I was quite looking forward to this. Much as I like things with a bit of subtext to them, I am also a bit of a fan of gore and violence on occasion. So, with one of the goriest of Shakespeare’s plays in front of me, how could I resist?
The plot of Titus Andronicus starts in the days following the death of the Roman Emperor, with the deceased’s sons, Saturninus and Bassanius, arguing about who should inherit their father’s throne. Returning from war with the Goths with prisoners in tow, the eponymous Titus breaks up their argument, lending his support to Saturninus who is then crowned Emperor. So far so good. The newly crowned Saturninus then makes known his desire to marry Lavinia, Titus’ daughter; at this point, Bassanius absconds with her, stating that she was already betrothed to him, accompanied by Titus’ four sons. Bereft of his bride, Saturninus decides that instead of Lavinia, he will marry Tamora, the Goth Queen amongst Titus’ prisoners. The same woman whose son Titus sacrificed in honour of his dead sons. I’m sure you can see why the prospects of Titus and his family aren’t great from that point onwards.
If you are going to read Titus Andronicus for anything, then I would say that it should be for the character of Aaron, Tamora’s Moorish lover. He is unashamedly evil, adding to the suffering of the Andronici with obvious glee. Highly unpleasant, but an absolute joy to watch: why else would he get all the great speeches? This is amply shown in Hugh Quarshie’s performance in the BBC adaptation, so much so that I almost wanted him to win. Not quite, but almost.
The adaptation overall was pretty solid, with decent make-up effects and very solid acting, especially from figures like Trevor Peacock and Edward Hardwicke. There was an odd focus on the largely incidental character of Young Lucius, although I can see that they were trying to show how much damage is done to the Andronici through him. I thought it was kind of moot though, considering what happens to Lavinia in the course of the play.
Definitely worth watching or reading, so much so that I will be looking to get the Julie Taymor adaptation with Anthony Hopkins. Possibly not for those with weak stomachs, and especially those for whom rape is a no-go area. Otherwise I would definitely recommend it to Shakespeare fans. 4/5
Next review: The Baker Street Phantom by Fabrice Bourland