Julie Taymor’s Titus Andronicus
Shakespeare's first tragedy has been a topic of discussion since the day it was written. Titus Andronicus "was staged on 24 January 1594 by the Earl of Sussex's Men at the Rose Theatre" (Welsh 1). Though this tidbit of information seems somewhat irrelevant to Titus, we must note that there are certain standards and practices established by a play from its first performance. It is also important to establish the general attributes that audiences attribute to Shakespearean performance.
One of the distinguishing factors in portraying Titus centers in its origin: "Titus Andronicus [...] must be considered as an experimental play" (Bowers 118). Being Shakespeare's first attempt at tragedy, it obviously has room for error. Yet, as some critics and scholars would say, I believe there is a similar element found in all of Shakespeare's works, no matter when they were written: "Shakespeare constantly reminds us that the character's predicament and humanity is very like our own" (Barton 184). No matter what the plot is, or where he chose to set the story, Shakespeare captures a fundamental element of humanity. Within Titus Andronicus, it is undoubtedly humanity's search for revenge: "Titus Andronicus is a play of social piety, outrage, suffering, and revenge" (Barber 133). The first three elements that Barber attributes to the work are consequential to the fourth; it is the revenge and spite of Titus, Tamora, and Aaron that fuel the other three elements.
The other distinguishing feature is the blood and gore that pervades the entire work. Numerous people, such as a fellow colleague of mine, actually dismiss the work due to the horrific acts committed by the characters. Yet if we look closely at the work, we realize there are understandable and even brilliant reasons for the overwhelming amount of violence. First of all, looking at the practical purpose of Shakespeare's work, we see that he was trying to overcome the standard Kyd had set down with violence, found in works such as the Spanish Tragedy: "Titus Andronicus tried to surpass [Kyd] in the portrayal of blood and horrors" (Bowers 109). Not only did the violence serve as a practical means of marketing, but the emphasis and devotion to the villainous character of Aaron "extends the role of the villain" (Bowers 274). For the first time we have monologues of the villain developing if not at least trying to explain his motives. With this development, Shakespeare further progressed his craft and simultaneously, gained stature for his inclinations. The non-practical explanation for Titus Andronicus' violence is found within the characters and the aspect of humanity their actions portray and mirror, if only in part, in all of us. There is a foundational element in all of us that seeks revenge. For we need "look only to [...] the present decade [...] to see that Titus Andronicus is no period piece irrelevant to contemporary times"...