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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1 comment:

  1. Come check out my performance review on The Merchant of Venice. Thank you, Elena for designing the challenge!