In the movie Titus (2000), Julie Taymor explores inhumanity in mankind and how it is consumed in the contemporary society using William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (1594) in the play by Shakespeare, Goth and Roman are portrayed as barbarous and the playwright violence responses that are associated with proper execution of power, justice, and civilization. However, in the Rome political center, the playtext presents Titus’ triumphal position which is reduced to the powerlessness of Rome politics after defeating Goth (Bailey 12). Taymor retained lines of Shakespeare’s play to create a tree image (Cinpoeş 13). This paper, therefore, looks into the retained lines in the beginning and end of Taylor’s film and how they affirm Shakespeare’s arguments and clarify it for modern audiences, or they impose Taymor′s own understanding of the play (McIntyre et al. 30). Also, the paper goes further to determine how the opening scene informs the audience understanding of the film and if the end serves the same purpose.
The opening scene of the film enhances Shakespeare’s arguments as it lays out conflicts that are to unfurl in the bloody splendor through the film: the contest for the crown and the revenge between Tamora and Titus. Moreover, there is a foreshadowing of Lavinia’s rape. The opening speeches of Bassianus and Saturninus shows a Rome that has been deeply divided between virtue and tradition – Rome must respect their leadership system where the first-born son takes over after the death of his father as the next emperor. Saturninus is the first son and wants to next emperor, and due to this, he supports their hereditary tradition of the son becoming the successor of his father (Bailey 22). On the other hand, Bassianus also wants to the next emperor after their father as he believes he is a better leader than his brother, and he, therefore, advocates for election as it will help the Romans fight for their freedom and deprive Bassianus of his power according to their tradition (McIntyre et al. 327). Titus supports hereditary tradition leadership, and later approves Saturninus as the next ruler of Rome with the help of the people.
The Roman tribune Marcus Andronicus (an official of the government appointed to protect the common people) intervenes and tells Bassianus and Saturninus that the people have neglected them and chose his brother, Titus Andronicus as the next emperor. Titus has been chosen by the people because of his heroic actions as a general (Aebischer 29). Titus was chosen when he was returning from the war against the Goths that led to the death of his 21 sons. The war and arguments in this scene support Shakespeare’s arguments as it shows chains of violence and revenge that are bound to follow later in the film. Revenge is first shown by Titus when he comes back with five prisoners for the revenge of his dead sons (Cinpoeş 40). The prisoners are Aaron, Tamora (queen of Goths) and her three sons, Demetrius, Chiron, and Alarbus.
Lucius (one of the sons of Titus) suggests the killing of one of the Tamora’s sons to reattribute the death of his 21 brothers. Tamora begs Titus not to kill any of her sons, but Titus says that one of her sons owe her a sacrifice because the Goths killed her sons. As a result, Titus and his remaining sons kill Alarbus as a sacrifice (Aebischer 19). Chiron and her mother Tamara cry out in grief for the death of Alarbus and accuse the Romans of being barbaric. Demetrius calmed them down and advised her mother to find ways of revenging for the death of Alarbus. After killing Alarbus, Titus honor and addresses his children together with her daughter Lavinia who she had not seen for some time.
Marcus presents a white rob to Titus as a token from the citizen of being elected as the next emperor. Titus declines the offer that he is too and weak to rule. The claim gives Saturninus hope of becoming the next emperor (Bailey 10). Bassianus also takes this as a chance of being the next ruler since Titus has no interest in the throne. Saturninus is supposed to be the next ruler according to Titus, but Bassianus also need the throne and seeks his help; however, Titus chooses Saturninus as the next emperor basing on their tradition of the eldest son taking after the father. Saturninus decides to take Lavinia as a wife to show thanks to Titus for choosing him over Bassianus (McIntyre et al. 347). Titus is impressed by Saturninus for considering his daughter as her wife and gives him the remaining prisoners as a present.
Another disagreement arises that leads to bloodshed due to the issue of Lavinia becoming the wife of Saturninus because Bassianus claims that Lavinia had been betrothed to him as her future wife. Bassianus claim is supported by Lucius and Marcus, but Titus does not approve it and calls them traitors. Bassianus takes Lavinia by the arm, and he is helped by Mutius (another son of Titus) to escape (McIntyre et al. 307). However, in that process, Titus kills Mutius for blocking him when he was pursuing Bassianus. Saturninus lost his trust in Andronicus family when he realizes that he will not have Lavinia as her wife. Anger makes him ask Tamora for a hand in marriage. The marriage between Tamora and Saturninus blurs the distinction between the Barbarians and the Romans.
The turn of events makes Tamora a chance to seek revenge for the death of Alarbus and raises fear and betrayal in the Andronicus family. Titus denounces Mutius as his son and unwillingly accepts him to be buried in their family tomb. Moreover, Titus does not mourn Mutius as expected. Saturninus turns against Bassianus for taking Lavinia from her and Tamora plans to fulfill Demetrius’ vengeance wish (Cinpoeş 137). However, in the public face, Tamara lied to Titus that she had no grudge on him for killing Alarbus. Saturninus also lies to his brother Bassianus and Titus that he had forgiven them, to the point of accepting Titus invitation to go hunting together as a sign of reconciliation. The false reconciliation plotted by Tamora and Saturninus is meant to bring their enemies closer and ease their revenge.
Similar to the opening scenes of the film, the ending scene also has disagreements, betrayals, and bloodshed. Titus betrays his family for the second time when he agrees that he killed her daughter in front of Saturninus (Aebischer 300). However, he claimed that killing Lavinia was for protecting her family from the shame of being raped as their tradition demands, despite it exemplifying a strange relationship between him and his family (Bailey 344). At this point, Titus seems to have a good relationship between him, Saturninus and Tamora as he gives them food. The relationship seems to be even stronger when Saturninus supports Titus for killing Lavinia. However, in that process, Titus reveals Saturninus that Chiron and Demetrius raped and mutilated Lavinia (Cinpoeş 333). Saturninus is not happy with the revelation and demands the culprits to be brought to in his presence, but Titus tells him that he had killed them and their flesh is what he and Tamora were eating.
Titus response causes drama and breaks their good relationship and brings back their enmity. As a result, Titus kills Tamora, but things turn against him when Saturninus kills him for revenge. However, Cinpoeş argues that the chain of killings did not end there; the death of his father hit Lucius and avenged for him by killing Saturninus (139). Lucius proved he had loved her family by killing Saturninus after killing his father who had turned against them by killing Mutius, unwillingly buried him in their family tomb and killing Lavinia. After the deadly chaos, Marcus and Lucius addressed the people and assured them that they would help them to restore their empire to its former greatness (Bailey 311). Lucius publically defended his family (especially his father) when he tells them how Demetrius and Chiron killed Bassianus, raped Lavinia, caused wrongful execution of Mutius and Quintus, and him to be exiled. The people of Rome supported Aemilius to acclaim Lucius as their emperor. The people of Rome hail Lucius as their new emperor as he promised to heal Rome. Lucius and Marcus mourn the death of Titus.
According to the discussion above, the film is about vices has happened and continues to happen in our society. The vices are caused by mean and self-centered individuals who are out for power that they are not supposed to hold according to tradition and culture. In this case, there could be less or no violence if Bassianus was following their Roman traditions like the citizens and Titus. Moreover, the vices here are caused by grudges and revenge (McIntyre et al. 337). Forgiveness is a very important virtue that brings peace among people and eliminates hatred caused revenge and grudges. The differences among the officials of Roman government led to a chain of bloodshed that caused almost all their lives and the power that caused all the differences given to somebody else who had no intentions of becoming a ruler.
Aebischer, Pascale. “Shakespeare with a Difference: Dismembering and Remembering titus Andronicus in Heiner Müller’s and Brigitte Maria Mayer’s anatomie Titus.” (2015): 322-345. Print. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781118635261.ch16
Bailey, Lucy, Ian Russell, Lotte Buchan, Jessica Lusk, Django Bates, Siân Williams, William Houston, Brian Martin, Steffan Donnelly, Indira Varma, Matthew Needham, and William Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus. , 2016. https://vufind.carli.illinois.edu/vf-whe/Record/whe_954661
Bailey, Lucy, Ian Russell, Lotte Buchan, Jessica Lusk, William Houston, Ian Gelder, Obi Abili, Django Bates, and William Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus. , 2017. Internet resource. https://vufind.carli.illinois.edu/vf-whe/Record/whe_954661
Cinpoeş, Nicoleta. “Titus Andronicus, Teatrpolski and Staatsschauspiel (teatrwybrzeże) Titus Andronicus, Hiraeth Artistic Productions (arcola Theatre).” Shakespeare Bulletin. 33.1 (2015): 135-141. Print. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/576469/summary
McIntyre, Blanche, Griselda Yorke, Matt Woodward, John Wyver, Martin Hutson, Dharmesh Patel, David Troughton, Nia Gwyne, and William Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus. , 2017. Internet resource. https://acorn.biblio.org/eg/opac/record/4113537
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