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    Blood on our doorstep Essay (1266 words)

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    Once upon a time, Titus Andronicus, with its limb-lopping, progeny-cooking savagery, seemed a joke–an Elizabethan revenge extravaganza so far off the deep end it was laughable. But no more. Seeing director Julie Taymor’s Titus at New York’s Theatre for a New Audience in March, the day before a trip to Cambodia and just after visiting an art exhibit from Sarajevo, I may have been especially primed for the production’s message. But to anyone awake in this century, Taymor’s point is clear: Shakespeare’s ultimate paradigm of inhumanity has become our world. And, moreover, we devour such brutality for entertainment.

    Boasting one of Shakespeare’s messiest and least familiar plots, Titus starts right out with gore: Titus, Rome’s great general, returning victorious from a 10-year war against the Goths to an adoring crowd, orders the Goth queen Tamora’s eldest son burned and hacked to pieces in reprisal for Rome’s slain warriors. He declines the people’s offer to make him emperor, relinquishing the crown to Saturninus, sleazy son of the former ruler. Saturninus instantly demands his brother’s betrothed, Titus’s daughter Lavinia, in marriage–then, after Titus slays his own son for trying to prevent this “rape,” Saturninus loses interest in Lavinia, takes up with Tamora and declares Titus his enemy.

    By now, the scent of blood is in the water. Tamora’s sons proceed to kill Saturninus’s brother, then rape and brutally maim Lavinia, cutting off her hands and tongue. The frenzy of vengeance builds until Titus, perhaps mad, bakes a pie containing Tamora’s sons and serves it to their mother. After the predictable paroxysm of banquet slaughter, Titus’s son Lucius remains among the corpses to pick up the pieces. In Shakespeare’s view, the time is back in joint, and a sadder, wiser next generation will carry on.

    Taymor’s interpretation of the bloody text is less sanguine. For her, the horror of Titus reflects not an aberration in history but the sum of our heritage. She presents the play in a blend of styles suggesting a compendium of Western culture from classical to punk. Armor-clad Roman soldiers in Act I greet bureaucrats sporting modern suits and ties. Back-lit classical columns double as pinball machines for Tamora’s skinhead sons. It’s all of a piece.

    More troubling, as Taymor makes clear, this dubious collection of values is the next generation’s patrimony. She frames the action with the play’s two children: Titus’s grandson, young Lucius, and the infant son of Tamora and the Moor Aaron, her illicit lover. The children are minor characters in Shakespeare’s text. In this production, they are the point.

    A boy playing war

    When the curtain rises, a boy wearing a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers (and a paperbag mask over his head) plays war at a kitchen table. As air-raid sirens blare, he bashes soldiers together, douses them with ketchup and mustard and then, increasingly frantic, hides under the table.

    That game over, he moves to the side of the stage to observe the next battle entertainment: the play of Titus Andronicus. A silent acolyte, the boy takes the general’s sword and helmet, hands him a towel, removes the shroud covering the dead Roman soldiers. Halfway though, he enters the main story in the character of young Lucius, and then remains on stage through the final massacre, quietly watching. And learning.

    Meanwhile, Tamora’s infant–his mother already butchered and his father soon to be tortured to death–is placed on the banquet table, amid the remains of dinner and the diners, in a tiny coffin. So, in Taymor’s version, Lucius does not honor his promise to spare his enemy’s child after all. The last sounds we hear as the lights go down are infants wailing–and the screeching barks of birds of prey.

    What makes this vision all the more disturbing is that it shows people harvesting horror not to understand it, but as a diversion. Atrocity can make for tantalizing theatre. Taymor underscores this irony, playing on the idea that her Titus is an example, as well as an expose, of savagery as entertainment. She frames the normally open St. Clements performance space with a bright gold proscenium arch closed by a red velvet curtain. When the curtain rises, it’s immediately echoed by the red formica table on which young Lucius plays war games–more slaughter as recreation. As the carnage builds, additional gold frames with red curtains descend from the flies or are carried onto the stage to reveal nightmare images, wordless evocations of the main action: a dismembered body, gasping its final breaths; Lavinia wearing a deer’s head being ravished by Tamora’s sons, who have tiger bodies. Two weird clowns–a blubbery henchman and a trench-coated spook–present these attractions with the air of sideshow barkers.

    Taymor’s interpretation of the bloody text is less sanguine. For her, the horror of Titus reflects not an aberration in history but the sum of our heritage. She presents the play in a blend of styles suggesting a compendium of Western culture from classical to punk. Armor-clad Roman soldiers in Act I greet bureaucrats sporting modern suits and ties. Back-lit classical columns double as pinball machines for Tamora’s skinhead sons. It’s all of a piece.

    More troubling, as Taymor makes clear, this dubious collection of values is the next generation’s patrimony. She frames the action with the play’s two children: Titus’s grandson, young Lucius, and the infant son of Tamora and the Moor Aaron, her illicit lover. The children are minor characters in Shakespeare’s text. In this production, they are the point.

    A boy playing war

    When the curtain rises, a boy wearing a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers (and a paperbag mask over his head) plays war at a kitchen table. As air-raid sirens blare, he bashes soldiers together, douses them with ketchup and mustard and then, increasingly frantic, hides under the table.

    That game over, he moves to the side of the stage to observe the next battle entertainment: the play of Titus Andronicus. A silent acolyte, the boy takes the general’s sword and helmet, hands him a towel, removes the shroud covering the dead Roman soldiers. Halfway though, he enters the main story in the character of young Lucius, and then remains on stage through the final massacre, quietly watching. And learning.

    Meanwhile, Tamora’s infant–his mother already butchered and his father soon to be tortured to death–is placed on the banquet table, amid the remains of dinner and the diners, in a tiny coffin. So, in Taymor’s version, Lucius does not honor his promise to spare his enemy’s child after all. The last sounds we hear as the lights go down are infants wailing–and the screeching barks of birds of prey.

    What makes this vision all the more disturbing is that it shows people harvesting horror not to understand it, but as a diversion. Atrocity can make for tantalizing theatre. Taymor underscores this irony, playing on the idea that her Titus is an example, as well as an expose, of savagery as entertainment. She frames the normally open St. Clements performance space with a bright gold proscenium arch closed by a red velvet curtain. When the curtain rises, it’s immediately echoed by the red formica table on which young Lucius plays war games–more slaughter as recreation. As the carnage builds, additional gold frames with red curtains descend from the flies or are carried onto the stage to reveal nightmare images, wordless evocations of the main action: a dismembered body, gasping its final breaths; Lavinia wearing a deer’s head being ravished by Tamora’s sons, who have tiger bodies. Two weird clowns a blubbery henchman and a trench-coated spook present these attractions with the air of sideshow barkers.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Blood on our doorstep Essay (1266 words). (2017, Nov 14). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/blood-on-our-doorstep-27201/

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