Monday, July 18, 2016

Titus Andronicus - Shakespeare

We open the curtain on a Roman general, Titus Andronicus, returning from a conquest over the Goths.  He has brought back a Gothic queen, Tamora, and several of her sons.  He is quickly convinced to sacrifice one of the sons to the gods.  Tamora pleads for mercy but he won't hear of it and the son is killed.  Titus will come to regret this.
I won't go through the entire plot, because it is complicated and, more importantly, I greatly enjoyed reading it as it unfolded.  Revenge is sought and gained.  This brings about even more revenge in more and more terrible forms.  And I do mean terrible.  'Titus Andronicus' is one of Shakespeare's earliest and most bloody plays.  (Even more than Macbeth, though perhaps not as famously.) 
In this play we get rape and mutilation.  We get family killing each other.  We get people tricked into mutilating themselves.  And (most famously) we get people killed and secretly baked into food.  This play is a parade of horribles.
We also get passionate family love.  We get breathtaking treachery.  And we get, in Aaron, one of Shakespeare's best written villains.  Aaron is a Moor, i.e. black, and I'm sure that his role doesn't not reflect well on Shakespeare's racial sensibilities or the time in which it was written.  But he is clever and ruthless and also tender and loving. 

Did I enjoy the play?  I did.  While it doesn't have the high nobility of the later tragedies, it does have a plot with a lot of push.  As I was reading it, I very much wanted to know what would happen next.  It's fascinating in a horrible way, but still fascinating. 
I was reading about a performance in England back in the 50's where they tried to stay true to the violence in the text.  The audience was greatly upset with people fainting and having to leave early because they were so upset.   I can see how that would be the case.

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