Monday, April 17, 2006

Titus Andronicus - Very Last Thoughts


We come to the close of our conversation on Titus Andronicus. Ernst is right; I've probably said enough. I am impressed though. In far too short a time, we've made our way from Seneca to Northrop Frye, from Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy to Hamlet to Dryden's All for Love, from Camp to nihilism, with a little Watergate and The Gospel of Judas thrown in for good measure. And we've left a few questions, like Geronimo's son, hanging. Regarding our conversation on the possible "campy" quality of Titus, I was amused to find this comment from Mark Van Doren:

"The uniqueness of 'Titus Andronicus' among Shakespeare's plays as being the only one that is inhuman may be attributable to the inexperience of its author; if we could at any rate be sure about the time of its concoction we might say that it was a first attempt to do as much as was well done in 'Richard III.' Or chronology failing us, we might point to the alien Roman scene, and note the greater success with which Shakespeare, studying under Holinshed, had absorbed a portion of the English past ... Or, as a desperate resort we might dally with the proposition that 'Titus Andronicus' was a conscious parody of the tragedy of blood considered as a current form" (Shakespeare, 28-29).

Hmmm. A "desperate resort," eh? Dr. Schoen-Rene, I think you've been insulted.

Vengeance can be yours when we return, on May 7, to discuss Henry VI, part 1. 'Til then ... blood pudding anyone?


RE: Titus Andronicus - Lost in the Wilderness

Again, very nicely put by Randall. Do we need additional summary?

Interesting to compare the pastoral realms here. I would argue that the young lovers in A Midsummer Night's Dream don't really change much as a result of their sojourn in the woods. They end up as the same dull patricians they start out as, pretty much--at least the men (and, arguably, Hermia).

As opposed to Lear and Othello (and As You Like It and Twelfth Night) we don't see the characters change or grow much in the process of their pastoral journey. Lucius does try to reassert Roman Order in his final actions, but he doesn't grow much as a character, really. He is (arguably) "changed," but he is no Orlando, that's for sure.

I continue to wonder what the law students who were in the process of becoming much enamored of Shakespeare during these days would see in the play.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Titus Andronicus - Lost in the Wilderness


Gil's observations about the heroic tone of Act 1 hit the nail on the head, and I was especially drawn to the subsequent triangulation of Titus (as "civilized, public, ethical" Rome), Saturninus (as "anti-Rome, self-centered and immoral") and Aaron (as "amoral, beyond the limits of society") as a description of the play's internal conflicts. If this geometry is accurate, then Titus Andronicus is not a play about a man with a tragic flaw, or a man undone by forces beyond his control, but about Rome. And here I think Rome is a metaphor for the precariousness of a moral society, or at least civil order.

I think the answer to Gil's dissatisfaction with the play's outcome lies in his final observation regarding the transformation of the forest, from Derek Traversi's An Approach to Shakespeare.

To summarize Traversi briefly, he argues that "In the recesses of the forest, and in the energies of the hunt, the principal characters are taken out of their normal public selves ... and revealed in the intimacy of their contrasted reactions" (50). Act 2, scene 2 begins with a hunt that represents order and civility. The opposing factions, Titus hopes, will come together in shared jocularity. The woods are portrayed as apt setting for this detente: "...the moon is bright and gay / The fields are fragrant, and the woods are green" (2.2.1-2). This orderly pastoral quality is soon replaced, Traversi notes, by "triumphant sensuality." Tamora's wooing of Aaron by suggesting that Nature has made the bed for them begins by echoing Titus's earlier description:

"The birds chant melody on every bush;
The snake lies rolled in the cheerful sun;
The green leaves quiver with the cooling wind,
And make a chequer'd shadow on the ground." (2.3.12-15)

But then she converts idyllic nature to setting for lovemaking:

"And, after conflict such as was supposed
The wandering prince and Dido once enjoy'd,
When with a happy storm they were surpris'd,
And curtain'd with a counsel-keeping cave,
We may, each wreathed in the other's arms,
Our pastimes done, possess a golden slumber." (2.3.21-26)

Aaron, determined instead to pursue revenge, subverts Nature at this point, turning it to a setting of horror. Traversi makes the transition by describing their vengeful endeavors as "dark deed(s) of passion." Tamora's description of Nature that follows, of the very same place she just described in such idyllic terms, reflects this change:

"A barren detested vale, you see it is;
The trees, though summer, yet forlorn and lean,
O'ercome with moss and baleful mistletoe:
Here never shines the sun: here nothing breeds,
Unless the nightly owl or fatal raven." (2.3.93-97)

To Traversi, this transformation of natural setting implies, through "relation to human passions and desires," "moral desolation." Mike's concern about nihilism here is entirely appropriate (I'm not sure I get Northrop Frye's definition of irony, so I won't go into that), but again, if we see this not merely as the tragedy of Titus in which Aaron's amoral villainy triumphs, but of Rome, then we can avoid the sense that important political and social institutions have been destroyed when Lucius promises not only "to order well the state," but "to heal Rome's harms and wipe away her woe!" But more on that in a minute.

I agree with Traversi that Act 2 constitutes the "imaginative center of the play," and I am struck here by the parallel with A Midsummer Night's Dream. When the Athenians depart to the woods in Act 2, all the rules of the society they know are turned topsy-turvy. The separation between the urban and natural, between the mortal and magic worlds, is clear; we understand that, in the comedy, humans moved outside their sphere are the sooner shown to be foolish. In Titus, the society has already been turned upside down by Titus's irrational murder of Mutius and Saturninus's ignoble self-centeredness, before everyone repairs to the woods. Part of the difference is that we are now in the tragic mode, and human folly is replaced by noble failure. Titus can't be in the woods when he makes his mistake because his mistake must come from within not without, but the woods can reflect the human moral experience as it shifts from honor, to dishonor, to immorality, to amorality.

So Nature, or perhaps the better term is "wilderness," becomes the dominant theme in the play. After Act 2, we get Lavinia's mutilation described as if she were a plant, Rome perceived as a wilderness of tigers," Titus's seeking the personified Revenge in a cave, a defeated Tamora's body left to the birds, Aaron buried chest-deep in the dirt, and Titus's perception of himself as:

"... I stand as one upon a rock,
Environed with a wilderness of sea,
Who marks the waxing tide grow wave by wave,
Expecting ever when some envious surge
Will in his brinish bowels swallow him." (3.1.95-99)

(This last image subverts Titus's initial heroic/merchant image of himself.) Titus, Saturninus, Tamora and Aaron force Rome into a wilderness state. And only through the wholesale slaughter of all the principals, does it return from thence. One must ask if Lucius can be trusted to handle the job of righting the ship of state. Gil illustrates the play's starting point -- "The civilized social order is in place," an "exposition of heroic virtue"; if Rome can return to these then we avoid a nihilistic denouement. I believe Gil's dissatisfaction is answered by ... Lucius. He is left alive, and the horror has left him, if not ennobled, at least chastened. His first act is to bury his father and sister in the family tomb (an echo of the social order of Act 1), and he refers to his final kiss and tears as "the last true duties of thy noble son." I said when we started this discussion, that Titus's nobility is damaged by his disloyalty to his honorable family. Despite Titus's madness, rash acts, murder of the emperor, etc., Lucius honors him as both a father and one loyal to Rome; this is heroic virtue. He does the same with Saturninus! Compared to Titus's near refusal to bury Mutius in the family vault, Lucius's decision to "give (Saturninus) burial in his father's grave" demonstrates how the events of the play have ennobled him.

Make what you will of the play's excesses or lack of human feeling (Van Doren) or limiting Senecan construction (H. T. Price), in Titus Andronicus Shakespeare gives us a play that pulls out all the bloody stops of revenge tragedy, but avoids the resultant moral desolation by sending us out in a way that reestablishes civil order and a moral society.

Not bad for an "immature" playwright.


PS: As host, I'll close the conversation on Titus anon. If you have final comments, send 'em out.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Titus Andronicus - Titus, Nihilism, and Irony


Northrop Frye's essay, "Archetypal Criticism: Theory of Myths," in Anatomy of Criticism has often been thought provoking for me, and it helped me endure post-modern criticism. I am not particularly a disciple, but I have extrapolated often. In the essay, he divides each of the Mythoi into six phases.

In "The Mythos of Autumn: Tragedy": "The phases of tragedy move from the heroic to the ironic, the first three corresponding to the first three phases of romance, the last three to the last three of irony" (219). He does the same thing in "The Mythos of Winter: Irony and Satire," which moves to "the mythical patterns of experience, the attempts to give form to the shifting ambiguities and complexities of unidealized existence" (223). "Sixth-phase tragedy shocks as a whole, in its total effect--unqualified horror or despair makes a different cadence ... In such tragedies the hero is in too great agony or humiliation to gain the priveledge of heroic pose" (222). The sixth phase of irony, corresponding to the sixth of tragedy, "presents life in terms of largely unrelieved bondage..., and it differs from a pure inferno mainly in the fact that in human experience suffering has an end in death" (238). Tragedy is "ideal," the hero confronting "the pure laws of the universe" (Sophocles), whereas irony is "real," giving form to the complexities of unidealized existence.

OK. I think Mike is right about the ending that is bleakly ironic, as Frye uses the term common sense, morality, or expiation never figure in. The only "attractive" character seems to be Aaron, in that he takes sardonic pleasure in the purity of his evil, but, hey!, on this I will put Mike's "I do grow morally detached from people who are morally detached from what they are doing."

As to ironic detachment, I find none, despite Frye's association of his term "irony" to "sixth-phase" archetypes. Maybe that is why I remarked on how much I missed comic relief or, better, an ironic commentator such as Feste or Lear's Fool. As audience, I have no way to guess at what Shakespeare's attitude is or what my own is supposed to be (remember, Taymor's Titus is the only film during which I had to turn away from the screen), so, as per Frye, this is not satire. Yet it is a type of irony for me in that what I see and what I believe in just do no connect.

I hope I have expressed my disatisfaction with the undermotivated, characterless actions of Act I. Mike characterizes the nihilism of the end. Apart from Lucius' unresolving condemnation to leave Tamora to be eaten by birds, Aaron gets the last word: "If one good deed in all my life I did,/ I do repent it from my very soul" (V.iii.191-92). Let me quote Pope from memory: "Great Anarch, let the Curtain fall/ And Universal Darkness buries all."


Friday, April 14, 2006

RE: Titus Andronicus - 2 Points About 3 Points


I've been following the conversations with great interest, as I find the "shattered order" of this play rather confounding. I really like what Gilbert had to say about the recession of the heroic order and its replacement by Saturninus's "self driven" energy and the chaos that ensues, but the ending -- with the all-consuming appetite of the "third force," as Gil calls it -- feels a bit nihilistic to me: I do grow morally detached from people who are morally detached from what they are doing.

Which returns me to one of Randall's initial questions: How much, if any, ironic detachment is there here? What's the tone? I find glimmers of irony, even glee, yet it moves all over the place, and I wonder if this was the same play for the groundlings as it was for the cognescenti in the boxes? Can you offer a spectacle of gore and Iago-istic moral horror for the "unskilled" groundlings while simultaneously deconstructing such a play for those "judicious" few, "the censure of the which one must in your allowance overweigh a whole theater of others" (Hamlet III, 2) .


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Titus Andronicus - 2 Points About 3 Points


I am much attracted by Randall’s observations on I.i.70-76, the image with "middle-class quality"--Titus comparing himself to a merchant vessel--and his reference to Titus as the merchant of Rome. In that I have often treated Shakespeare’s era as immersed in a paradigm shift, from feudal order (a "received universe") to bourgeois freedom (an "infinite cosmos" if one postpones discussion of "bourgeois"), this was pretty exciting for me. Though I will probably save most of such discussion for Antony and Cleopatra, I’ll try to recall some references to John Dryden’s tragedy All for Love (1678), the late-seventeenth century version of Shakespeare’s Antony.

In All for Love, which submits to the unities of time, place, and plot, Antony is battling Octavius for control of the world (I would tell my students that their own lives depended on the outcome of the Battle of Actium, which Octavius won by land when Cleopatra’s navy panicked at sea). At one point heroic Antony-really a 15th century Romantic hero--challenges Octavius to single combat, winner take all, but Octavius refuses. Antony laments, "He said he had more ways than one to die;/ I had not," and sneers at Octavius as one who would buy and sell kingdoms rather than conquer them. So the merchant image is the one that will inherit the world as the heroic recedes. Anthony himself uses a merchant image as he is about to resign his place in the struggle:

My whole life
Has been a golden dream of love and friendship;
But now I wake, I’m like a merchant roused
From soft repose, to see his vessel sinking,
And all his wealth cast over. (V.i)

There is a sweet nostalgia as he resigns the Romantic/heroic world to the new age:

‘Tis time the world
Should have a lord and know whom to obey.
We two have kept the globe, on whose each side we trod,
Till it was dinted inward. Let him walk
Alone upon it: I’m weary of my part. (V.i)

After Antony, after All for Love, the middle class has risen and there is no place more for the hero.

The rest of Titus Andronicus does not play out such a contest. Rome may be decaying, but the contest against Saturninus, Tamora, Aaron, or even the legacy of Lucius and Marcus Andronicus, does not leave it in the hands of the merchant-governors Our initial Rome is almost the Rome of Plutarch (though Titus is never included among Shakespeare’s "Roman plays": Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus). The civilized social order is in place. Saturninus’ very first words address "Noble patricians." Bassianus follows with a rough draft of Marc Antony’s public speech, "Romans, friends, followers," though without the irony. And then Titus returns from ten years in the field, victorious against Rome’s enemies, proud and honored to have lost twenty-one sons in defense of the Capitol. In this beginning, before Titus’s early acts alienate him from the audience, he is burying another of his warrior sons in the Andronicus tomb:

In peace and honor rest you here, my sons;
Rome’s readiest champions, repose you here in rest,
Secure from worldly chances and mishaps.
Here lurks no treason, here no envy swells,
Here grow no damned drugs, here are no storms,
No noise, but silence and eternal sleep.
In peace and honour rest you here, my sons. (I.i.150-56)

This envoi is as elegiac as Horatio’s "Good night sweet prince,/ And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!", and it affirms the moral order of Rome. But this is at the start, before we are drowned in treason, envy, noise, and fourteen murders. This spiritual peace comes at the beginning, and as I am rereading what Titus says to his heroic sons, we learn that Jesus says to Judas: "'you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.’ Jesus meant that by helping him get rid of his physical flesh, Judas will act to liberate the true spiritual self or divine being within Jesus" ("The Gospel of Judas," John Noble Wilford and Laurie Goodstein, NY Times, April 6, 2006). The "divine" Roman dies gladly in its defense. Of Titus: "For many good and great deserts to Rome,/ A nobler man, a braver warrior,/ Lives not this day within the city walls... he undertook/ this cause of Rome.... In...uprightness and integrity....Patron of virtue, Rome’s best champion" (I.i.24-6, 31-2, 48, 65). "In peace and honour live Lord Titus long" (I.i.157).

This, certainly, is the sort of exposition of heroic virtue introducing Othello or Anthony, even Macbeth as praised by Duncan. And the impression is the Rome of Plutarch, civilized public order, a higher moral fabric. Soon, in contrast, is Saturninus, self-driven, who would seize the empery rather than submit to the Roman tribunes’ civic selection: "Draw your swords, and sheathe them not/ Till Saturninus be Rome’s emperor./ Andronicus, would thou were shipp’d to hell,/ Rather than rob me of the people’s hearts!" (V.i.204-7) , and, when Titus himself withdraws from consideration on grounds that his age would soon lead to another disruption in the succession and confirms the office on the late emperor’s eldest son, Saturninus immediately shows his private or personal self-centeredness. He claims Lavinia as his bride, then, within minutes throws her over owing to his lust for Tamora, Queen of the Goths, then uses his sometime rival, Bassianus’ prior betrothal to Lavinia as excuse to criminalize his brother. Thereafter, Saturninus, abetted by the Machiavellian Tamora, is immersed in lust and arbitrary exercise of power-the epitome of self-centeredness. Alan Cumming, in Julie Taymor’s Titus, played Saturninus with creepy, oily decadence.

Meanwhile, Aaron appears, the outsider, the blackamor, committed to and delighting in pure evil. Titus begins as the Rome that is civilized, public, ethical; Saturninus is anti-Rome, self-centered and immoral, but still in the realm of civilization; Aaron is amoral, beyond the limits of society. An atheist, he can play on the piety or belief in values of the Romans. Except for the surprising love for his infant son, he is totally free of social constraint. Thus, instead of a clear dramatic tension between the public civilized and the personally ambitious, the play offers a third force, outside the audience’s moral values.

However, this potential orderly geometry of the play, Plutarch’s Rome and Saturninus’s degrading exercise of power, as polar opposites, and Aaron a free radical, is shattered from the start. Maurice Charney suggests that Shakespeare immediately alienates the audience from Titus. His acquiescence to the barbaric sacrifice of Alarbus, lopped and hewed of limbs and flesh ("O cruel, irreligious piety!" laments his mother, Tamora); his refusal of the Roman empery, the best commitment for public good, and support for the dangerously foolish Saturninus; then the slaying his own son, Mutius, with arrogant dispatch: "What, villain boy,/ Barr’st me my way in Rome? (I.i.290-91), exhibit classic hubris, but to me, without the depth or audience understanding we might grant Lear with his tragic misreading of Cordelia. These acts are all so hasty, so under motivated, that we have from almost the start, despite the suggestion of a fallen Roman state, little room for Titus to recover gravitas through his suffering and his revenge.

Indeed, if the "lopping and hewing" of Lavinia’s body parts is an unspeakable horror, Shakespeare retrospectively characterizes Titus’s lack of morality in that the sacrifice of Alarbus has been twice described in identical language in Act I. Revenge is not justice, though I have confessed I find serving up Tamora’s sons in Gothic pasties is almost worth it.

Anyway, my three point geometry leaves me with no satisfaction for the outcome. Octavius "wins" All for Love, but the conflict has ennobled Antony and his heroism. In Titus, there is no one left alive, literally and morally. Yeah, Marcus and Lucius say "Peoples, can we all get along, here. Can we all get along" or somesuch, but the civilized order of Augustus’ Rome is finished, and the rough beast Rome of Tarquin is at hand.


Derek Traversi led me to think of another three-point set of images: the forest of Titus’s "jocund hunt," the forest of Tamora and Aaron’s sexual proposed gratification, and the forest far from the social habitations of man, "full of tongues, eyes, ears," where Aaron thrusts Demetrius and Chiron on the rape and mutilation of Lavinia, the murder of Bassianus, and the framing of Quintus and Martius for murder. And, oh, Lord, watch the cluster of images for "this abhorred pit" in the forest where Bassianus’ body is dumped and Lavinia is raped: "what subtle hole is this,/ Whose mouth is covered with rude-growing briers" (II.iii.198-98); "From this unhallow’d and blood stained hole" (II.iii.210); "in this detested, dark, blood-drinking pit" (II.iii.224); "Out of this fell devouring receptacle,/ As hateful as Cocytus’ misty mouth" (II.iii236); and "into this gaping hollow of the earth" (II.iii.249), which prompts the temperate Marjorie Garber to remark "Freud was not the first to invent Freudianism," (Shakespeare After All, 78.)


Sunday, April 9, 2006

Titus Andronicus - A Ship That Founders


I am currently teaching Macbeth to 9th-graders, and one of the comforting observations nearly all of them made in their journals was that the wounded, bleeding captain, who reports Macbeth's success in battle to Duncan in Act I, scene 2, opens all three of his speeches with powerful similes.

1) The battle:

"Doubtful it stood,
As two spent swimmers that do cling together
And choke their art." (1.2. 9-11)

2) The resurgence of the Norwegian forces:

"As whence the sun 'gins his reflection
Shipwracking storms and direful thunders break,
So from that spring whence comfort seemed to come
Discomfort swells." (1.2.27-31)

3) Macbeth's frustration of the Norwegian offensive:

"Dismayed not this our captains, Macbeth and Banquo?"
"Yes, as sparrows eagles, or the hare the lion." (1.2.37-39)

Our unlikely poet would probably continue, except that his "gashes cry for help," and he is led off to receive some succor if it's not too late. The first two of these similes reflect a healthy understanding of the power of water, and beneath that, a persistent comparison of war to the sea. (The final one hints at the Great Chain of Being which comes into the play more prominently later.) The imagery reminded me of Titus's first lines, in which he compares himself to a ship sailing into home port:

"Hail Rome, victorious in thy mourning weeds!
Lo, as the bark that hath discharged his fraught
Returns with precious lading to the bay
From whence at first she weighed her anchorage,
Cometh Andronicus, bound with laurel boughs,
To resalute his country with his tears,
Tears of true joy for his return to Rome." (1.1.70-76)

Titus has been victorious in his war, and so sails unmolested both literally and figuratively across the sea. What I also find interesting about this image is its middle-class quality. Titus compares himself not to some war galley bristling with oars and cannons (are those anachronistic?), but to a merchant vessel returning home after a successful trade mission. This is odd, partly because Titus seems so aristocratic and partly because the image fails to capture the nature of his mission and success. Maybe Titus is just being figuratively humble, or maybe he actually sees the mission as one of trade since he has returned "with honor and with fortune," the spoils of war.

This reminds me a bit of the opening of Comedy of Errors, which begins with Aegeon's "Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall," using a verb that suggests that Aegeon's death sentence is a mere financial transaction, which in a way it is because he cannot buy his freedom.

But what to make of Titus, the merchant of Rome, a man whose "bark," after it is safely in dock, sinks? Is that the definition of tragedy? Or just misfortune?


Sunday, April 2, 2006

Titus Andronicus - Musings

My turn to be pinched for time.

Genre: I haven't had time to formally reexplore Seneca, other than to think I remember that a mistranslation of Livy (?) encouraged the neoclassic writers of the late Renaissance to think that Seneca was closet drama, not to be staged but to be read, perhaps by a single orator. Nor have I rethought revenge tragedy. My first response told you that I have found the violence unrelenting, from the opening scene I saw at Stratford in 1955, which at the time I accepted with glee, but now it dominates my reading. Relentless. This play conforms to any concept of unity of plot or of tone, enough to satisfy any neoclassic critic (Corneille, Racine, Scapin) who might insist that any subplot would dilute or distract from the pure cathartic purpose of tragedy. So not only no Dromio, no Costard, no Feste, not even Macbeth's porter or Hamlet's Osric. And certainly no Fool to Lear.

Single plot: Saturninus is named emperor, fatally, and self-will invades everything. Saturninus lusts after Tamora and dumps Lavinia. Titus demands to be synonymous with Rome's good so he kills his son who blocks a door. Tamora lusts for power, though motivated by the unRoman execution of her eldest son. Demetrius and Chiron argue over love for Lavinia, until Aaron leads them to acknowledge that love is just another word for lust, so they cut [sic] to the chase and rape and mutilate her. (Anyone else find the "She is a woman" (II.i.81-89) passage peculiar?) Aaron at least is pure evil, but he fornicates with Tamora in a cave and relishes (can I use that word knowing we will have a meat pie at the terminating feast?) his power to torment the Andronici and bring down Rome. These are not subplots. They all hurtle toward death(s), so that Randall initially asked if this is revenge tragedy, whose revenge is it? I need Feste or Lear's Fool or Puck or Falstaff to leaven this lump -- think of Falstaff looking at the slain Hotspur and giving us a little disquisition of the hollowness of honor.

Also, my focus on "Senecan" horror has distracted me from Ovid. And I don't mean the Philomela/Tereus plot, but Ovid's imagery. After Love's Labor's Lost, here I hope to have a chance to explore passages to see if these, more than the ur-tragedy, will contribute more to my future reading. Specifically, I hope to look at the forest of the hunt (II.ii), then seen as the forest of crime when Aaron and Tamora plot in it (II.iii), then think forward to the forest of Oberon and the forest of Arden. If Fairyland is notAthens, so too this forest (scene of rape, murder, framed arrests) is notRome.

Our host invited us to look for foreshadows. Most important, I think, is Lear. Titus, like Lear, is responsible for unleashing anarchy on the state: Titus, certain he is Rome, by naming Saturninus emperor with no more rationale than "eldest son," while Lear egotistically, disinherits Cordelia, thus ceding all power to Goneril/Tamora. But unlike Lear, Titus never moves to understanding, the tragic catharsis that redeems the audience. Instead Titus kills Lavinia. Help me with that. I said to Randall, it may be compassion, releasing Lavinia from shame, pain, and grief. But I don't know if I believe that myself.

I wish I had more brain today,

Saturday, April 1, 2006

RE: Titus Andronicus - Very First Thoughts

Ernst, you are a radical. But this is a deeply intriguing question: Is Titus at once earnest revenge tragedy and Camp?

As a product of a 1960s and '70s generation steeped in camp -- my childhood included more of television's Batman, The Brady Bunch, Get Smart, The Monkees, and Super Friends than George Reeves's Superman, Father Knows Best, Mike Hammer, The Johnny Otis Show, and Bugs Bunny -- I may have a too anecdotal or too modern definition of Camp. But as I said I'm intrigued, because I wonder, isn't Camp in the eye of the beholder? Doesn't that make Shakespeare as fair game as Dame Edna?

OK. First of all, are we allowed to use the word "Camp" here? The OED indicates that the first usage of that word in print came in 1909, so it isn't a term Shakespeare would have used although the concept may have been around. Susan Sontag writes in "Notes on 'Camp' " (1964) that Camp is a "sensibility that, among other things, coverts the serious into the frivolous." She points out its esoterism -- it is "something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among urban cliques." Certainly one can list the upper echelon of London Renaissance playwrights as a sort of urban clique, not above commenting on themselves as much as telling stories. As Ernst notes, that may explain much of Love's Labor's Lost.

As an aside, those who define Camp seem to do so mostly by listing, "holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods!," examples. No Shakespeare appears in these lists. While Sontag suggests Camp finds its early beginnings in the 18th century, she does acknowledge some early precedents. Among them: Lyly and euphuism. Ha!

In mentioning Love's Labor's Lost, Ernst uses the word "parody"; what is the difference between parody and camp? Is is simply that parody looks down on foolishness, making fun of the ridiculous and the overly serious, but holding itself above that which is parodied, while Camp, on the other hand, seems to embrace the ridiculous, as it moves toward the statement: it's good because it's bad? Which ever way you turn the Camp prism, the emphasis seems to be on artifice, on the aesthetic, on style over substance. In addition, it seems to me that parody is unironic, while Camp is necessarily so.

Looking over Ernst's thesis here, I am trying to see Titus Andronicus as, at times, an aesthetic argument or as artificial. I'm not sure where to look. Among the exaggerated moments seems to be not when the mutilated Lavinia is presented to Titus, but when she must go to extremes to identify her rapists. This for me was the moment in the play that I laughed -- the image of both Marcus and then Lavinia sitting with a stick in their mouths and guiding it with their feet to write names in the sand. That seems a moment of at least unintentional humor if not intended Camp because the audience is being asked to shift its attention from the cruel villainy that justifies revenge to an arcane detail of consequence and, because the villains must somehow be revealed, plot exposition. And in the gap between the two, we become aware of the play's artifice. (And, if so, does Marcus's "Cursed be that heart that forced us to this shrift!" direct itself not at Aaron, but Shakespeare?) That's a long way for me to go, though.

Also exaggerated is when Aaron sheds all pretense of reason for his villainy. But if Aaron is Camp, what do we make of Iago? The final exaggeration comes when Titus carries out his plan to serve Tamora's children to her, no doubt with fava beans and a nice Chianti. It's extreme, but is it Camp? As I suggested with the Lavinia scene, it would be, I think, in these moments of extremity that we might find some aesthetic comment on the concept of revenge tragedy, either in general or through specific allusion to and embracing of the worst of Kyd, Marlowe, et al. As I read these scenes over again, I am also struggling to find the irony I feel is necessary for the presence of Camp.

But I want Ernst's thought-process. How, Ernst, are you reading these scenes (or others if I'm off base)?

I'll sneak myself under Agent 86's cone of silence (I suspect that's where Mike has been hiding) and await your response,