian Taylor, ‘Lucius, Still Severely Flawed: A Response to Jonathan Bate, Maurice Hunt, and Philip Kolin’, Connotations, 7 (1997/8), 97–103.Google Scholar
  26. 63.
    The Rape of Lucrece had some basis in Roman history which dictated the ending; the inability to place Titus Andronicus historically means that other options were open to Shakespeare. On the multiple maimed sources for Titus Andronicus, see Jane Grogan, ‘“Headless Rome” and Hungry Goths: Herodotus and Titus Andronicus’, English Literary Renaissance, 43 (2013), 30–61. I would like to thank Jane Grogan for sharing this article with me prior to publication.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 68.
    William Lambarde, Eiranarcha, or Of the Office of the Iustices of the Peace (London, 1581) (STC no. 15163), p. 288.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Derek Dunne 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Derek Dunne
    • 1
  1. 1.University of FribourgSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations