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:
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
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
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
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.
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:
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:
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.