Titus Andronicus is messed up.
There's no way around it, this is one of Shakespeare's most violent and transgressive plays. It involves rape, murder, torture and maiming, cannibalism, and lots of lying. Plot summaries of the tragedy are necessarily confusing and longer than any summary should be, but it's basically one long revenge drama.
But it's not a linear revenge drama. Tamora and her sons take revenge on Titus and his daughter, who take revenge on Tamora and her sons, and that's just the main plot. Other characters either die or take revenge as a result of this central story.
And then there's Aaron the Moor. Aaron the Moor, if you haven't met him, is probably the most wicked man in literature. Not that his actions are worse than those of Titus or Tamora, but unlike them he has virtually no reason to do any of the bad stuff he's so eager to perpetrate. When he dies, buried alive to the chest and left for the elements and animals, he quips, "If one good deed in all my life I did, I do repent it from my very soul."
Here we have a man sentenced to painful death for murder, rape, and other misdeeds, and he's repenting of the fact that he may not have been as bad as he could have been. No matter how you dice it, that's one bad dude.
Of course, you have a lot of people warning readers away from this trash, because that's what they think it is, just trash with no redeeming value. Sure, it's Shakespeare, and therefore brilliantly written, but it's pretty gross, too.
Titus Andronicus is not Shakespeare's twisted attempt to promote crime, however. On the surface, it's a very clear picture of what man is like without God. Unregenerate and unrestrained, humans will stoop to the lowest acts to satisfy their own desires.
There's a lot more going on here, though. If that was all Shakespeare was trying to do, show us how bad people can get, you'd be better off just reading the biblical book of Judges. The real point of Titus Andronicus is the inability for people to execute true justice or to be satisfied with the "justice" they carry out vigilante-style.
Not only does everyone die trying to bring justice to other people, when revenge is attained it never brings the solace they expect it to provide. The revenge artists are still lost in the agony of bitterness, bereavement, and horror.
The play isn't for everybody. It's a strong drink, and doesn't always go down smooth. For those willing to brave it, though, you'll find Titus Andronicus a powerful commentary on man's appetite for power, his capacity for evil, and the emptiness of justice that knows no justice. You'll also enjoy some of Shakespeare's best writing and a host of quotable lines.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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