Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
After studying a couple semesters of the works of William Shakespeare in college I am no longer quite as stunned by the extreme violence and the ill fates that befall his characters, yet Titus Andronicus still comes as a bit of a shock. In perhaps the most epic show of revenge in all of literary history, Titus Andronicus tells the sordid tale of what happens when you cross a scorned Roman and the queen of the Goths who has all of a sudden become the Empress.
In this play of the ultimate revenge there is a bit of everything in terms of violent acts. It all begins as the Empress’s son is murdered in ritual sacrifice. Then Lavinia, daughter of Titus himself is brutally raped before having her hands and tongue cut off to keep her from telling who raped her. The violence finally wraps up in the grand moment when Titus kills the Empress’s sons and then chops them up to be served in a meat pie. Revenge in this play is served best while watching the Empress eat her children in the form of said meat pie. Somewhere in the end there Titus also kills his own daughter Lavinia, perhaps to spare her the shame of living after being raped and mutilated, although as only Shakespeare can do, the ultimate motive is quite unclear.
This play is dark and a bit campy when all is said and done, but I did love the literary references to The Metamorphoses of Ovid and found the plot to move forward rapidly. It is, of course quite violent and bloody, but it does tell a great cautionary tale of what happens when you let revenge become your only motivation for living.
As always with Shakespeare I cannot stress enough that the edition you choose to read can make or break your enjoyment of the play. Be sure to get a good scholarly edition with proper footnotes and annotations. Not only will it ease the strain of reading the language, but it will also enhance your enjoyment tenfold being introduced to the social and political background of the times.