Thursday, July 7, 2011

June Reviews: Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus seems to me to be the epitome of tragedy--a war hero returns to Rome to bury some of his sons and proceeds to choose the wrong man to be emperor and chooses the wrong prisoner of war to offend by sacrificing her son. These actions lead to the rape and mutilation of his daughter, the death of three more sons, and one of those final Shakespearean scenes in which everyone, even the title character, lies on stage dead but two people who will somehow make things better.

However, it goes beyond that as Tony Tanner notes: "It is all, simply and literally, too much--Titus' grief is as uncontainable as Aaron's evil. Shakespeare was always drawn to the study of what 'disdaineth bounds'--excess of all kinds". The horrific violence, the sudden changes on the part of Titus from mourning his sons to killing a son who opposed the emperor's desire to marry his sister who was already promised to another, the barbarian empress encouraging her sons to rape and murder--it becomes unreal. As does the ending--Lucius, the remaining son of Titus Andronicus becomes emperor and hopes to "govern so, to heal Rome's harms and wipe away her woe!" Yet in some way, I think he was responsible for the whole mess--it was his suggestion in the first place to sacrifice Tamora the Goth's son at his brothers' tomb in revenge for their deaths at the hands of the Goths. And this led to the escalation of Tamora's revenge against the whole family. Lucius himself was exiled in the process and used the Goths, his former enemy, to bring down the emperor, Tamora, and her African lover, Aaron. His final words do not presage an end to the extremes, merely an end to his enemies--Aaron is to be half-buried alive to starve to death and Tamora's body is to be left for the birds to consume. If this is how "civilized" Rome will continue to deal with her enemies, what will keep her from falling back into the violent extremes at the hands of another Aaron or Tamora? Unlike most Shakespearean tragedies, no lessons seem to have been learned.

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"May" Review: The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors requires a bit more of the suspension of disbelief than some of the other Shakespearean comedies I've read. The idea that two sets of identical twin brothers (one set the masters, the other the servants) should run around a town for a day confusing each other, the townspeople, and one set's family members and servants is quite ridiculous. That assumes that their clothing was identical and that they all spoke the same language, with the same accent, even though two were from Ephesus and two from Syracuse. Not to mention, the unlikely accident that both sets of twins were given the same names--Antipholus and Dromio. That said, it was a very fun read, especially after all the Henry plays!

While the play had a lot to say about family and identity, it also, less obviously, added to the nature/nurture debate and, I think, comes down on the nurture side. Egeon and Emilia, husband and wife, and parents to twin boys with twin servant boys, were both shipwrecked. Fate would have it that each parent lashed themselves to a spar with one of each twin. Egeon and his set ended up in Syracuse while Emilia was separated from hers. When the play opens, the adult Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse have been searching for their counterparts and have become separated from Egeon, who arrives in Ephesus to find them. (Needless to say, all the important family members are now in Ephesus, the home of the other A & D, and the place in which Emilia has lived as an Abbess, unbeknownst to her two).

The adult Ephesian Antipholus is a womanizer who makes his wife Adriana miserable with his absences. He also seems to regularly abuse his servant Dromio, who is engaged to a large cook in the household. Syracusan Antipholus seems more amenable to a solid marriage--he speaks of his love for Luciana, Adriana's sister: "I am thee: Thee will I love and with thee lead my life". Luciana thinks he's acting true to character, however, because she mistakes him for his brother. Also, this A. allows Dromio to tease him and treats him more like a friend, at least until the craziness of their situation intensifies. Also, this Dromio finds his brother's fiance grotesque and over-powering. The main difference between both sets of twins is that one set had a father and the other set was "orphaned" with their mother missing. That and the Syracusans knew they had missing twin brothers.

This is definitely a play I'd enjoy seeing staged, though again, I would be curious about how believable it would seem.