It’s a Shakespeare Post Part II

If you missed part one, you can find it here.

First thing’s first: for those of you who aren’t familiar with Titus Andronicus, it’s the story of a man whose devotion to his honor and his unbending sense of duty in the face of reason or mercy leads to his downfall. He appoints the emperor of Rome based on tradition—the first born son was considered the heir. However, the first born son is a complete tool, who causes Titus a ridiculous amount of grief, while the second son seems like a much better candidate and was betrothed to Titus’ daughter. He is so devoted to the emperor that he actually kills his own son in order to serve him. Then, his devotion to religious rituals is what gets the main plot rolling. He sacrifices the first born son of the captive queen. This leads her to pursue revenge against him, and then he must be revenged against her in turn, et cetera, et cetera. Titus starts with twenty-one dead sons, four live sons, and one daughter. He kills one son. Two others are wrongly executed for the murder of his new son-in-law, the emperor’s brother and his daughter Lavinia’s husband. The last son, Lucius, is banished, but he comes back and is appointed emperor at the end. Lavinia winds up, as mentioned in the last post, raped and mutilated. Titus cuts off his own hand. Lavinia’s rapists are Tamora’s (the vengeful queen of the Goths) two remaining sons, so Titus kills them and bakes them into pies. After feeding the pies to Tamora and the emperor, he kills Lavinia because people living in the sixteenth century were sexist (or because her honor was ruined, and it made him sad to look at her—same thing, really). Then he kills Tamora, at which point the emperor kills Titus, and Lucius kills the emperor.

TL;DR – Rocks fall, everyone is mutilated and eaten

So! Onto Julie Taymor’s Titus. Taymor doesn’t actually choose one time period for her film. Instead, she mixes and matches. There are guns, medieval flails, and crossbows. Roman warriors come back from battle on both chariots and motorcycles. FUN FACT TIME! One of the images we have of an original Shakespeare play and its staging is a drawing by Henry Peacham of Titus Andronicus, and, well, it’s an interesting picture:

Peacham

Yes, that is a Roman warrior next to a medieval princess. Just roll with it. My point is that Taymor is in good company when it comes to the use of non-period specific costumes and set pieces. In Titus, the different time periods mean more options for costumes, so that the costumes can display a wide range of meanings.

Costumes #1, #2, and #3

Armor and Clay Uniform

The very first time we see Titus, he is in his armor, but he is also covered in clay. According to Taymor, the clay is supposed to refer back to the terra cotta soldiers in China. The idea of Titus as an ancient general coming from a long history of war fits perfectly with the terra cotta image, yet it also makes him seem small, and toy-like. This goes very well with the idea of Titus as the perfect soldier who is so bound by his duty to the emperor that he would kill his own son. Costumes #2 and #3 are variations on the same theme. #2 has armor while #3 (pictured) has a uniform without armor. They too point to the idea of Titus being the perfect soldier. Incidentally, as of now, I have no problems with Taymor’s tone. She’s clearly making a serious movie with a message, and the tone of the first scenes reflects that.

Costumes #4 and #5

Open Uniform Sweater

Titus’ costumes do not really change until Titus himself is made to change by the forces around him. He has a radical shift after his sons are blamed for murder. Since he is beginning to break down emotionally, his military outfit is now disheveled, and he has lost his cape. Once he really breaks down, his outfits reflect that. The next we see him in a different costume is after he has lost his hand and his two sons. Now, he looks like somebody’s grandfather rather than a Roman general. This is also the point in the play/film where I began to forget about him killing both his and Tamora’s sons and started to feel sorry for him as a person.

Costumes #6, #7, and #8

Robe and Armor Robe

The later parts of the play deal with Titus’ descent into madness. We next see him trying to petition the Gods by shooting arrows at the sky. He does so wearing his armor with a bathrobe on top. The more insane he becomes, the more ridiculous his outfits get. His next costume isn’t really a costume, as he is naked in a bathtub. At this point, he is emotionally bare. He has focused all of his energy on revenge and has stripped off his soldier’s personality, his fatherly care, and his dignity. After leaving the tub, he comes down in a bathrobe. Taymor herself pointed out that she used color to reflect Titus’ journey, and the bathrobe he wears now is a lighter color than his previous outfits.
Costume #9

Chef

The last costume is probably the most important. For one, it’s all white, which means that he has finally stripped off all of his old, closed up ways and become more open. More obviously, this costume is ridiculous. He looks like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets. His outfit represents just how revenge crazy he has gone in how ridiculous it is while still showing him to be fully open and accepting of the end through its color. He knows that this is his final revenge, and he meets it with a humorous, calculated insanity.

In my original paper, I went on to talk about how the costumes also mimicked the change in tone. I mentioned that the beginning of the film was incredibly serious. As it moves on, there are more comic moments. Some of these were clearly intentional. Others were clearly not. For example, this scene is supposed to be a very serious, and very sad remembrance of Lavinia’s rape:

Who let anyone edit this

Oh, rock music plays while this is happening. The overall effect is really comic. The same thing happens any time she goes into what she calls a “penny arcade nightmare” and what I call “someone got drunk and started playing with the effects on Windows Movie Maker scene.” The big ending where everyone dies is also, really funny. Lucius kills the emperor by shoving a serving spoon down his throat. The emperor kills Titus with a candelabra:

Candle

That’s 100% serious art right there. I always remove candles with my teeth before stabbing someone with my candelabra. Also, this is, once again, all set to loud rock music. In the original paper, I said that Taymor was undermining the violence with the campiness in order to keep the entertainment value of the source material while still preaching peace. However, I don’t know if I believe that. I really think that Taymor was approaching this movie with a fully serious mindset. Everything she said in the director commentary led me to believe so. As of now, I have to say that, I think the costumes certainly mimic the state of Titus himself, and they mimic the change in tone of the movie, but I don’t think that most of the humor was intentional.

Advertisements

It’s Shakespeare Time!

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.

Heads
Face Off
Hand

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.

Toy Plane Crash Toy Soldier Blood Explosion

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!