‘Titus Andronicus’ by William Shakespeare: A Review

Author: William Shakespeare
Genre: Drama/Play
Written: Between 1588 and 1593
Pages: 26 (in complete works with two columns per page)


(Summary from SparkNotes as they did a better job than I did!)

‘Titus Andronicus, Roman general, returns from ten years of war with only four out of twenty-five sons left. He has captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, her three sons, and Aaron the Moor. In obedience to Roman rituals, he sacrifices her eldest son to his own dead sons, which earns him Tamora’s unending hatred and her promise of revenge.

Tamora is made empress by the new emperor Saturninus. To get back at Titus, she schemes with her lover Aaron to have Titus’s two sons framed for the murder of Bassianus, the emperor’s brother. Titus’s sons are beheaded. Unappeased, she urges her sons Chiron and Demetrius to rape Titus’s daughter Lavinia, after which they cut off her hands and tongue so she cannot give their crime away. Finally, even Titus’s last surviving son Lucius is banished from Rome; he subsequently seeks alliance with the enemy Goths in order to attack Rome. Each new misfortune hits the aged, tired Titus with heavier impact. Eventually, he begins to act oddly and everyone assumes that he is crazy.

Tamora tries to capitalize on his seeming madness by pretending to be the figure of Revenge, come to offer him justice if Titus will only convince Lucius to cease attacking Rome. Titus, having feigned his madness all along, tricks her, captures her sons, kills them, and makes pie out of them. He feeds this pie to their mother in the final scene, after which he kills both Tamora and Lavinia, his own daughter. A rash of killings ensue; the only people left alive are Marcus, Lucius, Young Lucius, and Aaron. Lucius has the unrepentant Aaron buried alive, and Tamora’s corpse thrown to the beasts. He becomes the new emperor of Rome.’ Source: http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/titus/summary.html

Before I started reading this play, I had read that it is Shakespeare’s bloodiest and most violent play. To an extent you come to expect it in a Shakespearean tragedy, but nothing had quite prepared me for the volume of unnecessary violence in the play. The number of limbs getting hacked off was positively disturbing! However, the plot itself was interesting and engaging, although (as is often the case with a Shakespeare play) it did take me a while to work out the relationships between the characters and to remember who was who!

I was disappointed with the end of the play however, as the climax that was building up throughout the play never really came to much. However, Shakespeare’s eloquent description and witty remarks make up for the sometimes disappointing plot. It isn’t a Shakespeare play I had ever considered reading, and reminded me of Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Tamburlaine’ due to the amount of extreme violence; however, I strangely enjoyed it for reasons that I cannot fathom. I think that the main reason that I felt drawn to it was because of the carefully calculated plot, which is exciting and fast-paced.

In conclusion, this play is guaranteed to make your stomach churn, and yet you cannot help feeling drawn in by the action. As Shakespeare plays go, it was pretty easy to grasp the plot so it may be a good one for people who don’t often read a lot of Shakespeare!

Favourite Quotes: TAMORA: ‘And when they show’d me this abhorred pit / They told me, here, at dead time of night / A thousand fiends, a thousand hissing snakes / Ten thousand swelling toads, as many urchins / Would make such fearful and confused cries / as any mortal body hearing it / Should straight fall mad, or else die suddenly …’ (Act II, Scene III)

And for pure comedy value:

CHIRON: ‘Thou hast undone our mother’
AARON: ‘Villain, I have done thy mother.’ (Act IV, Scene II)

Rating: 6/10