ENG111 -- Introduction to Literature: Beholding Violence in Drama and Film

Prof. Eileen Joy

Summer 2011

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS #4: Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Julie Taymor's Titus

Figure 1. Titus and Lavinia in production of Titus Andronicus at Globe Theater

Respond to TWO of the following prompts:

1. Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and Aaron "the Moor" are two of the greatest villains in all of Shakespeare's plays, but they are also highly complex characters who cannot just be summed up as "evil" [a term, I might add, that is so highly overused to describe fictional villains that it ceases to be mean anything, so please avoid it]. How would you describe, first, their relationship to each other, and second, the motives behind their various actions [as a "couple," but also separately]?

2. Based on your reading and viewing of Titus Andronicus, would you say that there are certain situations in which revenge is justified, or conversely, would you argue that revenge is never justified? Explain your justification in detail, with reference to the specific events of the play and film.

3. Following the thinking of the Renaissance poet Sir Philip Sidney, the scholar Terence Hawkes argues that tragedy, as an art form, is similar to a medical dissection, in that it strips way the outer layers of "polite" life to show the "ulcers" [i.e., moral corruption] underneath. It shows the moral sickness, in other words, that is supposedly always inside of each one of us. Would you agree with this argument, and why or why not? In what ways might Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus give us a kind of dissection of the moral "ulcers" that are supposedly inside each one of us?

4. In her film Titus, Julie Taymor greatly expanded the role of Lucius's son, "Young Lucius" [in Shakespeare's play], and has him appear in almost every scene, mainly as a voyeur [someone who is always watching, but not necessarily talking]. Why do you think Taymor did this, and what is she trying to accomplish, do you think, by the ways in which she positions Young Lucius in almost every scene? Further, consider how Taymor ends the film, which is different from the play, and which focuses specifically on Young Lucius and Aaron's son: why do you think Taymor chose to end the film with this scene, and what, exactly, is going on in this final scene, in your opinion?

5. At the end of her film Titus, during the penultimate and gory banquet scene at Titus's house, Taymor suddenly pulls the camera back to reveal the dining room table and all of the corpses in the middle of the Roman amphitheater, and in the seats of that amphitheater are modern viewers who look just like us [in other words, they are contemporary with the 21st century]. What do you think Taymor was trying to accomplish with this creative directorial maneuver?

6. How did viewing Taymor's film Titus affect the ways in which you understand and/or feel about Shakespeare's play and its characters, especially as regards its violence and themes of revenge? Another way of putting this might be: how did Taymore's film enhance your understanding of Shakespeare's play, especially with relation to its presentation of violence?

7. How might you compare the ways in which Tarantino's film Inglourious Basterds and Julie Taymor's film Titus present the theme of revenge (as a dramatic narrative/story, but also in terms of how they depict violence visually and stylistically)? Which is a better "revenge story," and why?

Please respond to the questions with full, complete sentences. You should write AT LEAST two typed, double-spaced pages (total) in response to the two prompts you choose--what matters most to me is that you respond to these prompts with thoughtfulness and care and show me that you have something of substance to say in relation to the readings, viewings, and discussions we have had, and what that ultimately means is: MORE is always better than less, but one page per response is the MINIMUM. The questions are always interpretive in nature, and therefore there are NO right or wrong answers, only your opinion (an opinion, nevertheless, that should be grounded in a close reading of the text as well as close attention to background material presented through online links). You will want to refer to and/or quote specific passages and scenes from the texts and films in order to support your observations and ideas.

Responses should be saved as .doc or .docx [Microsoft Word] files and sent to eileenajoy@gmail.com as email attachments.