Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Titus Andronicus Intro Info


well well well. Titus Andronicus. every time i tell people i'm about to read this, they groan. i've gotten a lot of "i HATE that play"s. i know one person who loves it, and she REEEEALLY loves it. i hope she will offer us up some wisdom as we go!

so here's what i learned about this play today:
it has a bad rep. T.S. Eliot called it 'one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written.' HARSH. it seems like the criticism has a lot to do with the fact that Shakespeare wrote it. if it had been penned by someone else, maybe it wouldn't seem so bad. our expectations are higher when Shakespeare is involved. yeah, maybe it won't measure up to Hamlet or Macbeth, but i'm sure there's still a lot there. yes? no? maybe?

this play was written super early in Shakespeare's career, probably by 1590. and apparently it was a hit. a couple of other plays on the same subject may have existed at this time, which Shakespeare probably pulled from. he was also strongly influenced by a book called The History of Titus, Ovid's Metamorphoses, and the works of Virgil, Kyd, Marlowe, and others. Shakespeare was so young when he wrote Titus, and was leaning heavily on what he learned from reading the classics.

also, this is a revenge play. not like a mature, brain-crunching revenge play like Hamlet. oh no. this is a violent, horrific revenge play. be prepared for human sacrifice, murder, mutilation, etc. blood galore! i feel like we saw Shakespeare mature a lot from the Henry 6 plays to Richard III, and it might be a little frustrating to take a step back a few years. but oh well. i'm going to try to read it with a little perspective and enjoy it for what it is. i know there's a lot more than violence going on, and maybe some Titus lovers out there will help guide us through!

i hope you will read along!

-rebecca may


  1. I'm not the Tigger in this regard. My hero, Antonin Artaud, approved of the play and wanted to direct it for his Theater of Cruelty. (Although I looked this morning, I could not find a quote, but I remember reading it.) And Julie Taymor directed a 1999 film TITUS, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins. I expect that further research could uncover more instances of appreciation for this play, despite its infamy.

    Let's not forget that HAMLET ends with a stage strewn with bodies. The lyrics to "That's Entertainment" describe the plot of that "mature" play as, "Where a ghost and a prince meet, and everyone ends in mincemeat." Of course, I love HAMLET as my favorite Shakespeare play.

  2. I have a post on Titus Andronicus here if you are interested: It was the first play I read this year and it was quite the kickoff!

    You might want to wait until you're done -- there are spoilers. But I thought I'd share the link since your previous post was about wishing for more conversation.

  3. start:

    The play is actually a collaborative effort between George Peele and William Shakespeare. Peele was an established playwright when the play was written before 1594 (That's all we know.) The 1594 Quarto edition, the only quarto of this play in existence, was not discovered until 1904! This had a lot to do with pre-20th century controversy about the authorship. However, the definitive Peele argument, research, and extensive literary tests of the text did not surface really until the 21st C. when Brian Vickers wrote a book on five of the plays. TITUS is not only amazing play, but it was Shakespeare's most popular of the time, most negatively criticized later, and created the most literary controversy. The play and all of its history are very mysterious, which is why it is my favorite. The literary controversy in its fullest is for another blogsite, but let me know if there are any questions. ; ) The research points to Peele being the primary author on at least these four scenes: I.1, II.1, II.2, and IV.1. Keep it in mind as you are reading. They actually write quite differently, but it is hard for us to pick out because of our current use of language. Peele has a militaristic quality, in his description and style of writing, and is also less poetic than Shakespeare.

    ~A Chapbook in 6 parts (basically pamphlets)"The Tragical History of...." Though Titus is a pseudohistory of course.
    ~Ballad "The Lamentable and Tragical History of..."
    ~Ovid's Metamorphoses
    ~Seneca's Thyestes
    ~Roman History
    There is claim that his influence came from contemporary translations, but Peele read Latin, and knew a lot about Greek and Roman history, which was an interest to Shakespeare, though may not have been his strong suit. The original chapbook is believed to be an English translation of earlier versions from Rome.

    Susan's right about Artaud. Actually the play is written closer to the vernacular of the period than most others by Shakespeare, especially in the banter. Something that was very attractive to the audience (It was his MOST popular play in his period.) He wanted to tackle tragedy, so he turned to a pro for help, but not only that, Shakespeare was still struggling with being a poet turned does a poet write for the stage? Hence some of the playing with vernacular. Some of the actions in the play are metaphors of this struggle (but that's for later). Well...I could write about this all day, but I'll try to keep other entries shorter. ; )