3 severed heads, 1 severed tongue, 1 rape, 10 onstage murders in cold blood, 5 offstage murders in cold blood, 2 human pies, 2 severed heads, 1 incidence of father-daughter murder, 1 incidence of father-son murder, 1 live burial and 1 instance of cannibalism. Let that suffice as a summary of Shakespeare’s bloodiest play. Titus was also his first tragedy. The stupefying amounts of blood and violence are what make Titus a popular gap filler for companies looking to perform a full season. It is a much easier task than, say, Hamlet or Macbeth, because those two take more time to prune each line to perfection. Whereas in Titus, fake blood and stunts can substitute for real substance. However, it is often difficult to focus on lines when an actor is being stabbed to death behind the speaker.
The biggest landmark of this play is Aaron the Moor, one of the most purely evil characters of all time. He is certainly Shakespeare's most evil character. While many argue in favor of Richard III or Edmund from Lear, they both have one defining trait which separates them. They both had somewhat understandable reasons for their villainies. Both were subject discrimination because of either birth or crippled limbs, both are humans who have become as they are because of treatment, not out of pure nature. The only possible contender is Othello's Iago. But I think he is better described as Shakespeare's most interesting villain, because he seems to have no motive leaves his motive open to the interpretation of the actor. He does definitively have some motive, it is just left open. Hence Aaron is left as the most evil.
Yet, neither of the striking components of this production were Aaron. One was the set. Titus is mainly about two things; honor and blood. The honor was brought out by the long marble stage. Three platforms with lights underneath them sat around it. Pure white, unstained, like honor. Four columns stood at the back. Each was veiled by vines and roses, curling and snaking towards the top. Atop these columns were four marble torsos and heads of men being tortured. Horrifyingly bathed in faint red light, like blood.
Lavinia was the second star. The queen was rash and uncharacteristically lost her cool often. Aaron was too bland and cliché. Yet Lavinia shown through them when in scenes with them. Even when Titus faltered, she didn't miss a beat. Though after her second scene she loses the ability to speak, she still commanded the stage with her presence. Her heavy, yet natural looking, eye makeup and pure white dress made her seem chillingly holy, and tear stained. Her death was a gentle twitch from Titus, peacefully snapping her neck. Her abandonment of all human customs and distinctions made her seem like a woman stripped of everything, living only for vengeance.
I would see Titus if you’re looking for an action-packed bloodbath. But don't bring the kids; it’s not that kind of action. For Shakespeare fanatics, it’s definitely worth seeing Lavinia. This production brings a lot of onstage blood to the table, which is rare for live shows. The scene that gives the best sense of the horror the play contains is the memorable opening scene. Titus's slain sons are rolled onstage on top of a huge block covered in a red cloth. After the burial ceremony, a Roman tears off the cloth, revealing that the block was a cage, containing terrified human prisoners. The perfect visual combination of blood and acting. If you’re going to see one of the big plays at Stratford, drop by for this one.
(pictures to come)