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Titus Andronicus (Arden Shakespeare:
Shakespeare's most violent and gory play, Titus Andronicus was written in 1592, and represents the dramatist's first foray into the popular genre of revenge tragedy (many editors argue with at least one other collaborator). The result was spectacular, including scenes of murder, human sacrifice, rape, bodily mutilation and cannibalism. Set in late-imperial Rome, the action begins with the Roman general Titus Andronicus and his triumphant return from wars with the Goths. Leading Queen Tamora and her sons as prisoners, Titus stumbles into a power struggle between Saturninus and his brother Bassianus. Titus fatally backs Saturninus, who rapidly turns on the old general and marries Tamora. The implications for the Andronicus family are disastrous. More of Titus' sons are killed, his daughter Lavinia is brutally raped by Tamora's sons, and as Titus begins his descent into madness and despair he even has his own hand cut off in an act of awful trickery. As Titus plots his bloody revenge, he reflects that "Rome is but a wilderness of tigers". The ending is one of the most gruesome conclusions to any dramatic tragedy, and leaves Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs looking quite restrained. Although the play has put audiences off for centuries due to its apparently gratuitous violence, more recently critics have discerned something more to it than pure shock, but that might say more about us than the Elizabethans. .--Jerry Brotton [via]