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.