Yoknapatawpha Crossing

Blood and gore

with one comment

Right now I’m at Duke, being a dork and doing math during the summer. The whole end of the semester, beginning of the summer period has been pretty non-stop, and it’s not going to ease up any. When this is over, I’ll have one day at home before leaving for Germany and six weeks of ‘study’ abroad. But, before I left W&M, my friend and I didn’t have anything better to do one evening, so I made her watch Titus with me. (The movie, not the play. Although I have no doubt that watching a book would be quite gripping, if you’re in to that sort of thing.)

The play Titus Andronicus was written by Shakespeare, but in recent years, Julie Taymor directed a big screen adaptation of it, which starred Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange. The critics weren’t too fond of it; in fact, it turns out that the critics aren’t too fond of the original play, either. It’s apparently viewed as the closest Shakespeare ever got to hack work, written to do nothing but please the crowd. As you might expect, it’s got tons of blood. All kinds of body parts get cut off, people get baked into pastries… it’s great. Sadly, most people today look at the horrific violence of the play and dismiss it as Shakespeare’s shallowest work, making the claim that it’s the lowest type of dramatic work: that degenerate play written merely to please the audience and make money.

That’s something I’m not going to try to refute, because I’m not an English major, but people who hold this view of Titus Andronicus are, I think, missing the larger point. Every play Shakespeare wrote was intended merely to please the audience and make money; they were, after all, his job. The fact that he happened to be supremely gifted in writing plays with deep and powerful themes was just history’s luck. Titus Andronicus may not be Shakespeare’s most ‘literary’ work, but that doesn’t mean that it’s wholly without merit. As with all his plays, there’s quite a lot to recommend it besides the bloody plot, from memorable, well-developed characters to the witty dialogue.

I have a hard time understanding Shakespeare purists; people who insist on re-enacting his plays in Elizabethean garb are, I think, forgetting that his plays are entertainment in the same way that Hollywood films are entertainment. They are not holy writ, and they are meant to dazzle, shock, and surprise.

In the case of Titus Andronicus, I think that the generally negative feeling towards it that I have seen among critics is misplaced. When you get down to brass tacks, the direction is fantastic, the reinterpretation of the setting is quirky and interesting, and every single actor across the board has an outstanding grasp of the material. Two thumbs up.

And all of that aside, Aaron gets the best line in any play ever: “Villian, I have done thy mother.”

Complete text of Titus Andronicus, courtesy of Project Gutenberg


Written by Daniel Grady

May 24, 2005 at 22:55

Posted in Movies

One Response

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  1. hahah yeah, you would like the line about doing people’s mothers. Mine says hello, by the way.


    July 26, 2005 at 18:52

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