Words and Spectacle in Shakespeare’s "Titus Andronicus" and Julie Taymore’s "Titus"

Words and Spectacle in Shakespeare’s "Titus Andronicus" and Julie Taymore’s "Titus"

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Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy is a play infamous for its gore and spectacular violence. Within the play there are multiple murders and lopped limbs aplenty, but the chief victim of the play – the primary spectacle – is Lavinia. Her ill fate is first conveyed to the reader through the ornate words of Marcus, and from this point on Lavinia is seen, but heard only through the words of the other characters. Indeed, in Titus Andronicus Lavinia is the spectacle of the play, and her manifestation is created only through the words of the other characters. It is through the silence of Lavinia and her reliance on other’s words – not her own – that the play is most poignant. However, in Julie Taymore’s adaptation of the play to the screen, the relationship between words and spectacle changes. On the screen the words fall back into a supporting role, letting the visual horror of Lavinia’s torture run unbridled, and become the main focus point.
A spectacle can be defined as ‘an unusual or surprising sight or situation that attracts much attention’ and also carries the connotations of an event made public. In Titus Andronicus Lavinia is nothing if not public. In the patriarchal Roman society she is an object, with value, to be traded. Saturninus voices his intentions to ‘make Lavinia his empress ’ (I.I.244) and clarifies this with Titus rather than Lavinia. Bassianus then stakes his claim ( the alliterate ‘this maid is mine’) and the dynamic stage direction ‘seizes Lavinia’ (I.I280). While it is inferred that Lavinia and Bassianus are betrothed, Legatt argues that this is less about ‘[Lavinia’s] wishes, but Bassianus’ rights ’. Bassianus is less taking Lavinia as his love, but as his property and in this we see that Lavinia is already a spe...


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...the reflective camera work and the metaphorical visuals. In the film, it is likewise the language of the camera that creates the spectacle.


Works Cited
William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, ed. Jonathan Bate (Routledge: 1995)
Alexander Legatt, Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Violation and Identity (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Coppelia Kahn, Roman Shakespeare: Warriors, wounds and women (London and New York: Routledge, 1997)

Ovid, Metamorphosis (London, 1567)

Sarah Eaton, ‘A Woman of Letters’, in Shakespearean Tragedy and Gender, ed. Shirley Nelson Garner and Madelon Sprengnether (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996), pp. 54-74

David Fredrick, ‘Titus Androgynous: Foul Mouths and Troubled Masculinity’, in Arethusa, 41.1 (2008), http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/arethusa/v041/41.1fredrick.html [accessed 24th November 2009]

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