Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Titus Andronicus - Very First Thoughts

To judge by Pistol’s ravings in the Henry IV, pt. II, one suspects that Marlowe must have been pretty "old hat" by 1594. The Spanish Tragedy (the English Renaissance's most popular play) was obviously loved, but perhaps on its way to becoming camp. Certainly Ben Jonson's elaborate "additions," made just a few years later, took Kyd's initial purple passages and imitated them to an extreme, something at once cornball and delightful. Add to this the fact that Shakespeare was fresh off a play full of parody (Love's Labor's Lost), it seems to me quite possible that Titus itself is at once an attempt to do Kyd (The Spanish Tragedy) and Marlowe (The Jew of Malta) one better and, at the same time, an exercise in camp (as was, I believe, Tourneur's wonderfully hammy The Revenger's Tragedy [1607]).

So, the question arises — to what extent do we take this play seriously, and to what extent do we take it as camp. How, indeed, do we treat camp? Do we do it a disservice and ignore its presence, or do we find a way of achieving some sort of whole vision that includes both dramatic consistency and overwriting, spoof, and take-off?


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