Regular readers! Sorry for the absence in posts lately; I’ve been soul-crushingly depressed. Anyway, what follows are a few posts for my Remediation Project for my Writing for the Web class where I talk about SHAKESPEARE. Oh, and violence. Have fun!
As many of my loyal readers (probably) know, I am a fan of William Shakespeare and his various works—largely because it makes me seem super classy. Out of all the Shakespeare I’ve read Titus Andronicus is probably my favorite play; however, it is also the sort of play that immediately drops my classy level to somewhere between bad slasher flicks and The Flavor of Love. Titus Andronicus is the story of a man who, after returning from a war where he lost twenty-one sons (seriously), wound up killing one of his own sons and watching two others get executed. He then finds out that his one daughter has been raped, her hands have been chopped off, and her tongue has been cut out. When he discovers the identity of her attackers, he does what any man would do—kill them, bake them into a pie and feed them to their mother before killing her. Oh, and at one point, he winds up cutting off his own hand. Almost everyone in the play dies, and it features what I believe to be one of the first “I did your mom last night” jokes:
Demetrius: Villain, what hast thou done?
Aaron: That which thou canst undo.
Chiron: Thou hast undone our mother.
Aaron: Villain, I have done thy mother.
No, I wasn’t kidding. It’s in Act IV, scene II. You know, plenty of other Shakespeare plays are full of jokes like this, but they’re considered very high brow and artistic. Naturally, my favorite play is the one with lots of murder, rape, and cannibalism. Some people think that Shakespeare didn’t even write this play (Those people are wrong). I think that what makes it so interesting is the way in which the play throws comedy in around the violence. Even Shakespeare can’t classy that sort of thing up. Well, I don’t think he can. Others, like director Julie Taymor, would probably not agree. Taymor is the director of Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins as the man himself, and, well, it’s an interesting movie.
Yes, those are floating, flaming body parts. Just roll with it. To me, Titus is an interesting movie; I’m a big fan of the mismatched time periods, and, well, I think the movie is hilarious. Having watched the director commentary, I have to say, I don’t think that Taymor intended to make a comedy. See, I look at Titus Andronicus as a true exploitation play. It’s violence for the sake of violence. Shakespeare aimed to entertain, and, in this play, he did so in the most gruesome and ridiculous way possible. What’s really funny is how most of the plot is made up of old myths. Shakespeare actually references the myths he’s ripping off in the play, and he does so in order to highlight exactly how much more violent and exciting his version is. If a woman had her tongue cut out in Greek myth, she’s losing a tongue and her hands. If one son got fed to a parent, Shakespeare’s going to feed his mother (not his actual mother, of course) two sons. Not only that, but Aaron is probably one of Shakespeare’s most unapologetic villains. Upon being told that he will be buried up to the chest in earth and left to starve, he states: “If one good deed in all my life I did / I do repent it from my very soul.” Taymor’s Titus, on the other hand, is a warning against the horrors of war and excessive violence.
That right there is the sort of subtle imagery that will run throughout the movie.
So how does Taymor take one of the most pointlessly violent plays and turn it into something that preaches peace? In my original paper, I argued that Titus’ costumes change throughout the film in a way that embraces the simple, base entertainment value of the original play while adding to Taymor’s more serious meaning; however, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I don’t think that. I think that Taymor meant to make a serious, art house film, and she ended up making a comedy by accident. For the next few blog posts, I’ll be looking at my original argument about costume and talk about what she does with them and whether or not I think that works.
Part Two is this way!