Archive for George Peele

Who Is Titus Andronicus?

Posted in Titus Andronicus with tags , , , on 2014/01/13 by mattermind

With the majority of Shakespeare’s plays, I have a pretty good sense whether they are comedies, tragedies, histories or romances and who or what they’re about.  Only a few leave me scratching my head, drawing a blank.  Two of these are Coriolanus and Cymbeline.  The other is Titus Andronicus.  I am not proud of this.

From Wikipedia, I learn:

 Titus Andronicus is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, and possibly George Peele, believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593. It is thought to be Shakespeare’s first tragedy, and is often seen as his attempt to emulate the violent and bloody revenge plays of his contemporaries, which were extremely popular with audiences throughout the sixteenth century.

 The play is set during the latter days of the Roman Empire and tells the fictional story of Titus, a general in the Roman army, who is engaged in a cycle of revenge with Tamora, Queen of the Goths. It is Shakespeare’s bloodiest and most violent work and traditionally was one of his least respected plays. Although it was extremely popular in its day, it fell out of favour during the Victorian era, primarily because of what was considered to be a distasteful use of graphic violence, but from around the middle of the twentieth century its reputation began to improve.

 What stands out from this description is that this is a fictional tale, though it is set during the Roman Empire.  Othello too was fictional, but it did not have a historical context like Titus.  I’m curious how Shakespeare – or George Peele, whoever that is – came up with the character.

 The story sounds a lot more familiar, like every other breaking-in writer’s biography.  No surprise that Shakespeare went with what was popular at the time.  Make it bloody and violent, eh, Will?  Give ‘em what they want.  Are you not entertained?

 The question now then is what sets Titus Andronicus apart, what hallmarks distinguish it as a work of the budding Shakespeare  How much of the author of Othello do we find here?  How are the stories similar or different?

 I am prepared – I think – now for shock and violence, though I still don’t know what the story is about.  Will it hold my interest?  Will I wish I hadn’t started it?  What are its redeeming qualities, if any?  Why isn’t it produced very often?

If I can survive it, the filmed adaptation by Julie Taymor awaits after the play is done.  Oh, joy.