“Titus Andronicus,” From The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by W. Shakespeare

My Copy: 9780199267170

Well, I’d heard this was one of Shakespeare’s “lesser tragedies,” and thanks to all the blood and death in the pages, I have to wonder–what was he going through when he wrote the damned thing?

Titus Andronicus (long title: The Most Lamentable Roman Tragedy of Titus Andronicus) is about Titus, a general who has returned to Rome with his remaining sons and Goth prisoners, including their queen, Tamora and her three sons. To appease the Roman gods, Her elder son Alarbus is to be sacrificed and she begs Titus for anything else, even her death would be preferable.

Titus, who’d lost many sons of his own in the war, says no, and his remaining sons take Alarbus away. This fuels Tamora’s vengeance through the rest of the play.

There’s a whirlwind of characters that come about in the first scene of Act 1, namely the newly-crowned emperor, Saturninus and his brother Bassianus, who are fighting over Lavinia, Titus’ daughter. Bassianus basically abducts her and marries her on the spot. This leads Tamora to put herself in position as Empress by marrying Saturninus. However, her Moorish slave, Aaron, is her lover, and just as scheming as she is. Their actions will get a helluva lot of people killed.

There is too much to describe in this story without giving the whole thing away. Plenty of synopses exist online as it is. I thought it dragged a bit at first, but then when I re-read, I was glad for the lengthy first act and scenes to introduce everyone.

I think what makes this considered a lesser work of Shakespeare’s is the timing of events. The rhythm feels off, with lengthy monologues and down-time in between frenetic bits of action. To me, the climax was WAY too fast, but just in a strange way.

And so far I can believe that this is the bloodiest of Shakespeare’s plays. As I was reading the climax, I couldn’t help but think of the blood-letting in this classic comedy scene, and how apropos it would be (though they’re quoting an abbreviated version of Hamlet, so don’t get too confused).

I felt like an Addams in that audience when I read the climax. I couldn’t help it.

There is so much greed, lust, rape, mutilation, madness, violence, and ambition in this one play–it’s a crazy read.

But worth a shot if you want your jaw to drop at some of it.

I just think the rhythm could’ve been better. It stinks to be predictable, but I’m guessing that’s one of those things that have messed with audience tastes for this one over the centuries.

Still worth a read, and I wouldn’t mind a viewing.

Julie Taymor made the film version in 1999 (updated like Baz Luhrman did for Romeo + Juliet, but you don’t need cliffs notes to follow it.), with Anthony Hopkins as Titus and Jessica Lange as Tamora. Well, considering the teaser trailer I saw for the film was rated R (let alone the movie), the odds of me seeing the movie were pretty much nil back then, though I bet it’d be an insane ride, seeing it today.

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