William Shakespeare Titus Andronicus Vs. Alice Walker the Color Purple

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“I will be contrasting William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. I chose to contrast these works because they are completely different; they stem from different time periods, feature characters of different genders and races, and portray trauma and religion in uniquely different ways. I was especially interested in observing how their characters handle trauma, how they cope with it, and examining the changes in the Christian community during these different historical periods.

Shakespeare wrote Titus Andronicus in the late 1500s.

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“Like Shakespeare, Derrida is interested in religion stripped of religion, a ‘religion without religion,’ that presses for a sustained attention to otherness, to non-Being, to that which cannot be thought—in short, the impossible (Jackson & Marotti, 2011, p.6).” During that period, “Revenge plays became popular in England at a time when Protestant reformers and state authorities were energetically denouncing the private revenges of aristocratic clans and ‘brawling’ at all social levels, while seeking to expand a centralized legal system (Willis, 2002, p. 23-24).” “Elizabethan dramatists often called into question the effectiveness of this new emphasis on state-centered justice, with central authorities frequently portrayed as too weak, corrupt, or partisan to provide effective third-party mediation or just solutions to quarrels (Willis, 2002, p. 23-24).” The “Elizabethans, followers of Queen Elizabeth, are credited with constructing the stage on which Titus Andronicus was performed (Titus Andronicus, p.4).” The Protestant Reformation, a religious movement aimed at reforming the Roman Catholic Church, was unfolding around the same time as Titus Andronicus. “Reformation hermeneutics provides a valuable lens through which to read Titus Andronicus because it allows us to link three seemingly heterogeneous elements that dominate the play and its criticism: (1) its recurring play on figurative and literal meanings, (2) its insistent use of classical texts, and (3) its grotesque and lurid violence (Bhar, 2017, p.242).”

In the novel “Titus Andronicus,” the protagonist, Titus, returns from war after defeating the Goths. He brings back with him Tamora, the Queen of the Goths, and her sons: Demetrius, Alarbus, Chiron, and Aaron the Moor. After Tamora’s oldest son is sacrificed, the course of revenge begins. “The sacrifice of Alarbus is presented by Shakespeare as a characteristic example of pagan vengeance, an instance of the way in which superstition and obligations of blood may combine to shake the foundations of a mighty commonwealth” (Broude, 1979, p. 496). Prompted by the sacrifice of her oldest son, Tamora plans revenge. Demetrius and Chiron develop feelings for Lavinia, Titus’s daughter. Eventually, they rape her and mutilate her, leaving her unable to disclose the incident. In “Titus Andronicus,” the concept of equivalent retaliation, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” is potent. “Although he sees his revenge as a duty prescribed by the gods, Titus does not envision it as an act which can serve any interests beyond those of his family” (Broude, 1979, p. 503).

According to Broude, “Every deed of violence, whether justified or not, is understood to require a response, and so there is forged a potentially endless chain of vengeance in which each act of revenge is both the answer to a previous act and the provocation to a new one” (1979, p. 495). “At the same time, in ‘Titus Andronicus,’ revengers seek to reenact a traumatic scene with the roles reversed: revenge has an intimate relationship with theater” (Willis, 2002, p.33). Willis further notes that “The experience of humiliation leads the revenger not only to double his or her violent deeds but also requires a public performance to repair the self-image” (2002, p.33). “Titus Andronicus” features abundant instances of violence, murder, and revenge; nearly all the characters met a tragic end. The avengers grapple to come to terms with the death of their loved ones, seeking to inflict the same pain on the culprits. “Such sacrifices represent the darker side of Greco-Roman religion; they are examples of the rites called ‘ceremonies of avoidance'” (Broude, 1979, p. 496). “It is not the gods above but rather the spirits of the dead below – the manes – who demand such offerings” (Broude, 1979, p. 496).

In an article I found, it mentioned that there are four forms of vengeance in Titus Andronicus. “In Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare depicts four forms of vengeance, each based upon its own definition of right and wrong, each prescribing its own means of effecting retribution, and each functioning within the context of its own religious or social system” (Broude, 1979, p.494). “We encounter the human sacrifice by which the ghosts of the slain are placated with the blood of their slayers; the vendetta, in which families ruthlessly avenge past injuries to discourage future ones; the state justice which maintains civil order by punishing those who transgress its laws; and the divine vengeance which upholds cosmic order, and, directed by Providence, turns crime and punishment alike to the uses of an inscrutable Purpose” (Broude, 1979, p.494).

“The pagan setting of Titus Andronicus enables Shakespeare to underline the differences between ‘non-Christian’ and ‘Christian’ forms of vengeance” (Broude, 1979, p.495). “Unlike Christian retribution, Shakespeare’s pagan vengeance presupposes a continuous state of bloody strife, a state which renders superfluous all inquiry into the circumstances surrounding any particular outrage” (Broude, 1979, p.495). The journal also highlights the concept of blood revenge, citing the death of Alarbus as an example. According to the journal, “blood revenge functions in the interests of families, clans, and similar social units, the security of which it helps to ensure” (Broude, 1979, p.497-98). “The rape of Lavinia and the murders of Bassianus, Martius, and Quintus are considered wrongs which offend not only the Andronici but also Rome and the heavens, whose laws they violated” (Broude, 1979, p. 501). “Responsibility for responding to transgressions of human and divine law rests, according to Tudor theory, with the king and magistrates, whose offices are ordained by God for the maintenance of civic and cosmic order” (Broude, 1979, p.500).

A novel that I think sheds light on the relationship between trauma and religion is The Color Purple. Published in 1982, it is about the abuse of an uneducated, black woman and her journey towards empowerment. Alice Walker effectively weaves religious themes into The Color Purple. “The Color Purple redefines God, moving from a patriarchal notion towards an understanding that the Spirit must be claimed within one’s self, and the Divine recognized in nature and in the world, to have a notion of God that is not oppressive, domineering, or harmful to either an individual or a community” (Thyreen,1999, p. 50). Celie has been through a lot of trauma in her life.

Her father repeatedly raped her, and she was forbidden to tell anyone about it. He impregnated her multiple times. After reading the novel, we understand that all of Celie’s trauma stemmed from her being a female. We know that all of her trauma was directed at her body. Having been raped multiple times and impregnated twice, she was made to follow the orders of dominating male figures. If women dared to question their husband or father, they faced severe consequences and repercussions. “Her father stated, ‘You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.’” (The Color Purple, p.1).

As she was unable to confide in anyone, she wrote letters to God. She wrote to God during that period of her life because she couldn’t write to anyone else, and she felt less shame writing to God rather than speaking to him (Thyreen,1999, p.51). “It’s no wonder Celie is fearful or ashamed of ‘God’, given that she currently identifies God with ‘man,’ the source of her oppression and sexual abuse (Thyreen,1999, p.51).” The Color Purple also shows repression through religion. “Celie holds on to her faith in God as the only one who cares about her situation since her sister, Nettie, is gone (Thyreen,1999, p.51).” Not being able to confide in Nettie appears as another form of trauma. Celie, without her sister to lean on and share her feelings, faces increased isolation. The lack of a supportive figure during desperate times can be traumatizing.

“The Color Purple has been around since the first half of the twentieth century and into the late twentieth century, a period defined as ‘post-modern,’ wherein concepts like Truth, man, God, Male, Female, and Nature are being problematized (Thyreen,1999, p.50).” Celie struggles to visualize herself in God’s image, leading to a sense of helplessness. Understanding God is critical for Celie to comprehend her trauma and learn to cope with it. Celie discovers that it was her stepfather, not her father, who raped her, and that her children are still alive. So, she welcomes God back into her life. Shug informs Celie, “Ain’t no way to read the bible and not think God white (The Color Purple, p.195).” “When I found out I thought God was white and a man, I lost interest. You mad cause he don’t seem to listen to your prayers. Humph! (The Color Purple, p.195).” Shug assists Celie in enhancing her relationship with God. Shug perceives God as omnipresent. “I believe God is everything, says Shug. Everything that exists or will ever exist (The Color Purple, p.195).”

“Celie’s understanding of God is formed out of the racist and sexist atmosphere in which she lives, and the oppression with which she is constantly faced. Her reductive image of God as a dominant male is consistent with the life she has to live” (Thyreen, 1999, p.52). “This notion of God encourages an understanding of the Divine as distant, deaf, absent, or indifferent, causing Celie to see herself as a victim, as an object that must undergo suffering, for reasons she does not know” (Thyreen, 1999, p.52). “As a result, she places all hope in the afterlife rather than in her present condition and since at this stage in Celie’s life her notion of God is that of a distant patriarchal figure, she assumes a stoic role” (Thyreen, 1999, p.52). “In addition to her reductive notions of God in the first half of the novel, Celie relies upon Scripture in a deductive manner to determine her responses to circumstances” (Thyreen, 1999, p.54).

“The Bible says, ‘Honor your father and mother, no matter what.’ Since Celie uses scripture to determine how she responds to a situation, she sees it as she can’t be mad at her father for all the trauma that he has caused her. Religion can make coping with trauma harder because you are supposed to apply scripture to your life, and you have to respond to those situations like God would. That is hard to do because, in Celie’s situation, she has to honor her father even after everything he has done to her – and that same thing goes for her husband because he was also abusive. The Bible says, ‘Love your enemies.'”

Shakespeare’s characters have a harder time dealing with their trauma. Killing is their coping mechanism. By killing, they’re going against everything that God stands for. The characters are more focused on making the person that caused them pain feel the same pain they felt. They don’t feel that they are wrong for killing the people that they killed. By killing, they get rid of the emotions that they are feeling at the moment. Killing is their temporary relief. “Shakespeare presents revenge as something more than simply a dangerous medicine with which to counter a dangerous illness” (Broude, 1979, p.505). “In Titus, revenge is an essential part of the regenerative process by which Rome will be cleansed of blood guilt and Romans and Goths will be reconciled and united in a harmonious and prosperous commonwealth” (Broude, 1979, p.505).

The characters in “The Color Purple” don’t go to the extreme of killing the person who caused their trauma. “The Color Purple” is not as harsh as “Titus Andronicus,” which is filled with gore. Rapes occur in both “The Color Purple” and “Titus Andronicus.” However, the characters handle these instances differently. Celie, for instance, is told not to tell anyone about her experience. As a result, she writes letters to God and turns to Him for comfort. In contrast, Lavinia’s hands and tongue are cut off, preventing her from revealing her assault. The rape of Lavinia led to more killings. As Broude (1979) states, “The rape of Lavinia and the murders of Bassianus, Martius, and Quintus are wrongs which offend not only the Andronici but also Rome and the heavens, whose laws they violate” (p. 500).

In conclusion, trauma and religion are complexly intertwined. From the information presented in this paper, you can see the relationship between these two elements. The writing of Shakespeare vastly differs from that of Alice Walker. These authors were born in different eras and started writing in different periods. They also held different views on handling trauma and religion. Religion is not always beneficial in traumatic situations. Sometimes, it can exacerbate the situation. However, such an event can also bring a person closer to God and religion. Everyone copes with traumatic events in their own way. Some victims of trauma often blame God for their suffering, viewing it as punishment. Others turn to God for help and rely on Him during times of hardship.

“The Color Purple” contains numerous religious aspects, which are clearly stated in the novel. The characters in “The Color Purple” actually learn to cope with their trauma with the aid of religion. However, religion doesn’t always make coping with trauma straightforward. In “The Color Purple,” religion initially complicates things, but as the novel progresses, it becomes a great source of help for the characters. They learn more about God throughout the story. In contrast, it is more difficult to pinpoint the religious aspects in “Titus Andronicus.”


  1. Broude, Ronald. “Four Forms of Vengeance in ‘Titus Andronicus.’” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 78, no. 4, 1979, pp. 494–507. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27708554.
  2. Bahr, Stephanie M.Titus Andronicus and the Interpretive Violence of the Reformation. Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 68 no. 3, 2017, pp. 241-270. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/shq.2017.0028
  3. Brockman, Sonya L.Trauma and Abandoned Testimony in Titus Andronicus and Rape of Lucrece. College Literature, vol. 44 no. 3, 2017, pp. 344-378. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/lit.2017.0019
  4. Willis, Deborah. The Gnawing Vulture: Revenge, Trauma Theory, and Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 53 no. 1, 2002, pp. 21-52. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/shq.2002.0017
  5. Jackson, Ken, and Arthur F. Marotti, editors. “Shakespeare and Religion: Early Modern and Postmodern Perspectives.” Choice Reviews Online, vol. 49, no. 04, 2011, pp. 1–21., doi:10.5860/choice.49-1855.
  6. Althea, Terenzi, Traumatic Dualities: Religion and Recovery in African-American Women’s Writing (2015). Graduate Theses. 11.
  7. https://digitalcommons.salemstate.edu/graduate_theses/11
  8. Thyreen, Jeannine. “Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’: Redefining God and (Re)Claiming the Spirit Within.” Christianity and Literature, vol. 49, no. 1, 1999, pp. 49–66. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44313596.”
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William Shakespeare Titus Andronicus vs. Alice Walker The Color Purple. (2021, Jul 03). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/william-shakespeare-titus-andronicus-vs-alice-walker-the-color-purple/