Olivia's Reviews > Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
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's review
Jul 01, 2009

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bookshelves: shakespeare-summer
Read in July, 2009

It's odd that a play so gruesome and disturbing can also prove to be so cotton-candy-weightless - the Shakespearean equivalent of a Zack Snyder film. Arden seems to think the play's weightlessness springs from its parodic humor and is an intentional effect. But I disagree: however intentional it may be, it's more of a defect, and I don't think the humor is a contributing factor. In fact, I like the humor - who doesn't love a baker's dozen of amputee jokes? And in Titus's mouth it proves an interesting character trait - one of Shakespeare's searing psychological observations, that man needs humor to cope with loss just as he needs words to lessen its impact and theater to demystify its tragedy.

But this is Titus's only defining character trait - and he shares the stage with total cyphers: his own family nothing but a chorus of sympathetic howling, while their enemies are moustache-twirling vaudevillian evil-doers whose cleverness extends only so far. When it's time for Tamora's downfall, she becomes absurd - her trust in Titus's madness unwarranted, her Revenge dress-up game completely feeble. Meanwhile Aaron's delight in evil feels more like mocking speechifying than a convincing portrait of amorality. There's an interesting story buried here somewhere, in Aaron betraying Tamora for love of his baby son - but Aaron's insistence on his own vileness makes it difficult to comb through the muck for the kernels of humanity within.

Lavinia's story is horrifying - especially because for all intents and purposes she is, almost from the start, more an object than a character. Whether she's being cuddled by her father; squabbled over by her brothers, Bassianus, and Saturninus; or raped, silenced, mutilated and eventually murdered - she is a deer, a prize, a sorrow, a gushing fountain of blood, but never a person. It's so disturbing: the poetic description of her agonies, the way her doting father nominates himself to be her voice, the way she is fobbed off on whatever man stakes a claim. Ickity ick. I can't say I wasn't affected by this - but yow.

This is an artful play, full of interesting dramatic effects and aesthetic flourishes, but its disjointed structure and sloppy characterizations make it seem more like a failed experiment than a fully-realized work.

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Reading Progress

06/29/2009 "Act 3 Scene 2 Ew ew ew ew ew..."

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