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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: September ::
Re: Titus
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0919  Wednesday, 30 September 1998.

[1]     From:   Stevie Simkin <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Sep 1998 17:00:55 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0915  Re: Titus

[2]     From:   Ray Lischner <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Sep 1998 16:33:15 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0915  Re: Titus

[3]     From:   Lawrence Manley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Sep 1998 13:30:48 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0915  Re: Titus

[4]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Sep 1998 22:57:07 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0915  Re: Titus


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stevie Simkin <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Sep 1998 17:00:55 +0100
Subject: 9.0915  Re: Titus
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0915  Re: Titus

> On the subject of Titus.  It is my personal interpretation, based on
> reading and having seen a production on the stage, that Titus was
> intended as a spoof of revenge plays that featured lots of grisly
> bloodshed.  After a certain point, it becomes impossible to take it
> seriously, and it becomes laughable.

I would disagree.  I don't think it's a spoof, though your response to
it perhaps alerts us to the extent to which Shakespeare's work is deeply
embedded in its own socio-historical context, and is not necessarily
"transcendent".  Tastes were different, theatrical conventions were
different, and there is no reason to suppose that an Elizabethan
audience would have found the play laughable.

At the same time, the revenge tragedy genre in general, particularly as
it starts striving to outdo itself (not unlike the "I can do that better
than you can" special effects battles Hollywood engages in these days),
certainly dances around the comic/tragic line fairly furiously.  There
is no doubt that, for example, the death of the Duke in Tourneur(?)'s
_Revenger's Tragedy_ is meant to be both horrific and comic.  In
Webster's _The Duchess of Malfi_, the moment in the dark cell when
Ferdinand leaves a severed hand for his sister to kiss, similarly
provokes what someone somewhere neatly described as  "horrid laughter".
On the other hand (ouch), the death by heart attack suffered by
Annabella and Giovanni's father in _Tis Pity She's a Whore_, at the
moment when his son appears on stage with his daughter's heart on a
dagger, is a trickier moment.  I'm inclined to think that the laughter
that *that* is likely to provoke is on account of poor penmanship.

My own sense of _Titus_ is that it is more po-faced than Webster or
Tourneur tend to be, but who knows?  But Titus as spoof, I don't buy
it.  If only because the play was written too early to have much to send
up in the first place.

Stevie Simkin

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ray Lischner <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Sep 1998 16:33:15 GMT
Subject: 9.0915  Re: Titus
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0915  Re: Titus

>On the subject of Titus.  It is my personal interpretation, based on
>reading and having seen a production on the stage, that Titus was
>intended as a spoof of revenge plays that featured lots of grisly
>bloodshed.  After a certain point, it becomes impossible to take it
>seriously, and it becomes laughable.

It's not a spoof. It seems extra grisly to our modern audiences, but
remember that Shakespeare's audience could walk down the block and see
bear-baiting, public beheadings, and the public display of the resulting
heads.

It is possible, albeit difficult, to play Titus straight and keep the
audience from laughing except where the director and actors want the
audience to laugh. Sometimes, directors get it wrong. Sometimes, the
actors get it wrong. Last year, I play Lucius Andronicus, and I was
fortunate to work with a dedicated cast and director, and we worked hard
to get it right. It took us several performances before we finally got
the timing and mood where we wanted them, but we succeeded.

Ray Lischner, Oregon State University
(http://www.cs.orst.edu/~lischner/)

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lawrence Manley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Sep 1998 13:30:48 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.0915  Re: Titus
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0915  Re: Titus

> It is my personal interpretation, based on
> reading and having seen a production on the stage, that Titus was
> intended as a spoof of revenge plays that featured lots of grisly
> bloodshed.  After a certain point, it becomes impossible to take it
> seriously, and it becomes laughable.

[snip]

> I am curious whether anyone knows of any scholarly work(s) that supports
> my interpretation of Titus as spoof.

"Spoof" might be a bit too sweeping given the element of practical joke
to be found in most all revenge plots (the Revenger's Tragegy, for
example, is not exactly a "spoof," though it is certainly sardonic.
[Someone once pointed out that the twentieth century responds to what it
cannot quite fathom by supposing it must somehow be "ironic," just as in
the Middle Ages readers often came to terms with what they couldn't
otherwise grasp by turning it into "allegory"].

But to answer your last question, yes, there is a very fine chapter,
"Shakespeare and the Comic Strain," in John Kerrigan's very fine book,
_Revenge Tragedy: Aeschylus to Armageddon_ (Oxford, 1996).  Kerrigan
writes interestingly about vengeful laughter and mockery-i.e., about the
ways in which good revenge is a form of practical joke-and also about
the ways in which the grimace of placatory and hostile dogs can be
indistinguishable, i.e., your laughter shows your fangs.  I recommend
Kerrigan's book enthusiastically-it is one of the best works of literary
criticism I have read in the past few years.  Nicholas Brooke's older
book, "Horrid Laughter," on Jacobean tragedy, may also provide you with
ammunition.

Lawrence Manley

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Sep 1998 22:57:07 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.0915  Re: Titus
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0915  Re: Titus

William Freimuth, who's not a Theatre manager in L.A., wrote a thesis on
Titus that follows the comic theory.

His staging of Titus at the Source Theatre in Washington, D.C., back in
the late 80's was a smash hit, described by one critic as a cross
between Monty Python and Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Even had a custodian, whose job it was to clean up the muck after each
scene.  He gave up halfway through Act I ...

Cheers,
Andy White
Arlington, VA
 

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