Titus Andronicus is a violent, troubling play that takes us into the darkness of the human spirit, and warns us of the tragic consequences of hatred and revenge. Through the course of the play, not only do we see acts of unspeakable cruelty and depravity, but we also watch the victims of these acts cope with the crushing physical and emotional pain they are forced to endure.
As spectators, we empathize with the suffering of the victims, and, perhaps ashamedly, sympathize with their desire for revenge. The urge to seek vengeance is all too human and familiar, but doing so can devour the individual soul and consume whole societies. The Rome of Titus Andronicus, once ordered and civil, becomes increasingly wild and savage as the cycle of revenge is set in motion. When caught in such a cycle even the most principled men can become de-humanized and barbaric. This is the fate of “Titus”, the hero of this story, and it is also the engine of Shakespeare’s play. Shakespeare dramatizes what befalls a society when hatred and revenge are unleashed, and justice and the rule of law are forsaken.
Although written over 400 years ago, Titus Andronicus seems to speak to our troubled times, rife with dreadful violence, anger and hatred. Daily we hear reports from abroad of unfathomable brutality: beheadings, summary executions, bombings and amputations; while here at home shootings occur with numbing regularity, causing incalculable misery and engendering fear and panic. And in our media and on the campaign trail, we are assaulted by a hateful and incendiary rhetoric that serves only to heighten tensions and arouse hostility.
Titus Andronicus is a cautionary tale for those of us who seek to right a wrong in any other way than by appealing to the goddess of justice.