Titus Andronicus

Definition

Theater

  • Shakespeare's first tragedy, a brutal and sometimes grotesque work featuring rape, cannibalism, multilation, and numerous violent deaths.It was probably first performed in 1592. Because of its crudeness,scholars have sometimes tried to attribute the play to another author.It was not performed at Stratford until 1955, making it the last ofShakespeare's works to be staged there; in a landmark production Olivierplayed the demented Titus with Peter Brook directing. Other moderndirectors to find success with this difficult play include Deborah Warner in1987 and Lucy Bailey in 2006; the latter's gore-soaked production at Shakespeare's Globe became notorious for causing faintings and even vomitings among the audience on a nightly basis.

    In the story, which is set in ancient Rome, the emperor Saturninusand his wife Tamora determine to destroy the general Titus Andronicus.Tamora's sons rape and maim his daughter, Lavinia, cutting off herhands and tongue, and two of Titus's sons are falsely condemned todeath. In revenge, Titus kills Tamora's sons and bakes them in a pie,which he serves to her and Saturninus. Titus then kills his shameddaughter and Tamora before being slain by Saturninus who, in turn,is killed by Titus's remaining son. The play is notorious for itsgrisly stage directions, which include:

    Enter a messenger, with two heads and a hand.
    She takes the staff in her mouth and guides it with herstumps.
    Olivier, who was accident prone, once took a frightening backwardfall down a flight of stairs during the play. He told Anthony Quaylethat the worst thing about the role was having to complain all thetime:
    What you hate about Titus, he's always going 'oh, oh, oh,fancy them doing that to me, oh, oh, oh.' And how many ways are thereof saying 'oh, oh'?
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