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Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus

Michael D. Friedman
with Alan Dessen
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Titus Andronicus
    Book Description:

    Michael D. Friedman’s second edition of this stage history of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus adds an examination of twelve major theatrical productions and one film that appeared in the years 1989–2009. Friedman identifies four lines of descent in the recent performance history of the play: the stylised, realistic, darkly comic, and political approaches, which culminate in Julie Taymor’s harrowing film Titus (1999). Aspects of Taymor’s eclectic vision of ancient Rome under the grip of modern fascism were copied by several subsequent productions, making Titus the most characteristic, as well as the most influential, contemporary performance of the play.Friedman’s work extends Alan Dessen’s original study to include Taymor’s film, along with chapters devoted to the efforts of international directors including Gregory Doran, Silviu Purcarete, and Yukio Ninagawa. This expanded volume will prove essential to students of Shakespeare’s play, along with scholars interested in the tragedy’s gruesome yet occasionally comical performance history.

    eISBN: 978-1-5261-0191-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  4. SERIES EDITORS’ PREFACE (pp. xi-xii)
    J. R. Mulryne, James C. Bulman and Carol Chillington Rutter
  5. PREFATORY NOTE (pp. xiii-xiv)
    • INTRODUCTION: The Problem (pp. 3-6)

      To offer a book-length study ofTitus Andronicusis to risk derision. For centuries, bardolaters have either ignored the play or denied ‘their’ Shakespeare could have written it. Even sympathetic critics begin their essays or chapters with apologies or with a sampling of the derisive and highly quotable comments of their predecessors. Those who do see merit and potential in this play must therefore start in a defensive posture so as to confront an initial disbelief in a significant part of their audience.

      That this tragedy does have its devotees should come as no surprise, for many Shakespeare plays have...

    • CHAPTER I From Edward Ravenscroft to Peter Brook (pp. 7-27)

      Although the modern stage history ofTitus Andronicusstarts in 1955, a selective account of the fortunes of this play on stage between the 1590s and the 1950s can be revealing. According to the accepted chronology, the first performances ofTitustook place in the early 1590s, perhaps the late 1580s. The play was first published in a 1594 quarto (that survives in a unique copy not discovered until 1904); subsequent quarto editions appeared in 1600 and 1611. The version printed in the First Folio of 1623 is based on the third quarto but also contains some new stage directions...

    • CHAPTER II To stylise or not to stylise (pp. 28-55)

      The 1955 triumph of the Brook-OlivierTitusdemonstrated that Shakespeare’s script was, or could be, actable. Although the reputation of this tragedy continues to daunt theatrical professionals, Brook’s solutions and Olivier’s achievement have served as a touchstone or stimulus for subsequent actors, directors, and designers who have experimented with ways to deal with the problems posed by this script. Among the options have been: (1) to stylise or formalise the action (e.g., ribbons in place of blood); (2) to seek ‘realism’, often with an emphasis upon blood, severed heads, maiming, and brutality; (3) to focus on the bizarre features of...

    • CHAPTER III Trusting the script: Deborah Warner at the Swan (pp. 56-75)

      Today’s director regularly cuts lines, speeches, and even entire scenes from Shakespeare’s playscripts. Since modern productions usually incorporate one or more 15-minute intervals into plays originally conceived for uninterrupted ‘through’ performance, directors concerned with running time (and with spectators anxious to catch the last train home) often choose to streamline their acting scripts. In this process, supernumerary figures are cut or telescoped together so as to economise on personnel, and passages that are perceived as opaque, redundant, or syntactically difficult often disappear. Often the first to go are mythological allusions: so Trevor Nunn (RSC, 1972), Pat Patton (Oregon, 1986), and...

    • CHAPTER IV Problems then and now (pp. 76-96)

      Every staging ofTituselicits comments about the daunting nature of this script. For example, in his reaction to Trevor Nunn’s 1972 rendition, Irving Wardle argues that a major problem in any production is how to present the ‘succession of horrors’ inTitus‘without relapsing into monotony or unintended farce’. Similarly, in his review of the Swan production, Stanley Wells notes the ‘twin problem’ posed by this script.

      How do you stage its horrors – murder, rape, mutilation, cannibalism – without driving the audience over the bounds of credulity into giggling hysteria? And how, on the other hand, do you cope with...

    • CHAPTER V The sense of an ending (pp. 97-117)

      Although many different areas ofTitushave posed problems on the stage and on the page, without question, the densest concentration of such problems and anomalies (as perceived by today’s directors, critics, and editors) comes in the final scene. These moments or choices, moreover, vary widely in nature. Some are linked to grotesque or violent actions (Tamora eating the meatpie, the three rapid murders); some arise from problems perceived in the quarto text (e.g., who speaks several speeches); some result from pregnant ‘silences’ wherein matters important to any interpretation are unresolved in the script. Several of these problems are masked...

    • CONCLUSION: What price Titus? (pp. 118-122)

      To focus upon directors’ solutions to the problems posed by the final scene is to call attention to the differing strategies that have been used to deal with (or tame) this troubling, formidable tragedy. In conclusion, let me concentrate again upon those strategies.

      One long-standing response to the discomfort caused by this play (as witnessed by the dearth of productions between the age of Shakespeare and 1955) is to ignore it or to pretend that it does not exist. An analogous response to such a ‘dangerous’ script is to joke about it (so thatTitus, like Falstaff, becomes ‘the cause...

    • SEGUE (pp. 125-130)

      In the two decades since the publication of Alan C. Dessen’s first edition of this volume, a theoretical shift within Shakespearean performance criticism has called into question some of the central assumptions upon which Dessen’s book depended. Specifically, two collections of essays published in 1996, edited by James C. Bulman and Edward Pechter, marked this change by distinguishing between an ‘essentialist’ performance criticism epitomised by J. L. Styan’sThe Shakespeare Revolution(1977) and a post-modern performance criticism best represented, perhaps, in several articles by William B. Worthen, later incorporated intoShakespeare and the Authority of Performance(1997). As Bulman notes,...

    • CHAPTER I Jeannette Lambermont, Daniel Mesguich, and Michael Maggio (pp. 131-150)

      During the years immediately following Deborah Warner’s acclaimed 1987 RSC production, succeeding directors ofTitus Andronicusdeclined to follow her example of playing an uncut script and making the most of the text’s opportunities for dark comedy. Three of the four productions that opened in 1989 (directed by Jeannette Lambermont, Daniel Mesguich, and Michael Maggio) cut and rearranged the text liberally, often in an attempt to avoid the laughter that Warner had welcomed. Emulating a more distant predecessor, Lambermont and Mesguich modelled their productions on the stylised efforts of Peter Brook, while Maggio cautiously imitated the realistic presentation of Jane...

    • CHAPTER II Peter Stein and Silviu Purcarete (pp. 151-176)

      The decade 1989–99 witnessed the resurgence ofTitusas a political tract, with three major European directors (Peter Stein, Silviu Purcarete, and Gregory Doran) focusing their attention on the ways in which the play can be made to comment on specific contemporary affairs. Their productions (consciously or not) therefore duplicated the approach adopted in 1967 by Douglas Seale, the first director to employ modern dress to draw ‘parallels between the violence and wholesale murder of our times and the time of Titus Andronicus’ (see p. 28). Seale had set his production in the 1940s and reconceived the war between...

    • CHAPTER III Gregory Doran (pp. 177-196)

      One of Britain’s most celebrated Shakespearean actors, Antony Sher, was born in South Africa but left home at the age of 18 to pursue his career in the United Kingdom. During the 1980s, Sher conspicuously supported the UN’s cultural boycott of his homeland, but with the lifting of sanctions in the early 1990s, he and his partner and collaborator, director Gregory Doran, under the auspices of the National Theatre Studio, agreed to conduct a workshop exchange with the Market Theatre of Johannesburg which eventually grew into a multi-ethnic and multinational production ofTitus Andronicus. Sher and Doran choseTitusfor...

    • CHAPTER IV Julie Taymor: 1994 and 1999 (pp. 197-228)

      Julie Taymor first directedTitus Andronicuswith Theatre for a New Audience at St Clement’s Church in New York City from 3 to 27 March 1994, a staging that cemented her reputation as a leading Shakespearean director. During an interview included on the DVD version of the filmTitus(1999), Taymor recalled that she was offered the opportunity to direct the play based upon her previous experience in creating stylised theatrical depictions of violence; yet, she quickly realised that such an approach would not do justice toTitus Andronicus:

      [T]here are so many acts . . . of violence that,...

    • CHAPTER V Yukio Ninagawa, Bill Alexander, Gale Edwards, Richard Rose, and Lucy Bailey (pp. 229-273)

      During the decade following the release of Julie Taymor’s film, at least one major stage production ofTitus Andronicusrepresented each of the four lines of descent in the play’s performance history. Yukio Ninagawa’s Japanese production exhibited the influence of Peter Brook’s stylised technique, while both Bill Alexander, for the RSC, and Gale Edwards, for the Shakespeare Theatre of Washington, DC, followed the realistic example set by Jane Howell. Richard Rose’s Stratford, Ontario production, set in Fascist Italy, emulated the political approach established by Douglas Seale, and Lucy Bailey’s production at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre resembled the darkly comic vision of...

  9. EPILOGUE: Looking toward the future (pp. 274-284)

    In the preceding pages, I have used the name ‘Shakespeare’ as a convenient shorthand for the creative force behind the text ofTitus Andronicus; however, contemporary critical developments suggest that the term is, in fact, somewhat misleading. Post-Restoration editors, reacting to the play’s violent horrors and stylistic shortcomings tended to deny the existence of Shakespeare’s hand in the tragedy entirely. However, twentieth-century editors, while acknowledging the arguments against Shakespeare’s authorship, generally contended that he was responsible for the whole work. Towards the end of the century, scholarly editions of the play (such as Eugene Waith’s Oxford [1984], Alan Hughes’s New...

  10. APPENDIX: Major actors and staff for productions discussed in this volume (pp. 285-291)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 292-302)
  12. INDEX (pp. 303-312)