ABSTRACT

Thirty lines from the end, Titus Andronicus produces a disconcerting moment of revisionist history. Six bodies are dead on stage, four freshly killed, two spewed-up across a dinner table, broken meat from a halfconsumed pie. Reeling back from this sudden slaughter, the ‘sad-faced men … of Rome’ who are its witness stand aghast at the extravagant atrocity. ‘Severed’ by these ‘uproars’, they are like ‘a flight of fowl / Scattered by winds’ – or ‘scattered corn’ that Marcus says he would ‘knit again / … into one mutual sheaf’ (5.3.66-70).1 The labour Marcus sets himself in this metaphor is Sisyphean: Rome’s battered, scattered people are a field flailed by a storm; he is a latter-day Semele sorting seeds. To fix Rome he’ll have to restore each grain of wheat to its husk, then attach

each husk to its head, then gather up all the storm-tossed ears into ‘one mutual sheaf’. To ‘knit’ corn, though, may strike the play’s spectators as no more or less an effort of impossibility than the parallel knitting project Marcus proposes: to heal the metaphoric body politic by teaching Rome ‘how to knit again / … These broken limbs … into one body’ – this, in a Rome that already knows too much about actual bodies broken, severed, mutilated, amputated, dismembered (5.3.69-71).