Titus transforms into a character of carnival in Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” Carnival is a concept described by Michael Bristol in his paper “Funeral Bak’d-Meats.” In the paper, Bristol describes carnival as a period before the beginning Lent in early modern Europe, characterized by “hedonistic excess and transgression.” (Bristol 351) Carnival characters place special emphasis on food, disguise and a reversal of the social order or “uncrowning.” The lower classes usually celebrate Carnival and they dismiss rules or decorum. Carnival celebrates the body and practical issues of daily “production and reproduction,” rejecting official culture. Carnivalesque behavior includes using disguises, being creative and ridiculing power. The culture is associated with “grotesque” humor that combines the funny and horrifying, usually with issues related to death. Titus is far from a typical carnivalesque character at the beginning of the play. But as he becomes more and more disillusioned with Rome, he becomes more carnival. By the end of the play, Titus’s disconnect with the values of Rome turns him into a character of carnival.
Titus Andronicus enter in a victorious parade to the sound of drums and trumpets. He begins the play as a proud leader of Rome. Julie Taymor’s film shows his soldiers standing in attention as Titus removes his helmet triumphantly to the cheering crowd. (Taymor 06:28:13) Taymor also puts the scene first, moving Saturninus and Bassianus’s campaign for emperor until after Titus’s arrival. Changing the order of the scenes suggests Taymor emphasizes Titus as the symbol of Rome. Rather than replacing or “uncrowning” symbols of power, the opening scene shows Titus Andronicus...
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...end of the play. He is no longer concerned with honor or protecting country. His values have shifted from Rome to his family. Titus takes on a grotesque humor as he uncrowns the emperor and Tamara. Rome has pushed him toward the carnival personality by disconnecting Titus from the values that he found most important. When Rome did not conform to Titus’s expectations, he transitioned into carnival culture. In this sense, carnival is a reaction of the people disconnected from Rome. Titus’s descent into carnival represents a whole nation disillusioned with the values of its government.
Shakespeare, William. Titus Andronicus. Ed. Russ McDonald. New York. Penguin Putnam, 2000
Titus Andronicus. Dir. Julie Taymor. Perf. Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 1999.
Bristol, Michael. “Funeral Bak’d-Meats.” Hamlet. Bedford Books, 1994.
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