Ellen's Reviews > Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
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Jan 01, 2010

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Think Quentin Tarantino and Kill Bill: Vol. 2.

Screw Hamlet’s anguished indecision, Macbeth’s squeamishness, Lear’s wails in the wilderness, or Lady Macbeth’s protracted guilt. This is Shakespeare’s action adventure, where characters act seemingly on impulse, and no deed is too terrible to contemplate. Shakespeare drains Titus Andronicus of the type of internal monologues typically characterizing his serious plays, and serves us – literally and figuratively – relentless revenge. Yet, in the manner Kill Bill delivers with style and velocity, this drama fascinates at the same time it horrifies. What compelled me – generally a sound sleeper – to wake up in the middle of the night, just to finish this play?

While pockets of poetry emerge, here Shakespeare’s language, like his characters’ actions, is powerful and direct. I could no more desert this play’s forward momentum than I could hop off a roller coaster mid-ride. Within the first scene, Titus Andronicus, ostensibly a noble character, ignores Tamora’s plea for mercy and has her son killed – brutally. Moments later, when Titus’s own son blocks his path, Titus kills him as quickly as one might swat a fly.

And flies surface more than once in the play. When Marcus kills a fly, as Titus bemoans Lavinia’s fate, Titus’s outrage seems laughable:

But how, if that fly had a father and mother?
How would he hang his slender gilded wings,
And buzz lamenting doings in the air!
Poor harmless fly,
That, with his pretty buzzing melody,
Came here to make us merry! and thou hast
kill'd him.

Only Marcus’s protest that the fly is black, like the empress’s Moor and thus deserving of death, dispels Titus’s real or feigned fury. Aaron, Tamora’s lover, also speaks of flies when he laments that he was not able to do even more evil acts:

Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.

Though cast as the play’s central villain—as if to contrast with the other more civilized characters—Aaron’s actions create hardly a ripple. In this bloody dramorama, his murders and mayhem contribute only drops. Titus’s final revenge makes Aaron seem meek.

Titus Andronicus’s fierce energy mesmerizes, and Shakespeare succeeds in his intention to deliver raw experience, unfettered by conscience and regret.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Ellen Oh, I agree with you - it was a bit of hyperbole :). My point was more that--in this play--it's hard to anyone to "stand out" as a villain.

I wonder whether Shakespeare thought of Titus as a villain?

message 2: by Hazel (new) - added it

Hazel Between the two of you, you've pretty much dissuaded me from this. Ellen, I wasn't crazy about Kill Bill! I may try it later on, but for now, uh-uh. Blame my tender sensibilities. :)

message 3: by Ellen (last edited Jan 03, 2010 07:03AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ellen Hazel wrote: "Between the two of you, you've pretty much dissuaded me from this. Ellen, I wasn't crazy about Kill Bill! I may try it later on, but for now, uh-uh. Blame my tender sensibilities. :)"

Oh, I like Tarantino well enough, but there is nothing in his movies to provoke much contemplation or poignancy. To some degree, TA operates similarly. While Shakespeare's beautiful language is evident at times, the emphasis is on raw action. Events move so swiftly that even Lavinia's horrid rape is hard to process. I've felt more anguish reading Macbeth or King Lear.

At the time, Shakespeare was trying to compete with playwrights who were more popular and bloody. I think he succeeds admirably :), and yet there is an intangible quality about TA that I find very compelling.

message 4: by Robert (new)

Robert I reckon Richard III knew himself to be a villian and Iago too.

message 5: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell That bit about the fly is so odd and lovely, in the midst of such gore.

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