Kenji Yoshino


Although it put Shakespeare on the map in the 1590s, subsequent critics have found The Most Lamentable Romaine Tragedie of Titus Andronicus "lamentable" in more ways than one. T.S. Eliot called it "one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written." Others have argued that the play was not written by Shakespeare, that Shakespeare "touched up" another playwright's work, or that Shakespeare penned it when he was young and needed the money. While most critics now admit Shakespeare composed it, Titus remains the "black sheep" of the Bard's canon.

Critics take aim at the play's lurid violence. Over its course, the Goth prince Alarbus is sacrificed to the gods, the Roman general Titus's son Mutius is stabbed to death, the Roman prince Bassianus is murdered, Titus's daughter Lavinia is raped and mutilated, Titus's sons Quintus and Martius are decapitated, the Goths Demetrius and Chiron are murdered and their heads are baked into a pie, their mother Tamora is served the pie before being killed, Lavinia is killed, Titus is killed, the Roman emperor Saturninus is killed, and the Goth Aaron is buried alive. This play is Shakespeare's ultimate exploration of violence-religious violence, domestic violence, political violence, sexual violence, punitive violence. When Peter Brook directed this play, he had an ambulance waiting to shuttle audience members to the hospital. Sir Laurence Olivier, who played Titus, said at least three audience members fainted every evening.