They cut my head off in Titus Andronicus. When I write plays, they’ll be like Titus…I liked it when they cut heads off, and the daughter mutilated with knives. Plenty of blood. That’s the only writing.
–John Webster character in Shakespeare in Love
Oh, Tom Stoppard. You are so great. I wish you would write screenplays for thousands of movies. I wish you would have your own television show, and it would be called Tom Stoppard Is Not Ha-Ha-Funny But Everybody Loves Him Anyway, and on it, you could make wry comments about hermits who read newspapers and John Webster and the history of aviation.
Why am I talking about Tom Stoppard when I am meant to be talking about Titus Andronicus? Because ever since I started this project of reading all of Shakespeare’s plays in chronological order, I have thought a lot about the chats Shakespeare and I are going to have in heaven; and I am afraid that I have been too negative about him as a young writer, and he will remember it and be upset with me.
Me: But you were young! The pressures of being a writer for the Elizabethan stage were many! You had to give the people what they wanted!
Shakespeare: Those considerations didn’t deter you from employing the phrase “racist, poorly plotted, bloodbathy crap”!
Me: Bloodbathy isn’t even a word!
Shakespeare: It would be if I had used it. Now run along and bother somebody else.
Or maybe he’ll say, I didn’t write it!, and we can spend a happy hour abusing its real authors as well as the fools who ascribed it to him. That’s the better outcome. Either way, like apocryphal George Washington, I cannot tell a lie. Titus Andronicus is racist, poorly plotted, bloodybathy, and crap. All the characters are perfectly hateful, though none is as hateful as – can you guess? – the black guy! Aaron the Moor likes his son, but his only regret as he is led off to be executed, is that he hasn’t done ten thousand more wicked deeds than the deeds he actually did. His soul, you see, it is as black as his skin.
Dreadful. Absolutely no excuse for it.
Have you ever seen Titus performed? Is there any excuse for it? Inquiring minds want to know.