Titus Andronicus

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Titus Andronicus 
by William Shakespeare

Ever wish Shakespeare had written something incredibly dark and violent? Well lucky you, he did! In Titus Andonicus fans of the Bard can get their Quentin Tarantino fix in old English. This is one of Shakespeare’s first tragedies and by far one of the most violent. See if you can follow me as I give a quick and wildly confusing rundown of the plot... 

A Roman general, Titus, is in a perpetual battle of revenge with Tamora, Queen of the Goths. Things escalate throughout the play, building to a disturbing pinnacle of violence.

Titus is appointed the new Roman Emperor but he turns the throne down, supporting Saturninus instead. He offers his daughter Lavinia to Saturnius, even though she’s already engaged to Bassianus, Saturnius’ brother. Titus sacrifices Tamora’s eldest son after taking her and her sons prisoner, which further instigates her wrath. In a surprise move Saturninus marries Tamora and Titus is furious.

Tamora’s living sons, Demetrius and Chiron, kidnap and rape Titus’ daughter Lavinia. When they’re done they cut out her tongue and cut off her hands. You can see why this one isn’t performed a lot. They also kill her original betrothed, Bassianus, which infuriates his brother (the emperor) Saturnius. Titus’ sons Martius and Quintus are framed for the murder and executed by Saturnius.

After that there are sliced hands and heads going back and forth in the mail. Let’s not forget Tamora’s lover Aaron, a moor who fathers her child while she is married to Saturnius. He’s a tricky one and causes quite a bit of mayhem.

The ultimate disturbing detail that made the play famous comes when Titus to be the Master Chef of Revenge. He kills Tamora’s remaining two sons and then uses their blood and bones to make her a fancy dinner. He then feeds it to her at a feast before revealing his secret ingredients. Gag. Then the bloody meal concludes with just about every main character being killed. 

BOTTOM LINE: Cue Debbie Downer’s sad trombone noise, "wah waaah." I can’t say this is my favorite Shakespearean play, but I’m glad to know what all the fuss was about. Unlike his later tragedies, this one is missing the crucial element of emotional grounding. While we’re horrified by what happens to the characters we aren’t necessarily invested in them, which lessens the impact. Ultimately we are reminded that revenge, just like jealousy in Othello, destroys everyone in its path.


Ellie said...

I love your comment about this being a Tarantino fix in old English - it's so true! I have to say, I have a really soft spot for this play. I find Lavinia and her fate really interesting for what it says about women.

Have you ever seen The Reduced Shakespeare Company perform? They do a hilarious adaptation of this as a cooking show.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Ellie - I would LOVE to see that performance! I completely agree about Lavinia. My heart broke for her and was horrified all at the same time.

Jeanne said...

The Reduced Shakespeare is available on DVD...

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jeanne - I just looked it up, so glad you said that! I'm definitely going to have to get a copy.