The performance of “Titus Andronicus” recorded on this DVD was filmed live in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on June 23rd, 2017. It was directed by Blanche McIntyre. This is the third of four Roman plays staged by the RSC in the 2017 season. The previous two episodes, “Julius Caesar” and “Antony and Cleopatra” were first performed in March, 2017.
Shakespeare’s plays illustrate the evolutionary process that led to the development of Western civilization. Shakespeare’s narrative starts in Troy and ancient Greece, moves to pre-Roman Britain, then goes to Rome, passes through the Middle Ages and concludes with the European Renaissance. Shakespeare’s Roman tetralogy explains the circumstances that led to Rome’s evolutionary failure. According to Shakespeare’s presentation, Rome collapsed because it failed to fulfil its evolutionary role. “Titus Andronicus” is the concluding episode of the tetralogy and illustrates the consequences of that failure.
Shakespeare treats historical events as manifestations of the state of the mind of a select group of people who are representative of a given geographical area at that particular time. In other words, it is the state of the human mind that drives history and the welfare of societies. In Shakespeare’s allegorical presentation, his characters are a symbolic representation of various faculties of the mind. Some of these faculties are ordinary; some are extraordinary, and some others are still in their latent state. It is such a composite state of the mind that determines what is possible and what is impossible; it defines its evolutionary potential and dictates the sequence of events. In this context, “Titus Andronicus” is a very interesting play because it illustrates a mind from which the possibility for evolutionary progress was removed: the process was interrupted and moved to other geographical areas. The time period that corresponds to the events described in “Titus Andronicus” is known in the history of Europe as the Dark Ages. The composition of the play’s characters is a reflection of that situation: disorder among events, confusion among men, processes without design, humanity without direction. This is why “Titus Andronicus” is purposely presented as Shakespeare’s bloodiest work. According to Shakespeare’s narrative, it took the Western society some 16 centuries to recover from Rome’s fiasco. Shakespeare dedicated 32 of his other plays to describe the stages of the recovery process.
All that is to say that “Titus Andronicus” is a very precise illustration of a very specific situation that occurred in 4th century Rome. Therefore, it cannot be reliably applied to other places or other times. Yet, the director of this RSC production decided to take “Titus Andronicus” out of its original setting and telescope it into the 21st century. In this production there are demonstrations and clashes with riot police, TV crews, techno-party, texting and taking selfies. In this way, the director attempted to use “Titus Andronicus” as a commentary on some of our current social and political issues. Such a treatment of the play is based on a cliché that “history repeats itself.” Some historians follow a simplified thinking pattern to analyse past events by applying a set of fixed concepts and beliefs. Such a thinking pattern may lead to misplaced or even ridiculous conclusions. For example, Professor Peter Heather’s solution for our current problems, which he suggests in the pamphlet attached to this DVD, may serve as an illustration of such an approach: “it will be much better to marry your Goths than to fight them.”
Many playwrights address the challenges of the current political and social situation, but there is only one, “Shakespeare”, who goes beyond and above ordinary psychology to explain the root of the root of political and social inadequacies. Shakespeare teaches us that real progress may be achieved only through the development of certain faculties of the mind. In this context, McIntyre’s attempt to use “Titus Andronicus” to address questions of populism, racism, and gender inequality is equivalent to blaming cavemen for spending too much time on computer games. The play is further corrupted by the decoration of the stage with “ghosts.” There is a very good reason why Shakespeare did not have ghosts in this play. The structure of 4th century Rome is too simplistic for their appearance. Shakespeare’s ghosts always need the presence of a certain faculty to warrant their intervention. Shakespeare’s plays are like a very precise and incredibly sensitive instrument. They cannot perform their function if they are not handled with due care.
Like most of RSC’s productions, “Titus Andronicus” is very interesting to watch: fantastic stage design, extraordinary acting, elaborate costumes, magical tricks, entertaining music and eye pleasing choreography. Yet, all of these could be used so much more effectively in order to unveil Shakespeare’s treasure which still remains buried. It is somehow disappointing that the RSC is unable to break through a stagnant and simplistic approach to Shakespeare. It seems that now the time is ripe to reveal Shakespeare’s treasure. Let’s hope that the future RSC’s productions will get closer to Shakespeare’s “brave new world.”
- Actors: David Troughton, Nia Gwynne, Patrick Drury, David Burnett, Kristin Atherton
- Directors: Blanche McIntyre
- Format: NTSC
- Language: English
- Region: All Regions
- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Number of discs: 1
- Studio: Naxos Deutschland Musik & Video Vertriebs-GmbH / Poing
- DVD Release Date: 25 May 2018
- Run Time: 186 minutes
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- ASIN: B07BFB7L9K
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