How have extremes of emotion expressed in Titus Andronicus and selected WW1 poetry been effectively created by the writers’ craft and performance of the drama text onstage, on screen and in the classroom? GCSE Controlled Assessment Final piece

How have extremes of emotion expressed in Titus Andronicus and selected WW1 poetry been effectively created by the writers’ craft and performance of the drama text on stage, on screen and in the classroom?

Extremes of emotions are a vital part to any text, whether it is a play or poem. There are many emotions to be felt and similarly many techniques used to display these. The revenge tragedy Titus Andronicus, the first play written by the famous playwright William Shakespeare (written between 1593 and 1594), and poems from a selection of World War One war poems by the war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon are all examples of these. The play and the poems are founded upon violence and revenge which plays a significant part in both, and it is because of these themes that strong emotions are felt in both.

The fact that Titus Andronicus was Shakespeare’s first play is a huge factor towards its violence and base around anger; as a budding playwright with no reputation Shakespeare needed to capture the attention of the public in a big way. To do this Shakespeare essentially did the best thing possible: base his play around violence. In the late 16th century violent action had a large audience, due to the macho attitude of the people and the male predominance in both those acting and viewing plays. Titus Andronicus is considered Shakespeare’s most violent play, speculated to be because the production of Titus Andronicus had to build him a reputation to rely on. As with life, violence will always have the negative outcome of grief and despair.

Both Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) and Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) were soldiers within the first world war, fighting on the front line. Both wrote the majority of their poems whilst in hospital back from the front lines, and actually met each other in Scotland. The rebellious and truthful messages in the poems that they wrote about the war, illustrating it in a sad and tragic light, were previously unheard of. It is speculated that these ‘rebellious’ thought could have been due to the fact that both men were considered social outcasts; they were both homosexual in a time that homosexuality was not considered acceptable. This would have slightly alienated them from everybody else, allowing them to view and describe the war from a different perspective. However in their poems they have referenced relationships ironically; “The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall”.
The flow and rhythm of the texts are vital methods used to communicate extremes of emotion, particularly despair. In Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and many of the war poems, an iambic pentameter is a key part of the structure of the texts. It is heard mainly when the texts are performed vocally with a heavier beat stressing every second syllable -a link emulating the audience’s heartbeat. In addition to this, iambic pentameter is used to emphasise key words the character is saying, with ten beats in a line. Within characters, iambic pentameter is used to show confidence, Shakespeare only using this technique on selected characters that are deemed the most important.
“She is the weeping welkin, in the earth/Then must my sea be moved with her sighs” (Titus- Act 3 scene 1).
Within this monologue by Titus mourning the loss of Lavinia’s beauty, hands and tongue, the iambic pentameter is clear. However, as shown by the second line of this quote, Shakespeare has utilised a weak foot-along with a different number of syllables to the regular meter (nine in this case). The degradation of the meter shows all confidence that Titus had had leaving him, and shows that the despair he feels is overwhelming his ability to speak. This despair is encoded in the word ‘sighs’, which the weak foot falls upon. While watching the play, the techniques of weak foot and degradation of the meter were very prominent in displaying extreme emotion, with the slight pause in the speech letting the words settle in and increase the impact they had on the audience.
The poetry also makes use of an iambic pentameter; evidence of this found in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed youth’:
“The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;/and bugles calling for them from sad shires”
The words are difficult to read fast, so the iambic pentameter creates an effect of a slow funeral march which shows the feeling of intense sadness. However, the emphasised second beat can also be interpreted as the heavy thud of shells falling, amplifying the poem’s persona. Wilfred Owen has done this because he needed to reflect his own personal experiences from the horrors of the trenches to the audience-in this case through the medium of rythm. This poem also utilises the technique of a weak foot, used in this case to pose a rhetorical question to the audience:
“What passing bells for those who die as cattle?”

The extra syllable in this line breaks the rhythm and creates a break in the flow when it is performed. Personally, I think that this is a particularly effective technique as when it was performed it caused the audience to reflect on the question that was asked, and left part of the interpretation of the poem up to the audience’s imaginations.

The iambic pentameter, and weak foots within it, are both techniques used extensively in both the play and the poems to convey emotion. However, the emotion shown in the play and poem differs; in the play it originally shows Titus as confident, almost to the point of arrogance:“Thou great defender of this Capitol/stand gracious to the rites that we intend!”  This confidence is because Titus believes himself to be so powerful when returning from war as the victor who saved Rome that he believes himself to be indomitable.

The subsequent degradation of this meter shows sadness, but it is an angry sadness, filled with regret and woe. On the other hand, Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth seems voider of emotions than Titus Andronicus, feeling like a sadness that has caused the writer of the play to become an introvert and sequester their thoughts within themselves. This effect was also created by the use of irony, paired with powerful words.

Irony is a key technique used in all of the war poetry. Wilfred Owen was killed on the 4th of November, 1918, exactly a week before Armistice. The dramatic irony of this was that his poems all looked down upon the war, and were against the propaganda of it. The fact that his death was due to the war amplifies his poems’ demeanour against the war, adding persona. Within the poems, irony is also a key device used.
The poem ‘How to Die’ by Siegfried Sassoon begins in the same way as a sonnet, with the first octave consisting of two quatrains. However, it does not end in a sextet as a sonnet should. Instead it finishes in a second octave with Siegfried Sassoon adding an extra two lines to the second verse, altering its structure from the traditional sonnet. This can be interpreted as him making a statement about change from the traditional methods used when referring to war, which supports his views on it. This altered structure allows Siegfried to include a line containing a feminine ending (weak foot).
But they’ve been taught the way to do it
Like Christian soldiers; not with haste
And shuddering groans; but passing through it
With due regard for decent taste.”

The poem appears to at first to be glorifying the war, by honouring the dying soldiers as heroes, and by saying that they died “Like Christian soldiers”. The penultimate line contains the weak foot within this quote, creating a pause between this and the final line. This and the abrupt ending within the meter of the final line that causes irony to be shown here as the ending shows that there is more to be said and questioned, in addition to giving the feeling that they are being cut off. This reflects the feelings that Siegfried Sassoon would have been feeling; cut off from the rest of the world for a cause that he does not believe to be just.

‘Anthem for doomed youth’. Within just the title of this poem, Wilfred Owen has already managed to show the emotion of despair, foreshadowing the futures of the soldiers that are marching to war. To do this he has used the technique of assonance- using a certain repeated sound to convey a message or emotion. The repeated ‘oo’ sound is an extremely woeful sound, and the presence of this emotion from the beginning of the poem shows that the woe and misery is felt by soldiers even before they get to war. Strong examples of assonance are also found in the second verse of this poem.
“No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,

When reading this verse, there is a repetition of the distinctive ‘no’ and ‘o’ sound which creates a negative feel to the poem, enhancing the emotion of sadness. Together, all of these small effects communicate the feeling of hopelessness towards sending young men off to fight, which is the key message of the poem.

Again in the title of this poem, Wilfred Owen has used an oxymoron, ‘Doomed Youth’. The word ‘youth’ shows that the person is young and fresh, with a future, but this is directly contradicted by the ‘doomed’, which shows an end (death) that is unavoidable. Wilfred Owen has linked these two concepts with assonance, bringing the two words extremely close together and linking them to show that any youth who goes to war is inexplicitly doomed. This again backs up his view on The ‘Great’ War and the horrors of it, conveying the emotion of despair and pity to all of those caught up in it. The continuous reference to instruments and music (‘choirs’, ‘bugles’, ‘bells’, ‘voice’) strengthen the concept of the poem being an ‘Anthem’. Ironically, anthems are usually for people to unite with, and for a good cause with honour. However in the poem, the only thing that the people unite in is a dishonourable death. This irony shows the emotion of the bitterness felt by the poet about the wasting of lives, for what he believed to be an unjust cause.

Other techniques employed by all of the poems and the play to convey extreme emotion are sophisticated language techniques, such as metaphor.
“And each slow dusk the drawing-down of blinds.”
This is an example of the deep metaphorical meanings within Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for doomed youth’. The ‘drawing-down of blinds’ is a metaphor that can be simultaneously interpreted on many different levels. Initially, it represents lights going out, or in other words the death of many soldiers as the lights go out behind their eyes, creating persona and the emotion of extreme sadness and regret. At the same time however, it metaphorically represents the vast and wrong illusion of the war that was being forced upon people by the government. This metaphor reveals the harsh reality of censorship within the government about the front lines from an author who had experienced them in person. This shows the emotion of disdain felt by Wilfred Owen in regards to the war, even to the people who were supposedly on his side. Overall the emotion of regret is extremely potent in this line, regret being felt both towards the soldiers dying, and the uncovering of the truth.

“She is the weeping welkin; I the earth/Then must my sea be moved with her sighs:”
(Titus, act 3 Scene 1)
As previously described, in this quote Shakespeare uses the technique of a weak foot to show emotion. On top of this, Shakespeare has also used metaphor to recount Titus’s extreme despair to the audience. This metaphor shows Lavinia being the sky (welkin) and Titus being the earth beneath her and catching all of his tears (rain), creating the image of Titus being underneath her, trying to catch all of her grief for her and take it upon himself. Lavinia’s sighs moving Titus’s ‘sea’ shows that her plight stirs him deep inside, and also that there has been so much grief on behalf of Lavinia that the puddles caused by rain have turned into a sea. This also brings the parental bond between the two into the mind of the audience, magnifying the intense despair Titus feels and how distraught he is.

“Only the monstrous anger of the guns/only the rifles’ rapid rattle”
This quote is from Wilfred Owen’s anthem for doomed youth, and displays many language techniques to convey emotion. The soldiers’ terror of the guns is shown by personification; as ‘monstrous anger’. This shows the guns as having emotions, and transforms them into imposing bloodthirsty figures on the battlefield. The second half of the quote enforces the emotion of intense anger, with both alliteration and onomatopoeia being the techniques used for this. The words ‘rifles’ rapid rattle’ roll off the tongue very quickly and aggressively, onomatopoeic to the machine guns that they represent. This gives the poem an echo of the feeling of actually being present at the time and gives insight into the way that gunfire pounded upon the soldiers at all times, enhancing the emotions felt- in this case the extreme terror – by the soldiers.

Ultimately the poems and the play, although displaying similar traits of intense emotion demonstrate the emotions through similar techniques, but to different effect. The major emotion that arises in Titus Andronicus is despair with anger deep inside it, a rage that keeps the revenge tragedy alive and continuous. Part of the reason behind this is that it is a play, therefore is meant to be performed to find its full effect. The actions and characters in Titus Andronicus demonstrate this, an example being the character Aaron. Aaron represents anger and evil in the play, being the main antagonist with no motive behind his actions. Just this one character causes the play to display more intense emotion, through his words, actions, and interactions with the other characters in the play.
The war poems show the extreme emotion of the terrors of war and thus despair; the feeling of being intimidated as opposed to Titus Andronicus’s intimidation. Contributing to this is that the poems are meant to be performed vocally, leaving many of the scenery and final details to the imaginations of the audience. This small empathetic link amplifies key emotions: regret, despair, and heart-breaking longing for those who are lost, as the listener can connect to them. Because of this, the modern interpretations of the poems are very similar to how they were intended to be interpreted when they were first written. The play on the other hand can be seen completely differently. The Stratford-Upon-Avon production (the Royal Shakespeare Company, 2014) had a strong gothic or steampunk theme to it, being reflected in the costumes and props used. However, even four hundred years on none of its key emotion of anger and regret could be disguised or lost, showing just how strongly that the extremes of emotions are rooted in Titus Andronicus and the war poems.

Alex MacKay-Howse

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