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Fixing Moderation: Titus Andronicus and the Aristotelian Determination of Value



CHRISTOPHER CROSBIE


Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus examines through its sensational horrors and multiple acts of vengeance how designations of moderation and excess may be constituted, unsettled, and reconstituted in a polity destabilized by shifting ethical referents. By examining Shakespeare’s engagement with the Aristotelian ethical mean—the point of moral equilibrium between two diametrically opposed, immoral extremes—this article explains how the construal of ethical value in Elizabethan England invited contest. Titus Andronicus exhibits a preoccupation with fixing moderation, both in the sense of locating but also repairing it as well, to imagine a world in which immoderation threatens to become the norm. By treating the contextual determination of moderation and the mean’s ontological fixity as compatible, Titus Andronicus creates a flexible rigidity that positions Titus as both horrible and sympathetic in his revenge, as he negotiates the shifting terms of Rome’s civic contract. The play’s apparent dislocation of victim and villain derives from the theatrical possibilities inherent in the mean’s fluidity, yet the ethical mean paradoxically provides a readable matrix of heroism and villainy. Resituated in a world grown uncontrollably immoderate, Titus acts in direct proportion to his surrounding context, his grotesque revenge functioning, remarkably, as a brutal but necessary type of moderation-in-extremity.



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