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September Books 14) Titus Andronicus

14) Titus Andronicus, by William Shakespeare

The first thing to say is that this is a really violent play. One tally has the average rate of atrocities at one every 97 lines. Living as I do in a country where the public torture and mutilation of criminals and religious or political dissidents is no longer practiced as state policy, it's quite difficult to relate to the stream of rapes, mutilations, stabbings and executions which drive Titus Andronicus; not to mention the final scene where the title character cooks the rapists of his daughter and serves their flesh to their mother in a pie, which is surely extreme practice even by Elizabethan standards.

Yet at the same time it's awfully well written, and despite the unpleasant subject matter the plot drives forward unrelentingly. I have reservations about the very first scene taking up the whole of Act 1; it is very long and could easily be split into three or four sub-scenes. In Act 5 Scene 1, it seems to me that Aaron, the secret lover of the evil Empress Tamora, confesses his misdeeds rather rapidly. Also (again Act 5 Scene 1) we never quite get why the Goths, whose queen has now become Empress of Rome, are prepared to be led against her by the son of Titus Andronicus, their former bitter enemy. There's also the inevitable racism against Aaron, who is "a Moor" and therefore automatically dodgy.

The Arkangel production takes a difficult play and does it well. David Troughton, sounding uncannily like his father, excels in the title role, especially towards the end as the tragedy accelerates; to entrap Tamora's sons, he has to convince them that he is deluded and does it well. Paterson Joseph as Aaron and Harriet Walter as Tamora are pretty good too. I've seen one reviewer complain about the anachronism of swelling horror-movie style organ music along with the more traditional accompaniment, but really, this is a play set in ancient Rome where the characters use Christian oaths and talk about "popish tricks", so anachronism in this play at least has a firm foundation in practice.

Well, that was more entertaining than I expected. Next up is The Taming of the Shrew.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
inuitmonster
Sep. 20th, 2008 05:54 pm (UTC)
Anachronism is always a dubious concept with Shakespeare.

One funny thing about this play is that not that long ago it was widely seen as being one Shakespeare wrote on an off-day, and one that is virtually unstageable. Perhaps due to our increased tolerance for media violence, it has more recently become something of a favourite. There was a great production here in Dublin a couple of years back. Ruth Negga in particular as Lavinia did some great coarse acting in the scenes where she has no tongue or hands.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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