Introduction: Titus Andronicus

November 19, 2009 in Introduction

Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare’s first Classical play, written in the early 1590′s, and his first tragedy. It has obvious classical influences, notably from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which is discussed onstage, and from Seneca’s graphic tragedies written in Neronian Rome. It has sometimes been criticised as immature and unsubtle, some Victorian critics even dismissing the play as not Shakespeare’s. In more recent times, though, it has been appreciated as a valuable predecessor to the grand tragedies written in the second half of his career and in its time it was massively popular. Titus Andronicus is, roughly speaking, a revenge tragedy, its lurid gore expressing itself in a catalogue of rapes, mutilations, human sacrifice, murder, live burial and cannibalism. Titus and his opposite, the Goth queen Tamora, strike back and forth at each other in a manner made typical in Jacobean revenge tragedy, but shocking for a reader of Shakespeare’s more subtle tragedies. Likewise, Aaron, the Moor or black character in this tragedy, is – in sharp contrast to Othello – a figure of almost pure evil, cackling about the catalogue of inhumanities he has committed. However, Shakespeare manages to turn these moments of graphic horror into lyrical flights of beauty, Titus cherishing his mutilated daughter almost as a work of art.

Contributed by Colette Sensier

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