Shakespeare Summarized: Titus Andronicus

Shakespeare Summarized: Titus Andronicus


So some of you might have picked up on the fact that I tend to use Macbeth as a ruler to measure overall goriness of various texts; for example on a scale of 1-to-Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet would be maybe a 4 while something like Hamlet would be a solid 9. Now, this is a perfectly serviceable scale to measure against- or, at least, so I thought- until I had my attention drawn to a play I’d never read before. While I started reading Shakespeare at a pretty early age, I strongly suspect that my parents kept Titus Andronicus on the higher shelves, well out of my reach. Now let’s… let’s talk about this for a minute. Titus Andronicus is a play so gory and disgusting the people question if Shakespeare even wrote it at all. It’s roughly two hours of pointless mayhem, rampant dismemberment, and frankly disturbing amounts of murder. Shakespeare, the man who made a three-day fling between underage teenagers the most iconic love story in history. The man who explored the tortured psyche of kings and princes driven to murder. The poet who practically defined half of our modern character archetypes over the course of his career. THAT’S the guy who supposedly wrote this two hour pointless gore fest. Now there are a few mitigating factors to this. One people think that this might have been the first tragedy Shakespeare ever wrote, and I don’t think any of us would be able to defend our first piece of creative writing. Two, he might have been collaborating with this dude named George Peele, who was known for writing very gory plays. Three, he was probably very deliberately emulating the stupidly popular revenge plays of the time. Shakespeare hadn’t yet had time to functionally define the standard of entertainment for the next 400 years, so instead he’d have been drawing on what was popular BEFORE his time, which was this particular variety of good clean mindless disgusting fun. And four, people aren’t even sure he wrote this, so we can hate on the play all we want. And, trust me, we want to. But we don’t have to hate on the Bard, too. Okay, so, Titus Andronicus is about this blood feud between this Roman general Titus and this goth queen Tamora. So long story short, the Emperor is dead and General Titus Andronicus has been chosen to succeed him as soon as he returns from his ten-year campaign fighting the Goths. Speak of the devil, Titus promptly returns with a whole mess of prisoners and a lot of issues as a consequence of the death of his sons in the war. So, in order to make up the difference, Titus decides to murder one of the Goth prisoners- You know, an eye for an eye, a pile of dismembered limbs for another pile of dismembered limbs. This plays the essence of why turnabout is not a good idea. So they decide to kill this dude Alarbus, who happens to be the eldest son of Queen Tamora. So Tamora’s like, “Please don’t kill my kid,” and Titus is like, “Nah”, and kills her kid. Breezing past that for a moment, Titus super doesn’t want to be Emperor, and says Saturninus, the former of his oldest son, should totally rule instead. So Saturninus is like, “Ah, sweet. Hey, thanks, I’ll marry your daughter Lavinia! Sound good?” and Titus is like, “sounds awesome”. But unfortunately, Lavinia is already engaged to Saturninus’ brother Bassianus who objects rather strenuously to abruptly losing a future spouse. Bassianus scoots off with Lavinia in tow, and Titus’s son Mutius covers their escape, whereupon Titus murders him. So Saturninus abruptly changes his mind about both marrying Lavinia AND liking Titus, and, to spite him, marries Tamora on the spot. Now, this is bad for several reasons, but most noteworthy is that Tamora’s pretty salty about the death of her kid, and now she has the power of an empress. Anyway, Titus is still grumpy about Mutius turning on him, and while he’s furiously objecting to Mutius being buried in the family tomb, Tamora persuades Saturninus to pardon the Andronicus family AND his brother Bassianus, allegedly because he’s been the emperor for like, five minutes and starting his reign by hunting down the beloved Andronicus family would be a pretty bad start. Her REAL reason, of course, is so that she can systematically disassemble Titus’ life as vengeance for her dead kid. Man, it’s only ONE dead kid. So she basically asks Saturninus to leave the Andronicus family alone so she can kill them all herself, and because nothing is sexier than murderous intent, Saturninus agrees. Now that everyone’s friends again, they decide to have a celebratory hunt the next day, where I’m sure nothing will go wrong at ALL. (foreshadowing) So the next day Tamora’s two sons Demetrius and Chiron are fighting over Lavinia. But don’t worry, Aaron, a Moor with an intimate relationship to Tamora, breaks up the fight and helps them reach a peaceful reconciliation. They can BOTH have Lavinia- *deep breath intake*- as long as they kill her boyfriend, cut off her tongue so she can’t rat them out, do unspeakable things to her in the woods, and then frame Titus’ two sons for the murder of Bassianus. So they… do that, and Saturninus immediately sentences Martius and Quintus to death on the grounds that Tamora and Aaron TOTALLY found the letter they wrote about how totally stoked they are to murder Bassianus, and a bag of gold they TOTALLY used to pay for the assassins. Nobody in this play is terribly intelligent. It helps emphasize the murder. So Titus is none too pleased at the prospect of losing two MORE kids, and then Titus’ brother Marcus shows up with Lavinia, who’s now down a few important body parts. Rough day for Titus, and it’s about to get rougher. Aaron shows up and tells Titus that Saturninus will TOO- -OTALLY spare his son’s life if Titus lets him cut off his hand. Or Marcus. Or his remaining son Lucius. Aaron’s not picky. So Titus agrees to lose a hand, and after THAT excitement happens, they ship the hand off with Express Postage, and Titus and Lavinia briefly bond over their mutual lack of hands, whereupon they receive a return package containing Titus’s original hand along with Martius and Quintus’ heads. Whoops. So Titus is roughly 110% done with this nonsense, and sends his remaining son Lucius off to raise an army of Goths to wreak vengeance on those who dared wreak vengeance on him in the first place. See how this s*** keeps happening one of you has to be the better man here, or, this is never gonna end. Anyway Titus has a minor crisis at dinner after Marcus kills a fly, but in his defense he’s had a REALLY rough day. He takes Lavinia out to the garden so he can read to her, just like old times. Don’t you dare make me feel feelings, you Shakespearian excuse for a Tarantino movie. But Lavinia takes the opportunity to try and communicate to her family what exactly happened her; First by finding relevant passages in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and then by grabbing a stick with her teeth and stump hands, and writing Chiron and Demetrius in the dirt. Oh-ho-holy s***. Screw getting your hand cut off for no reason. Lavinia is by FAR the most hardcore out of all of you whiny Romans. So, meanwhile, in the *evil* royal mansion, Tamora’s just had a kid, but unfortunately for all parties involved he’s looking a little… TAN for someone whose parents were allegedly a pasty Roman and an east Germanic evil queen. Well, that’s odd. Who’s the only dark skinned cast member who could possibly be the father? …Whoops. Now, when I started reading this, it was my honest belief that this play had contributed nothing to society. I thought it was a relic from a gorier time. An embarrassing first play from a writer who hadn’t yet grown into his style. But this play. THIS play has contributed something to society that we CANNOT overlook, and for this, I shall let the play speak for itself. “Villain what hast thou done?” “That which thou can’st not undo.” “Thou hast undone done our mother!” “Villain, I have done thy mother!” That’s right, you heard it here first folks, the original “Yo mama” joke. So Demetrius, Chiron, and Tamora all want the baby dead, so Saturninus never finds out the Tamora was unfaithful, but Aaron rejects rather strenuously to his baby getting murdered, so he kills the nurse and midwife and flees into the night with the baby. So back to Titus. He’s a little unbalanced as a consequence of all that nonsense, and among other things has Marcus shoot arrows at the sky, with letters addressed to the gods asking for help. I’d make fun of his inefficient delivery system, but given what happened the LAST time he used the postal service, I can’t really fault him. So things are falling apart for old Saturninus. Lucius successfully marshaled an army of Goths, and he has the power of public opinion on his side. So Saturninus decides the best plan is to unbalance Titus even further and use him to persuade Lucius to stand down. Speaking of Lucius, he’s just found and captured Aaron carrying Aaron Jr. And after Lucius threatens his kid, Aaron spills the whole revenge plot, including what Demetrius and Chiron did to Lavinia. Speaking of Demetrius and Chiron, Tamora & sons have decided to drive Titus over the edge with a plot worthy of a Scooby-Doo episode. Tamora dresses up like the Spirit of Vengeance, probably not that one, and tells Titus that she’ll give him vengeance if he called off Lucius and his army of Goths. He agrees, but only if she leaves Demetrius and Chiron, disguised as the spirits of Rape and Murder respectively, with him. So Tamora, THOROUGHLY convinced that Titus is crazy, leaves her two sons with him, whereupon he captures them, slits their throats, and drains their blood into a basin held by Lavinia. Flawless plan, Tamora. Way to assume your enemy was too crazy to recognize the people he wanted to murder really, REALLY hard. So Titus hosts a reconciliatory banquet at his place in order to mediate a discussion between Saturninus and Lucius. So while they’re eating, Titus innocently asks if it’s right of a father to kill his daughter if she’s been violated, and Saturninus is all like, “Hell, yeah, dude,” so Titus is like, “Good to know!” and ganks Lavinia. Dude, not at the dinner table. So Saturninus is like, “Dude!” and Titus is like, “Wasn’t me. Demetrius and Chiron made me do it”. Saturninus is like, “Well, bring ’em up then! Let me talk to ’em,” and Titus is like, “Uhh, talking’s probably not an option anymore. Tamora there’s already EATEN some of them”. Yeah, Titus made a pie out of Demetrius and Chiron. Then he ganks(?) Tamora, too. Saturninus subjects for this And the play’s basically over. Lucius is Emperor now, the people are happy, and oh, right, they execute Aaron, whose only regret was that he wasn’t more of a dick in life. True story. *sings ‘What Goes Around… Comes Around’ by Justin Timberlake*

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