- Titus Andronicus: Critical Essays
Titus Andronicus: Critical Essays is one of seven Garland volumes under the general editorship of Philip Kolin, who also edited this volume. The format of this series—based on the interrelation of criticism and performance—works particularly well in association with Titus Andronicus, as the play’s rediscovery is linked almost equally to Peter Brook’s 1955 production at Stratford Memorial Theatre and H. T. Price’s advocacy of Shakespearean authorship in 1943. Kolin’s essay—one of three that he contributes here—on the “Canons of Contemporary Violence” concretely connects the resurgence of critical and theatrical interest in the play with the “wilding” of modern society. From Jeffrey Dahmer to Pulp Fiction, our real and imaginary deeds rival, if not surpass, the grotesqueries depicted by Shakespeare, grotesqueries dismissed in earlier, more innocent times as “Elizabethan sensationalism.” Bloody and gory though it may be, the play mirrors many of the social, psychological, and political concerns which have undergone rigorous examination in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Kolin begins the collection with his own introductory survey of the history of the play both on stage and in criticism. Here, he addresses the authorship question that has plagued this play since 1687 when Ravenscroft questioned the extent of Shakespeare’s hand in the play. He then moves on to critical attempts to categorize the play, and reviews modern approaches including new historicism and new histrionicism, rhetorical and semiotic studies, Lacanian/Freudian psychoanalysis, and feminism.
The largest part of this collection consists of critical essays that are organized both by type and by date of composition, and that reflect the many trends that he has identified. Kolin includes groundbreaking essays such as H. T. Price’s “The Authorship of Titus Andronicus,” published in 1943. Other significant essays include Eugene Waith’s “The Metamorphosis of Violence in Titus Andronicus,” a turning point in Titus Andronicus criticism, which discovers the Ovidian psychic transformation undergone by characters and posits the rape of Lavinia as the “central symbol of the disorder” (106); Alan Sommers’s close reading of the structure [End Page 260] and symbolism in the play; A. C. Hamilton’s justification of the violence in its presentation of “a vision of fallen nature” (143); and Bernard Spivack’s characterization of Aaron as a hybrid of the allegorical Vice character with the new realism of the Renaissance.
The more recent works in the collection reflect current trends in literary criticism. Robert S. Miola places Titus as one of the Roman plays. So does Gail Kern Paster, who focuses on the “predatory savagery” of a city that “seeks out and destroys the hero at the moment when he most completely embodies the ethos of the city” (225). Jane Hiles looks at the rhetorical “aptness” of Tamora who correctly manipulates situation and setting to her advantage until the end of the play when she is “defeated by a reassertion of context” (243) and the “ineptness” of Lavinia who continually misreads situations and responds inappropriately. Kolin’s “Performing Texts in Titus Andronicus” brings together the two concerns of the collection—performance and criticism—in a reader-response theoretical context in which the characters become “readers” themselves even as they are read by other characters and the audience. Similarly, Emily C. Bartels’s new-historicist “Making More of the Moor” views Titus Andronicus in the light of Renaissance depictions of Moors. She notes Aaron’s “appropriation” of “patriarchal texts” to gain access into the world of the Goths and the Romans while simultaneously making “his own text essentially unreadable” (271), save in the color of his skin, which keeps him under subjugation and is, thus, “ultimately alienating” (271).
Kolin’s “Contemporary Violence” is the first of five essays written exclusively for this collection. Following Kolin, two feminist authors take pains to ground their work in cited contemporary scholarship. Dorothea Kehler analyzes Tamora with some intriguing observations about Elizabethan audiences. Carolyn Asp approaches the...