Titus Andronicus (theatre)

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"Shakespeare as a young writer seems to have gone through a brief Quentin Tarantino phase."
The Reduced Shakespeare Company

William Shakespeare's first and most gruesome, gory, bloody, et cetera, tragedy. As S. Clarke Hulse's says, Titus Andronicus is a play with "14 killings, 9 of them on stage, 6 severed members, 1 rape (or 2 or 3, depending on how you count), 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity and 1 of cannibalism--an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines."

Fun times.

Here's a very basic outline: Titus comes back to Rome with his captives—Tamora, queen of the Goths, her three sons and her lover Aaron the Moor—in tow. He has lost all but four of his twenty-five sons in the war with the Goths. To honour his dead sons' spirits, Titus sacrifices Tamora's eldest son. Tamora, needless to say, ain't happy.

The emperor of Rome, Saturninus, chooses Tamora as his empress, after his brother, Bassianus, runs off with his intended bride Lavinia—-who, by a staggering coincidence, is Titus' daughter. (Her surviving brothers help her escape and now it's twenty-two sons down, three to go. Does it count if Titus kills them himself?)

Why aren't they teaching more Shakespeare in schools?

The play was made into a movie by Julie Taymor. It's even crazier.

In troping terms, Titus Andronicus tried to be Cincinnatus only for it to backfire spectacularly.

No pictures, please.


Tropes used in Titus Andronicus (theatre) include:
  • Affectionate Parody: Some people think that the reason this play was so violent was because Shakespeare was having a go at Marlowe's often gruesome plays.
    • Indeed, there are some scholars who argue that Shakespeare wrote Titus with such an outrageous amount of gore (even for the time period) that he actually intended for it to be a comedy. See the bit about the knife and the fly if you're skeptical. Noted Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt reworked it into a comedy.
    • May be the Ur Example of Parody Retcon.
  • Alien Lunch: Tamora should consider vegetarianism.
  • Anachronism Stew: For Ancient Rome, there sure are a lot of Christian references that wouldn't have been around back then. Furthermore, there was no Roman emperor who fought a war against the Goths (who invaded during the declining years of the Empire), and a Tribune (a political office from the era of the Roman Republic) wouldn't have served alongside the emperor.
  • And I Must Scream: Lavinia. Much of the play revolves around her attempts to communicate the names of her attackers.
  • Bait the Dog: Chiron and Demetrius are just two teenagers until Aaron gives them an idea.
  • Break the Cutie: Break, dismember... not all that different.
  • Cain and Abel: Bassianus and Saturninus
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Aaron
  • Casting Gag: In the 1999 film adaptation, Titus, the guy who brutally murders a bunch of people and serves their remains as food, was played by Anthony Hopkins.
  • The Chessmaster: Aaron
  • Chewing the Scenery: The play lends itself to this, and in the film, some of the actors (Anthony Hopkins, most especially) take advantage of it.
  • Chocolate Baby: Tamora and Aaron have one, much to Chiron and Demetrius' displeasure.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The rape and mutilation of Lavinia is not shown onstage, but the way Chiron and Demetrius taunt her about it after the fact is horrifying.

Demetrius: So now go tell, an if thy tongue can speak,
Who 'twas that cut thy tongue and ravish'd thee.
Chiron: Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so,
An if they stumps will let thee play the scribe.
Demetrius: See, how with signs and tokens she can scrawl.
Chiron: Go home, call for sweet water, wash thy hands.
Demetrius: She hath no tongue to call, nor hands to wash,
And so let's leave her to her silent walks.
Chiron: An 'twere my case, I should go hang myself.
Demetrius: If thou hadst hands to help thee knit the cord.

* Rape and Revenge: Lavinia may no longer be physically capable of killing Chiron and Demetrius herself, but she can sure as hell hold the bowl to catch their blood while her father butchers them.

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.