Shakespeare’s Villains – Tamora

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Tamora encouraging her sons' to rape Lavinia

This series on Shakespeare’s villains is being done in partnership with Finding Shakespeare – curating digital stories relating to Shakespeare’s life,  work and times.  Finding Shakespeare is the blog produced by the Collections Team here at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust– you can find out more about Tamora on Thursday 14th July when they post their blog.

Of all of Shakespeare’s villains Tamora is one of the few I feel almost no sympathy for. Most of Shakespeare’s villains at least have a motivation I can understand even if their actions are clearly a case of taking matters to far. But Tamora’s villainy I find hard to understand let alone forgive.

However Shakespeare does give her reasons for her behaviour. Tamora is the Queen of the Goths, captured by the Roman Titus Andronicus and forced to plead for the life of her eldest son. Despite her pleas her son is murdered by Titus’ sons – so Tamora has plenty to feel angry about. Never the less her actions are very hard to feel any sympathy for.

Tamora is a woman who loves violence, when her lover Aaron – with whom she plots her revenge on Titus’ family – tells her that today is the day her “sons shall make pillage of” Titus’ daughter’s chastity and “wash their hands in Bassianus’ blood” she responds with glee “ah, my sweet Moor” .

Tamora willingly encourages her son’s to rape Titus’s daughter Lavinia and to kill Lavinia’s husband  Bassianus.  Lavinia pleads with Tamora that she should dissuade her sons from their planned rape, and simply kill her instead. She reminds Tamora that they are both women and that Tamora should understand Lavinia’s fear of rape. But so deaf is Tamora to all pleas for mercy that she simply says to her boys “use her as you will: the worse to her the better loved of me”. Lavinia is left to conclude as she faces her fate that Tamora has “No grace, No womanhood” and is a “beastly creature”  – a conclusion we may feel some agreement with.

As hard as it is to see anything to empathise with in Tamora at all, many of us do have something in common with her.  Many of us are mothers who are fiercely protective of our children and like Tamora we do teach our children about conflict and how to deal with it. Tamora might be at the extreme end of the “eye for an eye” spectrum encouraging her children to get revenge for any wrong done them and claiming that she will never be happy till of Titus’s clan are all dead. Lavinia likens Tamora to a tiger teaching her cubs to kill and maim. Today we might like to think we encourage a more peaceful response to conflict in our children – but let’s find out… I ventured out into the garden to find out how parents encouraged their children to respond to conflict, ‘turn the other cheek’ or an ‘eye for an eye’?


If you would like to see how Tamora has been represented on stage – check out this slide show on flickr.

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT

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