There has been much controversy over Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus – Is it his worst play ? Did he even write it ? It is generally felt that alone, or in conjunction with another, Shakespeare was writing a revenge drama, full of blood and guts, high in emotion and horror, in an attempt to have a hit on his hands. It seemed to work initially as, at first, it was one of his more successful plays. Later it fell out of favour as our tastes changed and it was felt to be rather overwrought and over-gory, perhaps felt to be a relic of days passed, when a public execution was the competition for a performance of a drama.
It is clear that its bloody history was on the minds of the RSC when they staged this performance. A trigger warning was offered at the beginning and through the play great care was taken to avoid any excessive gore. It is odd that in these days of bloodthirsty television (C.S.I., etc), popular horror films in the cinema (Saw, Hostel, etc), and the ubiquity of the internet it was felt necessary to do this. It is also unfortunate that they did. The blood and gore are, in fact, the guts of Titus Andronicus. If they are removed there is very little left. If they are played for effect with appropriate histrionic aplomb and bravado they are less distressing than this clinical approach (We have to deal with it but we’d rather not).
Further, Titus Andronicus is a revenge drama dealing with violent urges. This was always a preoccupation with Shakespeare from Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, and the Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare looked into the darker corners of our souls and it is often insights he had on these murderous passions which stood the test of time. It was not a political thriller. To try and make it into such means that, in addition to losing all of the excitement, we also lose any of the possible insights.
It seems modern day concerns seriously damaged this performance, hopefully somebody else will be a little more honest and respectful of the text and do a better job.