Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Reader's Diary #405- William Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus

I'd seen the Anthony Hopkins version of this a while ago, and there's a particular scene in which Titus's daughter is raped and then has her hands cut off and her tongue cut out. It's gruesome and horrifying, to be sure. I wanted to discuss differences between the book and the movie with my wife, but she can't even bring herself to recall the movie, she found it so traumatizing.

While I remember watching Lavinia's tragic story (perhaps the most tragic Shakespearean character I've ever read), there were almost equal moments of gore in the play, that I don't remember in the movie. How about after Chiron stabs and kills Bassianus?
"Drag hence her husband to some secret hole,
and make his dead trunk pillow to our lust."
Or when Demetrius speaks of Aaron and Tamora's son:
"I'll broach the tadpole on my rapier's point:--
Nurse, give it me, my sword shall soon dispatch it."
And of course, when Saturninus asks Titus to fetch Tamora's sons:
"Why, there they are both, baked in that pie;
Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,
Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred."

(Was Anthony Hopkins typecasted for this part?)

Lost is the play, unfortunately, is the villain. Shakespeare usually excels with the villain. In Titus, there is an attempt at one with Aaron. However, he doesn't particularly stand out from Titus (who kills his own son) and Tamora (who practically commissions the rape of Lavinia, telling her sons that the worse they do to her, the more Tamora will love them). In fact, Aaron also shows a softer side when he gives himself up to save his son (though it results in Aaron being buried up to his chest and starved to death).

Yes, it's a disgusting and disturbing tale. And not surprisingly, not one of Shakespeare's more popular plays. However, I doubt it's, as Wikipedia states, "Shakespeare's bloodiest work." I'm pretty sure the body count is greater in Hamlet. But the rape and mutilations (not to mention the pie), certainly add a more twisted dimension. I don't think Shakespeare glorified violence in any way. A lot of scholars make this out to play about the perils of revenge. I'd go even further and suggest that it sends the message that violence begets violence.


Anonymous said...

You should read Harold Bloom's excellent essay on Titus Andronicus in his book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. He puts forward a really strong case for this play actually being a black comedy, an over-the-top near parody of Marlowe's The Jew of Malta. The essay opens up a whole new world of interpretations.

John Mutford said...

August: I guess with skilled actors (or comically bad ones), that could be achieved. But, as a fan of black comedies, Titus certainly didn't come across as one, to me. I'll have to find Bloom's essay to read his argument.