used for Unit 4 of the ALRI Shakespeare's
Rome course. Click in the small images or on the links
to see larger images.
Note that all dates are recalculated to the modern Gregorian calendar.
The fourth Shakespearean Roman play in our series is actually the first
one he wrote, in the early 1590s. It is a "revenge play" (see
below) set at an indeterminate time apparently in the chaotic 3rd
century AD during which the average Roman Emperor reigned less than
five years -- and that includes the long reign of Diocletian who became
emperor in 284 and reigned until he resigned on May 1 of 305 AD.
Diocletian was the first Roman emperor to voluntarily abdicate the
position. He lived out his retirement in his palace on the Dalmatian
coast, tending to his vegetable gardens. His palace went on to become
the core of the modern day city of Split, Croatia. After
Diocletian's abdication, his carefully crafted "tetrarchy" -- four
rulers: two "Augusti" and two "Caesars" -- fell apart, and his heirs
fought until Constantine took the western half of the empire from
Maxentius in 312 AD and the eastern half from Licinius and his allies
in 325 AD. For information on Diocletian and Constantine, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diocletian
A prose narrative of the Titus Andronicus story appears to have
been in circulation before Shakespeare dramatized the story. What
appears to be the same story circulated again later, and its full text
is available at http://pages.unibas.ch/shine/chapbookwf.htm.
The text of a ballad in thirty quatrains, apparently composed after
Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, is available lower down on the same
internet page at http://pages.unibas.ch/shine/chapbookwf.htm#ballad
Our film is the Julie Taymor adaptation of Shakespeare's
The violation of Lavinia in Titus is copied from the story of the
Athenian princess, Philomela. Philomel's sister, Procne, was
married to a Thracian king, Tereus. Tereus raped Philomela and
then cut out her tongue to prevent her from accusing him. She
wove a tapestry, however, that showed the outrage and sent it to
Procne. Together, Philomela and Procne killed the son of Tereus,
cooked him, and served him Tereus. All three were changed into
birds: Philomela metamorphosed into a Nightingale, Procne became
a Lark, and the evil king became a hawk.
An earlier legend tells of the Egyptian-Libyan woman, Lamia, who bore
children of Zeus/Jupiter. Hera, the wife of Zeus and ever
jealous, monsterized Lamia and forced her to eat her own
children. Lamia liked the flavor of kids and thereafter became a
child-devourer. Lamia is one f the modern Greek words that is used for
a shark, and it may originally have meant "gullet". The Romans
used a plural form of Lamia's name for their myth of multiple
child-eaters called Lamiae.
Titus Andronicus owes its form to the "revenge plays" of Seneca.
Seneca was an extremely well known Stoic philosopher in his own time,
and he was hand picked by Agrippina Minora to be the tutor of her
twelve year old son Nero. Nero eventually forced Seneca to commit
suicide, but not before Seneca had become Nero's most important
political adviser; it was only after Seneca's departure that Nero went
off the tracks. Seneca wrote a number of philosophical treatises, at
least on dramatic comedy, and at least ten macabre revenge plays, eight
of which survive. It is for the revenge plays that he is most
remembered; they formed the basis for the beginning of
Elizabethan drama. Seneca, of course was only reworking the plays
of earlier Greek authors (mostly Euripides) who themselves were
dramatizing pre-existing myths. Unlike the revenge plays of
Shakespeare and his contemporaries, those of Seneca were not meant to
be acted on stage by a full cast. Seneca's dramas, rather, were
meant to be declaimed by a single performer -- ideally the author -- on
a dimly lit stage or in a private chamber. Seneca's works and the
revenge play format were mightily reworked in the two millenia since
they were written. For more information about Seneca and the
plays attributed to him, see http://www.theatredatabase.com/ancient/seneca_001.html,
also has links to other Seneca Internet sites.
The Shakespeare Theater here in Washington recently presented a Royal
Shakespeare Company version of Seneca's Phaedre as it was reworked by
Jean Racine (Phèdre - 1677) and again reworked by Ted
Hughs (Phèdre - 1999) the then Poet Laureate of Great Britain
For more on the Racine Phèdre, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phèdre.
worth noting that during the period of Elizabethan and later
revenge plays, there was a similar flourishing of revenge play authors
in France, of which Racine is one notable example.
Seneca's plays and their influence on European renaissance drama have
overshadowed his earlier reputation as the greatest Roman
philosopher. In the image, he is bracketed by the two classical
Greek philosophers who were considered to be his equals.
(1) (2) (3) (4)
Taymor's Titus was shot at Cinecittà Studios outside Rome with
some additional shooting in Croatia, in Tampa Florida, and in front of
the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in the E.U.R. district in
south suburban Rome.
The scenes in the tomb faithfully represent the appearance of the
interiors of large tombs from ancient Rome. Only a few of the
large tumulus tombs around Rome have been excavated, the most obscure
probably being that of the Lucilii (1) and
the most famous that of Augustus (2)
Hadrian's Tomb (Castel Sant'Angelo) is open to the public, but later
modifications as a papal fortress make it hard for visitors to
visualize its use as a tomb. For more information on the
Mausoleum of Augustus, with reconstruction drawings, see http://etext.virginia.edu/users/morford/.
The Esposizione Universale Roma (E.U.R.) was Mussolini's project
designed to glorify the 20th anniversary of the Fascist Party in
1942. The project included two types of architecture, one of
which reflected ancient Roman styles and the other, rationalismo, which was much more
modern and which later became known as the
representative Fascist style. The rationalismo Palazzo della Civiltà
sometimes called the "Colosseo
Quadrato" (squared Colosseum) or, more irreverently, called "Palazzo del Groviera" (after the
Swiss cheese gruyère),
was used in Titus as the site of the outdoor political rallies of
Saturninus and Bassianus, the two sons of the previous emperor, who vie
for the succession at the beginning of the film.
For more on Mussolini's grand architectural project, see http://www.romeartlover.it/Eur.html.
(The cars used by the two politically contending sons are also
significant. Saturninus is in a car like one of those often used
by Hitler on his way to political rallies. Bassianus in an a car
that is the same model as the car in which John F. Kennedy was
Shakespeare's Aaron claims to be the instigator and villain of
Titus Andronicus, although it is difficult to differentiate him from
the many other villainous characters. Despite copious and
convincing internal evidence and despite the evidence of the only known
contemporary illustration of any Shakespeare play, some Shakespeare
revisionists have claimed that Aaron (as well as Othello) were not
black Africans. They argue that most "Moors" of Shakespeare's
time were actually dark-skinned Caucasian Muslim Arabs or Spaniards
from northern Africa. It is usually accepted that Shakespeare's
Moors were black and represented the feared "other". Originally,
the Moor denomination was applied to Muslims who conquered parts of
Spain in the 8th century and settled there until they were driven out
in the 15th century; it also denotes people from Morocco or Mauritania
in North Africa. In Britain it was often used to refer to any Black
person (particularly Muslims). The word 'Moor' appears in Shakespearean
literature. It was spelled in a variety of ways (such as 'more',
'moir', 'moorish' 'moris' 'moryen') and often combined with 'black' or
'blak', as in 'black moor', 'blackamoor' and 'black more'. 'Blackamoor'
was also used as a synonym for 'negro' in the 15th, 16th and 17th
centuries. For information about Moors in Elizabethan England and
about Elizabeth's late reign moves to expel them, see http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/early_times/elizabeth.htm.
(The first black Africans appear to have reached England as soldiers in
ancient Roman armies, and not all of the left when Rome lost control of
Shakespeare's other "other" was Jewish. The Merchant of Venice is
believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598. Although
classified as a comedy in the First Folio, and while it shares certain
aspects with Shakespeare's other romantic comedies, the play is perhaps
more remembered for its dramatic scenes, and is best known for the
character of Shylock. Though Shylock is a tormented character, he
is also a tormentor, so whether he is to be viewed with disdain or
sympathy is up to the audience -- as influenced by the interpretation
of the play's director and lead actors.
The formation of the Shylock character is thought to have been
influenced by Barabas, the title character of Marlowe's revenge play, The Jew of Malta, and by the case
of the Queen's Jewish physician, Rodrigo Lopez, who was executed in
1594 after being convicted of plotting to poison the Queen.
Whether Lopez was guilty or not guilty is still hotly debated.
There was certainly circumstantial evidence against him in the case
prosecuted by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, who accused Lopez of
being a "marano" (i.e., a false "converso" = convert to
Christianity/Anglicanism), and we have no way of knowing what other
evidence may have been suppressed. Devereux's own later disgrace,
plotting, and execution complicate our view of his prosecution of
Lopez. For information on "the Lopez plot", see http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/Documents/lopez_plot.htm
and about the history of Jews in England, see http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/England.html.
"Revenge plays" modeled after those of Seneca were all the rage in
Shakespeare's days. The aforementioned Jew of Malta by Marlowe was a
popular example, but it followed Thoma Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, the first of its
type in England. Shakespeare's Titus
Andronicus and especially his Hamlet
are of this type with King Lear
and some others of Shakespeare's plays also display some revenge play
would be classified as a revenge play except for the fact that it's
usually listed among Shakespeare's English history plays.)
The Senecan model, though never
followed slavishly, makes for a clear definition of the type, which
almost invariably includes
A secret murder, usually of a
benign ruler by a bad one,
A ghostly visitation of the murder victim to a younger kinsman,
generally a son,
A period of disguise, intrigue, or plotting, in which the murderer
and the avenger scheme against each other, with a slowly rising body
An eruption of general violence at the end, which (in the
Renaissance) is often accomplished by means of a feigned masque or
A catastrophe that generally decimates the dramatis personae,
including the avenger.
Both the stoicism of Seneca and
his political career (he was an adviser to Nero) leave their mark on
Renaissance practice. In the English plays, the avenger is either
stoic (albeit not very specifically) or struggling to be so; in this
respect, the main thematic concern of the English revenge plays is the
problem of pain. Politically, the English playwrights used the revenge
plot to explore themes of absolute power, corruption in court, and of
faction--all concerns that applied to late Elizabethan and Jacobean
politics as they had to Roman politics.
(for more on revenge
plays, see the
A relative latecomer to English revenge drama was John Webster, whose White Devil appeared perhaps in 1608 and was
printed in 1612 and whose Duchess
of Malfi which appeared before 1614. If you
saw Tom Stoppard's Shakespeare in
Love, you will remember the teen-aged boy who, early in the
film, identified himself as Webster, who exposed
Viola De Lesseps as a woman on stage, and who told Queen Elizabeth that
he liked "the parts with the blood" in Romeo and Juliet. Although
Webster is remembered for his two revenge tragedies, in his own time he
was better known as a collaborator in writing comedies and
satires. For a short bio of Webster, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Webster.
One can only speculate how the regicide-on-stage, the killing of
Saturninus, would have been received by the Court of Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth herself was, of course, also a regicide having tried and
executed Mary Queen of Scots on evidence of letters written during the
Babington Plot (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babington_Plot).
Mary was executed on 8 February, 1587, in the Great Hall of
Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire. For more information on
Mary, including forward internet links, see http://englishhistory.net/tudor/relative/maryqosbiography.html.
Is Titus an abattoir
adventure as this poster implies?
And how does Quentin Tarantino's Kill
Bill fit in?