Date: Some time between 1588 and 1593.
First read: 2007? Though I wonder whether I skipped this one, because it was mostly unfamiliar.
Productions seen: None at all. But I know the RSC are broadcasting this season’s production in August, so that will probably change shortly.
Productions worked on: As above.
Edition I’m using: Dover Thrift. Loving this cover.
- Reading this while working on a script in which Franck’s Panis Angelicus is mentioned leads to some odd mental mashups.
- Well, I can see why this play was so popular in the craziness that was the 17th century. Blood and guts flying everywhere, more revenge than you can shake a stick at. The level of violence feels like it ought to be cathartic, a purgative theatrical experience… but actually it felt kind of pornographic instead. I can see why it provoked a considerable amount of scorn and censure over the years…
- I have to agree with those critics who have noted that it’s a mess, structurally. An interesting mess, yes, but a mess nonetheless. There’s enough material in the first act for an entire play, but it’s rattled through at breakneck pace. There are several big, big plotlines, each of which could be a play in itself, which leaves the text feeling overstuffed – yet Shakespeare’s still not quite hit his stride in terms of characterisation, so the play manages to be overstuffed without feeling particularly satisfying.
- Lavinia could have had the whole play to herself. I was sorry that she wasn’t built up a bit more as a character before losing her tongue and hands. Like Silvia in Two Gents she was very much the model heroine, but with interesting flashes of strength… but it’s Lucrece-style strength, the kind of martyred fortitude of Lady Macduff, but Lady Macduff had better last words.
- Tamora is likewise intriguing. She’s got some cracking speeches, and I salivate at the idea of a play entirely about her, preferably written by mature rather than early Shakespeare. A Tamora less cartoonishly villainous, with more of the Volumnia about her, would be incredible.
- And then there’s Aaron. I’ve spent years arguing against the accusations of racism and anti-Semitism levelled at Shakespeare for Othello and Shylock. We spend an entire play watching Othello being driven to violence, and Shylock is given one of the greatest humanising moments in literary history. And then… there’s Aaron. Again, I’d love to see a mature play in which his story is central, exploring the audacity of his affair with Tamora and his relationship with his newborn son. Again, I’d like to see a less straightforward villainy, more in line with the complexity I’m accustomed to encountering in later Shakespeare. However, Aaron does provide my favourite quote in the whole piece – “If one good deed in all my life I did, I do repent it from my very soul.”
- I really don’t have a huge amount to say about this one. I have no trouble believing that it’s co-written. I can see its legacy in pieces like The Spanish Tragedy, The Revengers’ Tragedy and The Duchess of Malfi. I am intrigued by Julie Taymor’s belief that it’s a play for our times, though I’ve yet to decide whether or not I agree. I would imagine I’ll have a clearer idea about that after I’ve seen it, so… bring on August.
NEXT WEEK TIME: Richard III