Titus Andronicus (William Shakespeare)

51rKJu4sGELPoor, unloved Titus Andronicus… both the character, unloved by the Roman empire in whose service he spent his life, and the play, unloved by, well, generations of critics. Even the BBC, when they undertook to adapt all of Shakespeare’s plays for TV, left it until the very end of that series. A play generally considered so poor that many have said (and have said so since the 1600s, indeed) that Big Bill couldn’t possibly have written it; after all, the greatest English writer couldn’t possibly have had an apprentice period where he wasn’t producing masterworks on the order of Hamlet. Even the Oxford edition ascribes at least part of the thing to George Peele. It’s like some critics think Shakespeare needs to be rescued from association with his own work.

Personally I’ve liked Titus for as long as I can remember—I was hugely delighted to discover it had been filmed in 1999 by Julie Taymor, and happily not disappointed by the end result—and I still do even though I’m probably more sensible of how ludicrous it is. Basically it’s set in a late Roman empire that never existed (I suppose you could almost call it an alternate history play), with elements borrowed from Ovid and a climax knocked off from Seneca, and death and dismembered scattered liberally throughout. I was in my mid to late teens when I first read it—no idea why, just that my folks got me a cheap complete Shakespeare around then cos we’d done some at school, and for no discernible reason that I can remember I chose to read this one off my own bat—at which age this sort of thing is fucking GREAT. I mean, I’ve always had a soft spot for a good bloodbath, I suppose, but at 15 or 16 or however old I was it just seemed to really click for me. I have a fondness for it I can’t really defend—it is, after all, a demonstrably early work, and the only really good monologue is Aaron’s, revelling in his own vileness and lamenting that he hadn’t been worse—but too bad, I like it anyway. Some fond feelings have no rational basis, and I happily accept this is one of those…

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