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YMMV / Titus Andronicus

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  • Alternate Character Interpretation:
    • It's possible partially to exonerate Tamora, on the grounds that her child (Alarbus) has been brutally killed and her pleas for mercy have been ignored. Her having Bassianus killed is tit for tat, and most of the other atrocities are committed by Aaron.
    • For that matter, Aaron himself can be seen as a bitter, lost and unhinged Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds if you squint a bit.
    • Titus Andronicus kills two of his own children - Mutius and Lavinia, and arguably as a general of an invading conquering army, he bears ultimate responsibility for his other sons killed in battle in his long war with the Goths, and as such is the true Villain Protagonist of the play, someone who values his own pride and honour over the lives of his children, and ultimately, over his state, since he commits open treason as part of his revenge (i.e getting his son Lucius to raise an army among the same Goths he subjugated and bringing them to Rome).
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    • Was Saturnitus just that much of an idiot that he he didn't realize the chaos that would unfold from first trying to wed his brother's fiancée and then choosing a captured foreign queen instead? Was he being petty by trying to humiliate his brother and Titus after just barely taking the throne? Or was he just savvy enough to realize that needing Titus's backing to claim the throne made him look weak and so he needed some way to publicly humiliate Titus in order to improve his own standing?
  • Angst Aversion: There's almost no-one in the play who's remotely sympathetic (unless you invoke Alternate Character Interpretation) and the few people who are have a bad tendency of getting tortured and exploited. It's also easily the goriest of Shakespeare's plays, featuring copious amounts of dismemberment, cannibalism and general bloodshed, all for a major Downer Ending.
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  • Catharsis Factor: Despite the gruesomeness of Titus butchering Demetrius and Chiron and baking them in a pie for Tamora to eat, it is very cathartic to see them finally punished for the horrible things they did to Lavinia. Bonus points for her being invited to witness it and to hold the basin to catch their blood.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: If one subscribes to the argument that the play is an over-the-top parody of a revenge drama, the endless violence of the story becomes hilariously disturbing.
  • Memetic Mutation: Shakespeare invented the Yo Momma joke.note 
  • Moral Event Horizon: Demetrius, Chiron, Tamora and Aaron all cross with Lavinia's rape and mutilation. The latter two didn't actively participate, but Aaron was the mastermind behind it, and Tamora fully encouraged it. And what's worse, Demetrius and Chiron taunt her about it afterwards, mockingly daring her to try and tell anyone who abused her so thoroughly.
  • Nightmare Fuel: There is a lot:
    • Though off stage, Chiron and Demetrius, egged on by Tamora, gang-rape Lavinia on top of the corpse of her murdered boyfriend.
  • Older Than They Think: A character getting revenge on a hated enemy by tricking them into eating their own children. While that idea may be most closely associated with Titus Andronicus, it's also a major plot point in the saga of the House of Atreus in Greek Mythology, in which Atreus gets revenge on his brother Thyestes by killing his sons and serving them up as the main course in a banquet. Considering how much Shakespeare loved the Classics, the ending of Titus is almost certainly a deliberate Shout-Out to this. And of course there are the direct references to the story of Philomela from Ovid's Metamorphosis, which this play has a twist on by having the girl lose both her tongue and hands, but finding another way to point out her attackers.
  • Overshadowed by Controversy: While this play doesn't have the stigma of being bigoted like The Merchant of Venice or The Taming of the Shrew, it's still rather contentious for its extreme ultraviolence and grimdark tone.
  • Popularity Polynomial: In Shakespeare's lifetime, Titus Andronicus was one of his most popular works, indeed a 1614 comment by Ben Jonson in his introduction to the printed edition of Bartholomew's Fair places it in the same breadth as The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd (i.e. the Breakthrough Hit of Elizabethan Tragedy) in terms of popularity and critical esteem. Yet its reputation declined in the centuries that followed. Then it revived again after World War II, where a landmark production by Peter Brook and Laurence Olivier became unexpectedly popular and successful commercially, and Polish critic Jan Kott praised it as one of Shakespeare's most undervalued plays, and since then its critical reputation is slowly rising (albeit it's still dismissed and derided by the likes of Harold Bloom and other Shakespeare scholars).
  • Rooting for the Empire: Titus Andronicus was the general of an invading army into the Gothic Kingdom, and Tamora is a subjugated woman brought in triumph to Rome, and whose pleas for mercy for her son Alarbus is denied for the sake of revenge for Titus' sons (whose death is Titus' responsibility since he started the war). Likewise, for all the evil Tamora and her children do, neither of them are willing to murder their own children, and in the case of Demetrius and Chiron, even they agree to spare and hide their half-brother even if it was a Chocolate Baby and potentially compromising their lifestyle, where Titus kills two. And in the end, Titus is two-faced and hypocritical enough to bring the Goths to invade Rome for his own revenge.
  • Signature Scene: Titus revealing that he cooked Tamora's sons into the pie she's been eating.
  • Too Bleak, Stopped Caring: Between the extreme violence (including multiple murder, dismemberment, rape, and cannibalism) and pretty much the whole plot being Evil Versus Evil in a Cycle of Revenge, it’s fair to see why Titus has never made it among Shakespeare’s most popular plays.
  • Values Dissonance: Some scholars have contextualized the violence of the play by noting that the play happened in a very violent era, one where dueling, cockfighting and bear-baiting were all considered perfectly normal forms of entertainment (several London bear-baiting pits were just a short walk from the theaters where Shakespeare's plays were performed, in fact). Any level of staged violence—no matter how gruesome—probably seemed pretty tame to people who frequently entertained themselves with real violence, and likewise, Titus Andronicus is milder than the Senecan tragedies that inspired it and which was all the rage in its time and place.
  • Values Resonance:
    • Julie Taymor choose to adapt the play to film because she regards it as the closest to our current times. Formally and stylistically, the play's sex and violence, its mix of tones, and the juxtaposition of the absurd, grotesque, darkly comic, and tragic, makes the play look closer to an avant-garde 20th Century production, and in the wake of Brecht, Beckett, Artaud, Titus Andronicus looks way ahead of its time.
    • Lavinia eventually succeeds in publicly identifying her assailants by using her knowledge of Roman classics and poetry, making references to it to allude to what happened to her, and then marking out the names in the sand despite being disabled, after being shown how to write by her Uncle Marcus to use a stick by moving it with her mouth and body. As such, one can argue that the play celebrates female literacy, high culture, and disability rights, and Titus Andronicus' honor killing of his mutilated daughter is openly condemned in the play.
    • Titus chooses Saturninus as emperor solely on the basis of primogeniture, and the latter's corrupt and weak-willed reign facilitated the horrible chain of events that occurred over the course of the play; these would likely have been averted had either Bassianus, or the popular Titus, been emperor instead. In this light, the work may be seen as a precautionary tale advocating for rulers to be democratically elected rather than installed on the basis of aristocratic descent.