David Sarkies's Reviews > Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
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Jul 23, 2011

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This is probably the most violent and replusive of all of Shakespeare's plays. I first heard of Titus Andronicus in a Greek and Roman Drama lecture when our lecturer, David Hester, was talking about Seneca and proceeded to describe an horribly violent play by outlining each and every one of the acts of violence in the play. He then told us its name, at which point, immediately after the lecture, went straight to the local bookshop and bought a copy. I am not going to call it one of my favourite plays, and it is not one of his most popular, however its complexity does rival Hamlet, though I would hardly call it one of his masterpieces (and in fact it was one of his earlier plays). The full title is 'The Most Lamentable Roman Tragedy of Titus Andronicus).
Titus is the tragic hero in the play and the villain is Tamora Queen of the Goths. She is not a villian in the sense that Iago is a villain, rather she is burned up with hatred for Titus after he sacrifices one of her sons in revenge for the death on one of his son in the war against Tamora. This is one of those plays in which the entire direction of the play turns on a single decision of the tragic hero (which has echos of the Scottish Play and King Lear). In Titus it is his decision to reject Tamora's pleas for clemancy and sacrificing her sons.
What happens next is that Titus' life falls apart. One by one his sons are killed, and his daughter is raped, and has her tongue cut out and hands cut off so that she cannot tell anybody who did it to her. This, I guess, comes out of one of the subplots (though like Hamlet, the subplots are essential to the direction of the play). Titus has returned to Rome (and the setting is during the dying days of the empire) and the emporer has died. While he has sons, he has not necessarily nominated his heir (succession during the empire was not as simple as giving the throne to the eldest son), and a battle brews over succession. Marcus Andronicus then nominates his brother as emperor (since he has just won a victory over Tamora and returns to Rome to receive a triumph). However Titus does not want the throne and nominates Saturninus, and offers his daughter to him in marriage, which angers Saturninus' brother to whom Lavinia, Titus' daughter, was betrothed.
This play has all of the intrigue, action, and violence that Hamlet does, though while Hamlet is an incredibly popular play (to the point of being butchered in High School), Titus Andronicus is very hard to stomach. I have said that if the play makes one feel uncomfortable, then the play has done its job (and the Scottish Play and Othello do that very well). This play does not necessarily make one feel uncomfortable, and one does not necessarily sympathise with Titus (much like I do not have any sympathy for Macbeth or Timon), however I cannot necessarily say that this play made me feel uncomfortable as well. Obviously we want Lavinia's butchers to be brought to justice, but with a Shakespearian tragedy, bringing somebody to justice does not necessarily mean alls well that ends well. In this play (as in Othello), it simply ends very badly and very bloody.
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