Titus Andronicus - David Burke, David Troughton, Joseph Paterson, William Shakespeare Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare's earliest tragedies. A detail that comes through in many aspects of the play, particularly its over-the-top, in-your-face violence. Little is left to the audience's imagination except for the rape and mutilation of Lavinia and the execution of Quintus and Martius, Titus' sons.

Many would like to distance Shakespeare from this play. As if it were a piece of hackwork he threw together to pay the rent but it's actually quite Shakespearean, if a bit rough around the edges. One can see glimpses of Iago and Othello in Aaron the Moor, King Lear in Titus and Cordelia in Lavinia. And many of the tropes one comes to expect in Shakespeare are also adumbrated: Revenge (of course), Order out of Chaos (like Octavian in Julius Caesar, Edgar in King Lear, or even Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream), or the ability to speak as a sign of full humanity (Lavinia).

My favorite character is, of course, Aaron the Moor. Unrepentant in his villainies and instigator of truly vile crimes (rape, murder, mutilation), nevertheless I can't condemn him as utterly evil since it was Titus who began this cycle of tragedy when he hacked Tamora's oldest son Alarbus limb from limb as a sacrifice. Are his deeds any more "evil" because they are not sanctioned by honor and law?

Julie Taymor filmed a marvelous adaptation (Titus), starring Anthony Hopkins (Titus) and Jessica Lange (Tamora), which deserves a look.

It's a telling comment on our own times that Majorie Garber considers Titus Andronicus the most "modern" of Shakespeare's plays, and, of his tragedies, the one most easily accessible to today's audience. ("Titus Andronicus," Shakespeare After All pp. 73-88)