What Makes a Man Start Fires?

Yesterday, we talked a little (or a little more than a little) about how Titus (and Titus Andronicus as a whole) fit into the whole Aristotelian definition of tragedy.  We came to the conclusion that Titus’ hamartia (or error in judgment) was his refusal to spare the life of Tamora’s eldest son, Alarbus, when his own son Lucius calls for a sacrifice to calm the spirits of his dead brothers (Titus’ dead sons).

So that’s the “what”… what about the “why”?  Why does he make this decision?  And why does he make the decisions that further his reversal of fortune?
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It’s a Tragedy

Titus Andronicus is a play of revenge.  It’s a horror show.

But it is also Shakespeare’s first tragedy, a play in which–according to our old friend Aristotle–our tragic hero is subjected to a reversal of fortune (almost always from good to bad).  This reversal is supposed to create fear and pity in the audience, finally resulting in a catharsis, a release of emotions, an emotional cleansing.
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Titus Andronicus Rocks!

Around the beginning of this year 2009, long before I got this wild hair that has become the BSP, I was in Target, shopping with my family.  I was in the magazine section and picked up Rolling Stone. [I used to be a subscriber in younger days… now (old man alert) I often don’t know who is on the cover… (Lady Gaga?  really?).  I try to discover new bands, and late last year, I happened upon The Gaslight Anthem, a GREAT band out of New Jersey, the home of my favorite rocker/writer, Springsteen.]

Anyway, as I flipped through the new album reviews, this caught my eye:
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The Tragic Model of the Day

And I’m not talking Kate Moss. … I’m talking Senecan Tragedy.

Seneca (the Younger) was a Roman playwright (as well as politician and philosopher), who worked in the first century A.D.  Some of his plays reworked stories of earlier Greek writers (like Sophocles), but in his hands, the plays had a greater focus on the terrible deeds that precipitate the tragic hero’s fall.  Sometimes witches and ghosts were employed to bring about actions (or reactions) by the characters, often prompting them to revenge.

So what does a first century Roman playwright have to do with Titus Andronicus?
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Podcast 07: Titus Andronicus Overview

This week’s podcast includes a synopsis of Titus Andronicus, as well as a review of the Playing Shakespeare DVD.

3:57 — Text should be “… since Bassianus will marry Lavinia…”
8:22 — Text should be “Judi Dench”
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Act Five: Uh, Just Death (and no pity)

As Act Five of Titus Andronicus begins, things are coming to a head.  Somewhere on the outskirts of Rome, Lucius is mustering his troops, his army of Goths.  It’s a little unclear why the Goths would join Lucius since Titus was once their “terror” (V.i.10), but the reason seems to center around their former queen: they want to “be avenged on cursed Tamora” (V.i.16).
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Act Four: Life and Death (in which a baby is born, and two–maybe three–people die)

Act Four of Titus Andronicus begins with a domestic scene in the Andronicus household.  And as is befitting this play, it begins with fear: grandson Lucius is running, yelling for help.  Who is he running from?  Aunt Lavinia.  She means him no harm, but let’s face facts: if you were a little boy, and your aunt, handless and grunting, was chasing you… well, you’d run, too.  Why is she chasing him?  It turns out he has dropped his school books, but she isn’t trying to return them (she couldn’t pick them up if she did).  No, it’s because she recognizes one of the books, and realizes it (Ovid’s Metamorphosis) can help her tell her story.
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Act Three: Can You Give Me a Hand (or 3)?

Act Three, Scene One of Titus Andronicus begins with a procession of Judges and Senators heading to the trial of Martius and Quintus.  Titus, attempting to get them to hear his pleas, prostrates himself before them and gives a long (26 line) speech.  What he doesn’t know is that the audience isn’t there, they’ve walked on by.
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Act Two: Three Gothic Villains, One Roman Baddie, and the Moorish Puppetmaster

As Act Two of Titus Andronicus begins, we hear from Aaron the Moor for the first time.  He is named in the list of characters as “Aaron, a Moor, lover of Tamora.”  Most critics state that Aaron is her slave, but there isn’t much to support this in Aaron’s opening speech, the play’s first soliloquy. [is Aaron the only character to have monologues?  we’ll have to wait and see] Aaron makes reference to his “slavish weeds and servile thoughts” (II.i.18), but this is less than clear-cut; and if he is her slave, his job to “wait” on her turns out to be to “wanton” with her (II.i.21), then he would be her sex slave.  This may be the appearance, but he says that Tamora is his “prisoner held, fettered in amorous chains, // And … bound to Aaron’s charming eyes” (II.1.15-16).  So it’s an interesting relationship to say the least.
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Act One: Immediately into the Blood

OK, as I mentioned on Saturday, Act One, Scene One, of Titus Andronicus is the longest first scene in all of Shakespeare (at 498 lines, it’s longer than five plays’ entire first acts; the next longest is Much Ado About Nothing, at 312 lines).  With all that length, you might suspect a quiet opening, a slow expositional build to content.  And you’d be wrong.  It begins with a flourish, literally, as the Roman Senators and Tribunes enter, then followed onstage–through opposite doors–the late (and unnamed) emperor’s sons, Saturninus and his younger brother, Bassianus, and THEIR soldiers.

That’s a boatload of people on stage… more than enough to grab the audience’s attention.

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Comedy of Errors… a look back…

OK, so our first month ends today.  The Comedy of Errors is over.  I think we’ve made a pretty good start… I had hoped for a little more interaction from the community, but hey, that’s ok… it’s a pretty demented mission I’ve set for myself, and I don’t expect many — any? — of you to follow.

As the month was ending, though, I began thinking hard about this blog.  I’ve tried to stay as objective as possible in the composition of the daily entries (for those who know me well, you know how hard this is for me, a pretty SUBjective, heart-on-sleeve, passionate guy [read, at times pedantic and blowhard-y… yeah, not a word, I KNOW]).  And in the past few days, I’ve began to wonder if (since there doesn’t seem too many readers out there to offend) maybe I shouldn’t just, you know, loosen up, let loose, and let the ever-lovin’ bullsh!t flow.
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Bill Walthall (UCLA '85 English), a former high school English, Shakespeare, and Drama teacher, will read and blog about each of Shakespeare's plays, from The Comedy of Errors through The Tempest.

The Bill / Shakespeare Project