Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare, original pub 1594

3.5 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Book – Titus Andronicus

Known as the English bard’s most violent play, “Titus Andronicus” had all the foul elements to be right up my alley. As a lover of the horror genre in all its forms, a tale filled with dismemberment, filicide, abduction, murder, tongue-cutting, adultery, beheadings, throat-slashings, and regicide should have made me quiver with terror. While I enjoyed it, I was not moved by the ceaseless calamities nor by Shakespeare’s less than usually stellar dialogue.

As a youth I never appreciated Shakespeare as I should have. A well-meaning, but overly enthusiastic 11th grade English teacher’s glee turned me off him. I was a contrarian, hating things just because I thought it was cool. That was foolish, of course, and it wasn’t until years later that I could appreciate the unmatchable poetry of Shakespeare’s writing.

Alas, the writing in this play was not as exquisite as I have to come to expect from Shakespeare. I daresay even “Romeo and Juliet was better penned.

As usual in Shakespeare, “Titus Andronicus” is filled with unlikeable characters whose follies lead to their dooms. The title character is an arrogant General, stuffed full of foolish pride. The only players here that are wholly honorable would be Titus’s brother Marcus, and Titus’s grandson, Young Lucius.

A Villain to Die For

The most enjoyable role is the evil Aaron, a so-called “blackamoor.” One could decry the obvious racism in making the black character the greatest villain in this tale, but Aaron has the greatest lines. More importantly, as it is he who masterminds much of the villainy, in a way he’s the most powerful character of them all. Much like Wesley Snipes in “Demolition Man,” Aaron chews up the scenery with his unrepentant evil. And has a grand old time with it.

He is Queen Tamora’s secret lover, and when she births a dark-skinned child, her sons are aghast:

Demetrius: Villain, what hast thou done?

Aaron: That which thou canst not undo.

Chiron: Thou hast undone our mother.

Aaron: Villain, I have done thy mother.

BURN!

And at the finale, when Aaron is punished for his evil deeds by being buried alive up to his neck and left to starve to death, does he beg for mercy? Hell no!

Aaron:
O, why should wrath be mute, and fury dumb?
I am no baby, I, that with base prayers
I should repent the evils I have done:
Ten thousand worse than ever yet I did
Would I perform, if I might have my will;
If one good deed in all my life I did,
I do repent it from my very soul.

So unrepentant in his evil! How awesome! I wish more of the play had been like this! 🙂

The Bloody Conclusion

The beautiful Shakespearean poetry was lacking here, and the stage directions of brutality followed by brutality were as humorous as the Black Knight’s bloody dismemberment in “Monty Python & the Holy Grail.”

At the climax Titus serves a meal made up of Tamora’s sons to the unknowing queen which is quickly (and I do mean blink-and-you -miss-it, quick) followed by three hasty murders. It was so silly that it should have been written as a comedy.

In fact that scene was adapted to a comedic form hundreds of years later in the best South Park episode of all time: “Scott Tenorman Must Die” where a gleeful Eric Cartman makes a chili out of Scott’s parents and licks his enemy’s tears in delight:

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This would have worked SO MUCH better as a comedy. But hey, it’s Shakespeare, so it was still fun.

Names Through the Ages by Teresa Norman

Names through the Ages, Teresa Norman, Berkley, 1999

3.5 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Names Through Some Nations’ Ages

The description for Names Through the Ages claims that “In the first book of its kind, Teresa Norman traces the history of Europe, from the ancient Roman era to the present, and shows how names originated and changed throughout the ages,” which is sort of true, but not completely so. What is presented here is valuable information on the etymology of certain names, both first and last, that range over several thousand years.

As unprecedented as this book claims to be, its scope is limited to a small portion of Europe, specifically France and the British Isles, as well as America. No other European nations are covered. France is the lone non-Anglophonic one mentioned. This Anglocentric perspective is expected, as in the English-speaking world it’s natural to focus on English naming conventions and France’s history has been tied to England’s for over a millennium. Still, it’s a shame, considering many of the names listed are derived from Aramaic, Germanic, Scandinavian, Hellenic, and Roman roots, so it would have been fascinating to learn of other nations’ naming customs.

Norman provides in-depth historical details that led to the evolution of names over time. The book is broken down by area and eras, with sections on England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, and later, the USA. The chapters begin with lists of the rulers of each country, then go on to impart information on political, social, and religious norms of individual time periods, before examining how those issues contributed to the formation of names. Roots, prefixes, and suffixes are provided. The lists of names are sorted by gender and their definitions are shown, but not, lamentably pronunciations.

American Names, Too?

The American portion of the book is the shortest, but gives the greatest variety of names, as one might expect considering the multicultural and multilingual roots of her people. The origins of surnames are indicated and vary from English to Spanish to Native American to Japanese. However, the names are not broken down by region, nor indicate how they are distributed among ethnic/racial lines, which would have made it more comprehensive. Nevertheless, it’s possible there are people named Zebulon Chin, Leif Aguilera, Latasha Bear Killer, and Rashad Metzger because that’s just the way America rolls.

A Useful Guide

“Names Through the Ages” is a helpful source for creators of fiction who want authentic sounding names in their works. Looking for a male Scots name circa 1400? How about Ruaraidh Colquhoun? (I assume it’s pronounced Rory Culkin, but don’t hold me to that.) A female character during the French Revolution could be Alexandrine Bouteiller. How about an English Regency-era rake? Sir Lyell Sutton sounds appropriately pompous.

But even if you’re not writing, this is a useful reference. My daughter would often steal this book from my shelf to search for names for her Medieval Sims characters or when she played RPGs. And of course, potential parents will find this handy when trying to find that perfect name for their babies.

What’s here in this book is super utile, however, I was hoping for a wider expanse of names. I’d give this 5 stars if it were called British and French Names Through the Ages as it is very enlightening when it comes to those. I have deducted 1 star-and-a-half as it covers a mere fraction of Europe, but don’t let my grievances deter you from reading this book; it is, as I said, an illuminating source of knowledge.