PTS 06/038: The Titus Andronicus soundtrack album …

bh-wurlitzerThere’s a lot of unjustifiable hate out there for Titus Andronicus, I think.

Jonathan Bate introduces the play by saying that:

 

 

 

 

 

‘Even those who have approached Titus in a spirit of scholarly enquiry rather than critical judgement have been prejudiced by their distaste for the play […] nearly all scholars suppose that it is a very early work, a piece of crude and embarrassing juvenilia.  I believe that every one of these arguments is wrong.

I’m with Prof. Bate.  This was a rollercoaster ride.  Although it does sketch issues we’ll see fleshed out in Lear and other ‘greats’, it’s a remarkable Revenge play, with a strong tragic journey and an utterly evil villain that surpasses any other I can readily think of.  It also spoke strongly to me about public service, and the rewards thereof – especially for our armed forces.

So here’s my soundtrack album for the play.  What’s missing?

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Quote of the Week: 18 September

BH BradbrookBRADBROOK, MC: Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1969)

The Boar’s Head Bookshelf uses Isaac Newton‘s famous ‘standing on the shoulders of giants‘ quotation to acknowledge the part that every book I read has in shaping my ideas about Shakespeare.  Occasionally, I read a book where the ideas are camouflaged by a ponderous, lecturing (in the worst sense of the word) style, and this is one of them.  (A shout-out to the massively disappointing Frank Kermode on this point, too)  When I read authors like David Crystal, his – pardon the pun – brilliant style makes the ideas shiny, fresh, exciting.  Kermode and Bradbrook are similarly huge beasts, but their home is the Jurassic period, not the 21st Century.  I’m slightly taken aback by that statement, given I devote myself to a writer who has been dead for over 400 years:  oh, the irony, I hear you say …

Anyway, Bradbrook HAS got something interesting to say when she’s not hectoring us or making massive assumptions about our knowledge:

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PTS 06/037: Don’t Push It

BH rambo don't push it
Titus:  Don’t push it … don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe.  Let it go.

Titus Andronicus, Act V

(subtitled, far too obviously for the UK football fans amongst us, ‘who ate all the pies?’)

I warned you!  I WARNED YOU!  Did I warn you?

Yes, I did.  And so did Francis Bacon.  And Jonathan Bate.  And Fredson Bowers.  We all said that revenge was likely to spiral out of control, because once you lose your faith in the law, and in divine justice too, all bets are off. And because every stroke in the ‘rally of revenge‘ is that much harder, has that much more spin on it than the last.  Let’s mix our metaphors again: in this particular poker game, someone, eventually, is going to see your stake and raise you with everything they’ve got, not caring any more whether they win or lose. The chips, and what they represent, are suddenly and utterly unimportant …

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Sir Peter Hall (1930-2017)

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I won’t hypocritically pretend that Sir Peter Hall was a friend or indeed someone I knew very much about.  I might have been to one of his productions over the years, but for most of the time it’s not been the sort of thing I took careful note of – let’s face it, I was probably under 10 when I saw my first Shakespeare.  It would be churlish, though, on a blog like this not to mark his passing.  He’s one of those people whose life influences yours at one remove …

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Quote of the Week: 11 September

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BATE, Jonathan: ‘Introduction’, in Titus Andronicus (The Arden Shakespeare: London, 2003)

Some students see value in Literature as an end in itself.  Others need a bit of persuading about why they have to study poetry, novels, and of course Shakespeare in particular (sigh).

‘What’s Shakespeare got to do with me?  I want to be an air hostess!’

I was asked by a Year 9 pupil a few years ago.  Henry Peacham, via Jonathan Bate, has an answer.

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PTS 06/036: Losing My Religion

BH old man yells at cloud

Titus Andronicus, Act IV

Secular authorities had (and still have) every investment in discouraging revenge.  If citizens perceive that the law no longer serves them, then we get the kind of situation that Francis Bacon famously warned of:

‘Revenge is a kind of wild justice’

And this is a point that Jonathan Bate develops, quoting Fredson Bowers:

Private action undermines the authority of the state:  Elizabethan law felt itself capable of meting out justice to murderers, and therefore punished an avenger who took justice into his own hands just as heavily as the original murderer.  The authorities, conscious of the Elizabethan inheritance of private justice from earlier ages, recognised that their own times still held the possibilities of serious turmoil; and the were determined that private revenge should not unleash a general disrespect for law.

Act IV however adds the dimension of the breakdown of DIVINE justice to the individual’s decision to subvert the legal process.

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PTS 06/035: The Rally of Revenge

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Titus decides to deploy his ultimate weapon …

Titus Andronicus, Act III

Bear with me on this: I’m an English teacher, and I talk – no think – in similes and metaphors.  “It’s what I do!”, as David Mitchell might say in BBC‘s Upstart Crow.

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