With this year being the 400th anniversary of the death of one of my favorite authors of all time, William Shakespeare, I figured it would only be appropriate to have an article based one my favorite plays by the Bard – Titus Andronicus, one of (if not his only) true horror plays.
Written around 1590, Titus Andronicus was Shakespeare’s attempt to create a revenge play, which was a theme that seemed to be doing well with other playwrights at the time, showing that even the likes of the creative man that was Shakespeare had to bend to the will, at points, to the need of his audience. It shows a side of Shakespeare that we don’t often think about amidst our beliefs that he, the master of all things theatrical, created nothing but smash hit after smash hit of tragic and comedic gold.
The play was very popular during the late 16th Century, when it was produced, but left the favor of the crowds as we saw the 17th come in and the class of people begin to shift. The Victorian era ushered in an audience that had no taste for things such as graphic violence, revenge using said violence, and found the subjects of rape and cannibalism, which are seen very bluntly and without shame, in the show’s productions, much more uncomfortable, leaving the seats emptier as the century progressed.
But now, here in the 21st century, we see a resurgence of the play, finally having it become reintroduced to audiences across the world. Here in the United States, it has become a play that is regularly performed in new and creative ways or even as pieces that could be considered avant garde. Many experimental theatre group use the play as a base for their productions, performance artists are inspired by it, and people find it more appealing and accepted across the board.
But why? Why now?
Could be that we as a culture has been desensitized to things such as violence and even rape (at least in our media)? Especially in horror, are these themes so commonplace that even what was considered grotesque back then might be something uninteresting in our era? It’s possible. There is no doubt that we have exposure to things unsightly and obscure. With the internet at full bloom and content access at all-time high, we just don’t find ourselves shocked by anything anymore.
But I like to think that a lack of sensitivity has nothing to do with this play coming to fruition once again. I like to believe that we aren’t cruel people who simply aren’t fazed anymore by anything but the worst of horrors.
No, I like believe that people are able to understand the human psyche more; to know what makes us tick and what drives our emotions. I like to believe that maybe Shakespeare was ahead of his time and was able to point out humanly flaws and raw emotion that maybe people of the 17th century weren’t able to face without a grimace. It sounds cliche, but maybe it was all just a bit too “real”. Not to pat ourselves on the back, but maybe that “desensitization” have given us thick enough skin to be able to look at something as horrifying, but masterfully done, as Titus Andronicus and work with it – mold it even – to become something new and beautiful.
Ironically, we have made it fit into the class that shunned it only a few hundred years back.