Forget popcorn action flicks. This early tragedy of Shakespeare will, in one conveniently discounted package, cater to the appreciators of poetry, evocative rhetoric, and a bit of the old-fashion ultra-violent.
Of the survived and circulating Elizabethan publishings, I generally expect, albeit lacking strong rationale, that they be fairly modest and restrained. I expect a degree of censure.
Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus plainly crushed my preconception of not only his plays but Elizabethan canon in general. I actually found the tragedy to surpass some of Hollywood’s bloodiest carnage in the shock impact. I indeed juxtapose a written rendition of a Shakespearean tragedy next to the debaucheries of a Tarantino flick, or something akin Sin City or even Caligula.
In the case of the play, what we don’t visualize on screen, the implicitly described action, if not the mere language exchange, even further elevate the impact. It is said this play wasn’t much acclaimed, performed, or really noticed until centuries after. (I think I’d read analysis to the respect.) And for due cause. It’s a menacing blood bath from the start to finale.
Now publishing standards aside, such content could very well respect the developments concerned. Battlefronts and conniving power struggles frame much of the moving subject matter for dramatists and playwrights; not the sanctities of everyday life in the bushy gardens. Well, at least concerning the tragedies. Otherwise, they serve but as an appetizer and intermission.
In the case of Titus Andronicus, the setting entails early AD Rome, a war with the Goths recently waged, a power feud for the imperial throne in the works. In contrast to the several other Shakespearean tragedies I’d read, this one unveils tragic happenings from the very start.
Titus had already seen 21 of his 25 sons slaughtered on the battlefield before the opening act. He returns to Rome with the scraps of his remaining generation to pay respects to the dead. With him accompany his well esteemed prisoners: Tamora, the Queen of the Goths, and her three remaining sons. They are met by Saturnius - the likely successor to the throne, his brother, as well as Titus’s brother. Titus’s sole daughter also presides, I’d nearly forgotten.
It turns out that all these elder (but not yet senile) men are candidates for the throne. And although it is a democracy, Saturnius effectively makes clear that he shall take the reigns. And that is that. Titus doesn’t even long for the throne. He’s molded for war. But Saturnius shall despise him anyway.
Titus’s sons immediately sacrifice Tamora’s eldest son. She pleads like a mother can. Alas, a sacrifice must be offered. And tears must be shed.
Now being the Queen of the Goths, it’s not that we doubt the potential of her wrath to inevitably trample the qualities of a tender female. Yet in the name of drama, it behooved us to topple the glass already filled to the near brink.
The same reasoning applies equally to Titus, whose daughter we immediately see taken and even exchanged among a handful of the parties present. That doesn’t much help his resolve to sustain an air of civility.
All of this unfolds in Act 1, Scene 1 (2 at most). I don’t spoil much. As I mentioned, it flows in these ways of tragic mayhem consistently throughout. There isn’t a redeeming element.
Happy reading, and may your digestion remain tractable.
Questions, comments? Connect.