Is Titus Andronicus written by William Shakespeare? Where does it stand in the canon of Shakespearean plays? Is it serious enough to be counted as one of his Roman plays, or should it be consigned to the scrap heap of "practice" plays? Is it even important to ask such questions?
It would be impossible for the average reader/viewer, without complete understanding of the history of the publication and attribution of the play, to determine the authorship of the play. It is enough to know that many early critics have tried to deny that Shakespeare had anything to do with it. Lewis Theobald and Edmund Malone, two of Shakespeare's most famous editors in the eighteenth century, claim that he did not write it. Other critics have analyzed everything from vocabulary to meter to feminine endings in an attempts to prove that Shakespeare was not the author; not one of them succeeded in reaching conclusive proof. What is most useful in asking these questions is the insight they provide as to how different eras react to this play, and the revelations about those eras' values that their reactions shed. Eighteenth century objections to the play, for example, betray the period's neoclassicism in its jealous guarding of "Art" and "Nature" from such gory violation.
Philip C. Kolin writes, "In Shakespeare's earliest and bloodiest venture into the form [of tragedy], eyesight is tragically linked to the process of generating and deciphering texts." Discuss the importance of eyesight and of the text in Titus Andronicus.
Anyone can see that there is a very heavy emphasis in Titus Andronicus on reading and writing texts. The audience is presented with books, scrolls, maps, lines, seals, stamps, supplications, orations, letters, and quotes. In the course of the play, it is vital to be able to decipher texts to be one step ahead of the enemy, and it is possible to use texts as weapons against one's foes. Shakespeare communicates this by transforming the stage into a script, and by making words out of the flesh of his characters. In this way, he is engaging in a sort of metamorphosis, which appears as a tribute to Ovid, whose myth of Philomela from Metamorphosis Shakespeare quotes substantially. The difference is that Shakespeare's metamorphosis is not that of one physical form to another, but from the physical/visible form into the poetic/legible one.
Tragedy of blood, revenge tragedy, history play, political play, Roman tragedy, horror comic, parody play, Grand Guignol, daddy of all horror plays...which is it? Break down and analyze the structure and organization of Titus Andronicus to arrive at a classification of the play, if possible. If not, discuss what generic attributes the play holds, and how they help us to understand Shakespeare's intentions in writing it.
Titus Andronicus is most often seen as a tragedy because it appears on so many counts to be a forerunner of King Lear. It also bears hints of Coriolanus and Othello. And yet the play does not contain the subtlety, characterization, or intelligence of most Shakespearean tragedies. For this reason, critics often describe Titus Andronicus as a practice play, as Shakespeare stretching his writing muscles in anticipation of later efforts. More likely than not, Titus Andronicus is a studied imitation of the Senecan tragedies so popular with Elizabethan audiences at the time of its writing. One sees this in the determined revenge hero of Titus, as well as in the unwavering figure of evil of Aaron. Whether this revenge play is seen as sincere or as a distanced parody will depend on the individual opinion and argument.
Evelyn Waugh said, "Titus is an arduous part. He is on stage almost continuously as heroic veteran, stoic parent, implacable devotee of barbarous pieties, crazy victim, adroit revenger." Given the various roles Titus plays, how are we to understand him as a hero? Is he more tragic or Senecan? Does he exhibit any growth or healing in the course of the play, or is he just a physical manifestation of revenge?
More than just a setting for the drama, the city of Rome in Titus Andronicus is a highly charged and deeply symbolic landscape that reflects the bodily and mental states of its main characters. Should Rome itself be included in the cast of characters? How does Shakespeare represent Rome in the play, and to what effect?
J. Dover Wilson called Titus Andronicus "a huge joke which, we may guess, Shakespeare enjoyed twice over, once in the penning of it, and again in performance, while he watched his dear groundings, and most of those in the more expensive parts of the theatre also, gaping ever wider to swallow more as he tossed them bigger and bigger gobbets of sob-stuff and raw beef-steak." Is there any evidence in the way the play is written that Titus Andronicus is no more than a parody of a revenge play? Is there any way in which it is an original work that does more than parody?
Discuss the treatment of women in Titus Andronicus. Is this a misogynistic play? Is there any female character in the play three-dimensional enough for us to care about?
Consider the use of animal imagery in the play. What sorts of images are most frequently used, and in relation to which characters and events? What does this indicate to us about the relations between characters? What impression does it leave us of Saturninus's Rome? In contrast to the animal imagery, some characters (such as Lavinia) are sometimes referred to in vegetable similes. Is this an effective counterpoint to the first motif?
Is there more to the Moore than pure villainy? Does Shakespeare provide Aaron with any understandable motivations at all? How are we to perceive his role in this play? Is he an actual human character or more a representation of evil in a morality play?
If you were to produce Titus Andronicus today, how would you stage it to make it relevant to a contemporary audience? Think about the resonances it might have with the two World Wars, gang violence, and the high crime rates of the industrialized Western world. You might want to incorporate different media into your production, such as music videos, news footage, or images and text from the internet. Think in terms of setting, lighting, sound, and costuming, and try and match events and characters with recognizable icons (or even original motifs of your own) that would make the play a valuable lesson to an audience today.