War hero. Mother. Monster.
21 children left dead on the battleground, Titus returns home to Rome with Queen of the Goths, Tamora, and her three sons as prisoners of war. Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare’s terrifying tale of two families locked in a violent cycle of chaos and bloody vengeance.
A confronting and gory revenge tragedy, Titus Andronicus was the smash hit of Shakespeare’s early career.
Political intrigue and corruption turn to rape, cannibalism, mutilation and murder as people become pawns in a torturous battle of wills. Shakespeare dives into the depths of humankind’s most vile traits and invites audiences to revel in the horrors that are found within. Grotesquely violent and boldly experimental, Shakespeare’s bloodiest play is an interrogation of power and paranoia.
Directed by Adena Jacobs (Belvoir’s Wizard of Oz and English National Opera’s Salome) and starring Jane Montgomery Griffiths (MTC’s Macbeth) as Titus Andronicus, this production will have you questioning where does the cycle of revenge truly begin and end?
By William Shakespeare
Director Adena Jacobs
Designer Eugyeene Teh
Lighting Designer Verity Hampson
Composer & Sound Designer Max Lyandvert
Voice Coach Jess Chambers
Dramaturg Aaron Orzech
Directing Secondment Claudia Osborne
Jane Montgomery Griffiths
27 August – 27 September 2019
In Conversation (free event): Thursday 8 August 6-7pm
It is generally accepted that Shakespeare wrote most of the version of Titus Andronicus that is published in his name and this was his first tragedy. It was the bloodiest play he ever wrote and is so gory that for centuries scholars felt that it was not his own work. It is thought that Act One, was most likely composed by George Peele, with Shakespeare having been brought in to finish the work. This violent revenge tragedy draws on two pivotal plot elements – the rape and mutilation of Titus’ daughter and cannibalism from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Shakespeare also borrows from a number of other literary sources as well. In structure and detail it echoes Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. The stage villain, Aaron, could be modelled on Barabas from Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. Some critics see the language in Titus as taking Marlowe’s style to such an extreme point that it becomes a parody of itself. Shakespeare quotes lines from Seneca, and by bringing a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses onstage, he is in a sense dramatising Ovid. With all its bloody, surreal lunacy and layers of language, Titus Andronicus is a text well-suited to writers constructing and deconstructing it.
The play was most probably written in 1593-1594 and with its first recorded performance at the Rose Theatre on 24 January 1594. It was Shakespeare’s first play to be published in Quarto edition, although it did not display his name, and it continued to be performed more than twenty years later.
Titus Andronicus, the hero of a decade of military campaigns, returns to Rome with four surviving sons. He brings with him captives from his latest victory over the Goths: their queen Tamora, her three sons, and her Moorish slave Aaron (who is also her lover). Despite Tamora’s pleas for mercy, Titus offers her eldest son as a religious sacrifice in honour of his own dead sons.
But there is a power vacuum in Rome. The Emperor is dead, leaving his two sons Saturninus and Bassianus in a heated struggle. The people of Rome offer the emperorship to Titus but he confers the title to Saturninus, the elder and more belligerent brother who then demands Titus’ daughter Lavinia as his Empress. Titus agrees, but his surviving sons object because she is already engaged to Bassianus. In the ensuing conflict the couple escape and Titus kills his son Mutius. The new Emperor now decides to marry Tamora who vows to destroy Titus and his family.
Bassianus and Lavinia come across Tamora with her lover Aaron in the forest and threaten to reveal their secret love. Instead, Tamora’s sons arrive and kill Bassianus throwing his body in a pit. Lavinia pleads with Tamora for mercy, but Tamora encourages her sons to rape her, instucting them to kill Lavinia afterwards so she can’t tell her story. Instead, the boys cut off her tongue and hands, leaving her alive.
Meanwhile, Aaron leads Titus’ two sons Martius and Quintus to the pit, where they fall in, next to the body of Bassianus. Aaron frames them for the murder and they are sentenced to death by the Emperor. Aaron tricks Titus into believing that he can earn his sons’ reprieve by chopping off his hand, but his hand is quickly returned to him accompanied by the heads of his two sons. Titus last son Lucius tries to free his brothers, but is caught and banished from Rome. He leaves to raise an army from the Goths to get revenge on Rome and Saturninus.
Lavinia reveals that she has been raped by showing Titus a similar story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and reveals her assailants by writing their names in the dust. Tamora gives birth to a child that was clearly fathered by Aaron. Fearing the consequences from Saturninus, Aaron replaces it with a white baby and flees with his child.
Having raised an army from among the Goths, Lucius returns to Rome. En route he captures Aaron and threatens to hang his baby, forcing Aaron to reveal all of the tricks he has played.
Titus has begun to exhibit unusual behavior and Tamora, believing him mad, disguises herself and her two sons as Revenge, Murder and Rape. She plans to have Titus send for Lucius, and while Lucius is at dinner with Titus, to disperse the Goths or turn them against him. However, Titus is in possession of his senses and when Tamora leaves he cuts her sons’ throats and cooks them into a pie. Titus invites Saturniunus and Tamora to his house for a parley with Lucius. During dinner, Titus kills Lavinia because of the shame she has suffered. Titus then reveals that Tamora has been eating her own sons before killing her. In retaliation Saturninus kills Titus and is in turn killed by Lucius.
Lucius becomes the new emperor of Rome. He orders that his sister and father be given an honourable burial in the family vault, that Aaron be buried up to the neck and then starved to death and that Tamora’s body be thrown out for scavenging animals.