||[Jun. 6th, 2010|05:25 pm]
I really very much enjoyed Titus Andronicus. I believe it's one of my favourites of Shakespeare's plays. It is, however, deeply unsettling and disturbing. I like it in part because of how disturbing it is and in part despite how disturbing it is.
Forgive the rambling nature of this post, it's a ramble, that's all.
So I've been trying to figure just what makes Titus Andronicus so bloody disturbing.
Firstly, the characters, all of them, are wondrously believable. This is Shakespeare's great strength (and related to his other great strength, writing sneaky bad guys [or pseudo-crazy princes] who say one thing and do another)
Secondly, it violated a lot of unspoken taboos of story-telling.
You don't show the bad guys plotting ill against the title character's daughter and then have their plan work. No no no, if you show them plotting it's pretty much a guarantee to the reader that their plot is going to be thwarted. And if you intend for the bad guys to wreak ill upon the title character's daughter, you go ahead and do it, but it comes unexpected. And then there are certain extents to which you just plain do not go, Shakespeare goes to them all.
I think it should be plain that Titus Andronicus was written more as a shocker, as an excuse for bloodbath, and less as an intellectual drama.
That mentioned, Hamlet broke a storytelling taboo with the death of the comic relief (when Hamlet, in his madness, hath Polonius slain). However, Polonuis' death is required for the advancement of the plot, had he not died, Ophelia would not have gone mad, Hamlet would not have been sent to England, Laertes would not have came storming back to Elsinore and Hamlet, Laertes, Claudius and Gertrude would not have ultimately ended up as a pile of bodies.
When a character is going after revenge, once the revenge is achieved the story is over (or that section of it is), the plot is resolved. In Titus Andronicus, all the characters are after revenge upon someone for that someone's act of vengeance.
Everyone knows the basic revenge story line. Something bad happens to someone's loved one and so the someone goes on a revenge spree. It's cliché, it can be boring if it's not done right, and it works no matter what.
Titus Andronicus is the basic revenge story, it's at least four basic revenge stories all playing off one another.
Tamora wants to avenge her son, she expands it to all the Romans instead of just Titus. She lost a war, this is to be understood.
Saturninus wants to avenge his brother, and, because he's emperor, he does so easily. But he gets the wrong guys, whoops.
Titus (and the rest of his huge family along with him) wants to avenge his daughter and doesn't have any clue who to go after.
Titus (et. al) wants to avenge his sons, but it's kind of futile wanting vengeance on an Emperor, then when he finds out what's really on, he wants vengeance on the Emperor and the Emperor's wife (this is even harder to attain than vengeance on an emperor).
It's strange that Titus, who just recently killed one of his own sons over some silly quarrel, is so devastated by the subsequent deaths of two others. Or maybe the fact that he killed his son makes him feel his other sons' deaths that much more deeply.
Body count in Hamlet -- 8, with one in the prelude
Polonuis, Ophelia, R&G, Hamlet, King, Queen, Laertes (and Hamlet Sr. before the play starts)
Body count in Titus Andronicus -- 9, with an implied tenth
Tamora, Saturninus, Titus, Lavina, Bassianus, Titus's son (the one Titus killed himself, I didn't quite catch his name), Demetrius, Chiron, Alarbus (and Aaron supposedly gets dead afterwards).
Strangely, with all the nasty extents the play goes to, Demetrius and Chiron get off (comparatively) easy. After everything, all that happens is they get tied up, have a few frightening speeches tossed at them and then get their throats slit. I felt that this was too good for them. For all the nastiness they perpetrated or had a part in, they deserved a lot more nastiness than they ultimately got.
I don't know, I find having your bones ground to powder and mixed with your blood and then having your head boiled in the sauce is pretty gruesome. Of course, you could argue that that was Titus' revenge on Tamora, but I'm thinking he must have thought of Demetrius and Chiron(and what they'd done to Lavinia) at some point during the process...
I've just finished it about twenty minutes ago, so I'm still processing everything that happened. I'm not sure whether I want to watch it or not... it's pretty gruesome in my head, I'm not sure I need to see it translated to the screen(though I do confess myself curious to how, exactly, Shakespeare had people's hands cut off - or their throats cut - onstage, back in the day). Who was in the one you watched, out of curiosity?
I think I enjoyed it, overall, despite the gruesomeness, but I know there were some things I had issue with while they were happening - like why Lavinia agrees to marry Saturninus if she's already pledged to Bassianus. Why didn't she just say she was betrothed, instead of having to be abducted by her lover and her brothers? That was an instance where it seemed like Shakespeare was just trying to ramp up the drama. Whoa, sword fight in the streets! Crazy!
Yes, but that's all after the fact. To Chiron and Demetrius all they get is some scary speeches and then yay dead.
And yes, some bits of it were there just for the MAKE MORE PLOT! SHED MORE BLOOD aspect of it's really being a thriller instead of a tragedy.
The version I watched was the 1985 BBC production with Trevor Peacock and a bunch of other people I'd never heard of. It was cheesy and decidedly from from the 'eighties, but generally GOOD (lack of a good set can just make the actors stand out that much more). The movie itself was decidedly un-gruesome. There were plenty of blood-spattered characters, and lots of stuff happening just outside the frame of the camera, but the real horror of it all was carried entirely by the characters' words. Alarbus' death was truly horrific, but you didn't see a bit of it. He walks off with the soldiers, the soldiers come back blooddrenched and say
"Alarbus' limbs are lopp'd,
And entrails feed the sacrificing fire"
Probably a good example of something being effective because it's entirely up to the reader.
As for how Shakespeare pulled this stuff off on the stage, it probably involved actors carefully angling themselves out of the audience's view and a lot of sleight of hand (all puns intended). And I'd not be surprised if they just dispensed with the fake blood altogether and trusted to the audience's suspended belief (or whatever they call that).