William Shakespeare’s play Titus Andronicus is one of his least-often performed works. This may be in part because it is in many ways more a classical play than a neoclassical one. For while much of Renaissance dramaturgy (including most of Shakespeare’s own plays) were based at some remove on classical sources, this play incorporates classical concepts of revenge in such a direct way that the play seems “antique” to us in a way that, for example, Julius Caesar does not. This play examines the Shakespearian play and the Ovid story, which is one of the sources upon which it is based.
Both tales are revenge tales in the classical tradition and both Ovid Metamorphosis and Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus pretty much have it all in terms of the essential revenge story. In both cases revenge is the primary motivating force behind the actions of the main character, there is murder, there are spirits walking the land, there are a rather impressive levels of violence and bloodshed – easily enough for an R rating these days – and there is madness as a sort of virulent infection running through the characters.
What makes this play even more of a classic revenge story is that while revenge is the primary motivating force, it is revenge that is delayed rather than acted upon immediately. Revenge in this play as in others of this subgenre is a dish best served not only cold but very cold: Part of what gives this play is a sense of horror is the ability of the human heart to maintain hatred over such a long period of time.
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