David Sarkies's Reviews > Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
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Jul 23, 2011

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bookshelves: tragedy
Read 2 times. Last read September 5, 2009 to September 7, 2009.

Shakespeare's Bloodfest
8 September 2009

This is probably the most violent and repulsive of all of Shakespeare's plays. I first heard of Titus Andronicus in a Greek and Roman Drama lecture when our lecturer was talking about Seneca and proceeded to describe an incredibly bloodthirsty play by outlining each and every of the act of violence. He then told us its name, at which point, immediately after the lecture, I 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 Shakespeare's most popular, however its complexity does rival Hamlet. However, 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 villain in the sense that Iago is a villain, rather she is furious after Titus 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 plot turns on a single decision of the tragic hero (which has echoes of the Scottish Play and King Lear). In Titus it is his decision to reject Tamora's pleas for clemency and then 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 emperor has died. While the emperor had sons, he has not nominated one of them to be his heir (succession during the empire was not as simple as giving the throne to the eldest son), and a battle begins to brew over succession. Marcus Andronicus then nominates his brother as emperor (since he had just won a victory over Tamora and returns to Rome to receive a triumph). However, Titus does not want the throne and instead nominates Saturninus, and offers his daughter to him in marriage. This in turn 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, as do other plays, such as A Street Car Named Desire). 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 either. 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 with a number of corpses strewn over the stage.
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Reading Progress

March 11, 1997 – Started Reading
March 15, 1997 – Finished Reading
September 5, 2009 – Started Reading
September 7, 2009 – Finished Reading
July 23, 2011 – Shelved
November 4, 2011 – Shelved as: tragedy

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