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Titus Andronicus: No Muted Wrath, All Blood and Gore

For the first time in the group's 46 years, Shakespeare Dallas stages the gruesome tragedy. We go behind the scenes.

Titus Andronicus is on at Shakespeare in the Park until October 15th. Before reading on, please be aware that a rape occurs in this play, and is discussed within.

Nearly three hours of vengeful bloodshed and other acts of stomach-churning human cruelty greet the audience for William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus at Samuell Grand Park. One of the least produced plays in Shakespeare’s repertoire, Titus Andronicus is his most violent, bloody work. It took Shakespeare Dallas 46 years to attempt it.

“The show is not going to be for everybody,” says Raphael Parry, the play’s executive director. “It’s rated for mature audiences for the violence, and we want to try and make sure that everyone understands that.”

There are severed limbs, tongues, and heads. Characters are killed in seemingly every scene.

“We have seen some parents bring their children that might be 12 or 13 who might see it like a very violent video game,” Parry says. “I expect that there will be some people that don’t care for this show [and think] that it’s just too much for them.”

Regardless of spectators’ opinions, the decision makers tried to remain faithful to Shakespeare’s vision.

Produced during a time when societal norms were far from the height of moral enlightenment, Shakespeare’s chief competition was animal blood sport, such as bear and dog baiting — a sport similar to the bullfighting you see in Spain today, only more gruesome and minus the ornate brightly colored matador costumes.

In response, many local theaters kicked up the level of violence to satiate the audience’s appetite for blood. Even the steeliest among us could be easily taken aback by Titus Andronicus’ more intense scenes. 

“There is a rape that happens offstage, and I think wisely the director decided not to stage any of that,” Parry says. “I think the brutality was just too much. I mean, the aftermath of that rape is really brutal and the character, Lavinia, comes back and she’s had her hands cut off, and her tongue is cut out, and she’s been defiled and is covered in blood … It’s a real Carrie, old school Carrie, horror film sort of moment.”

The performance begs those watching to address the relationship between art and violence. There’s a persistent echo throughout the show: Does art give license to vulgarity, or vulgarity to art? Or, moreover, when do you say when? The play is disturbing for reasons beyond all the bloodshed. The characters can be severe, blindly loyal, crass, and demented in their scheming.

In fact, it’s not difficult to draw parallels between Titus‘ society and this moment in ours — unrelenting in its cruelty and violence. And the characters’ responses feel familiar.

MARCUS ANDRONICUS: Why dost thou laugh? it fits not with this hour.
TITUS ANDRONICUS: Why, I have not another tear to shed. 

“I will say that we are producing it very faithfully to Shakespeare’s words, to his vision, to the way he would have produced it,” Parry said. “I think the director and the actors have done a very good job staying authentic and true and telling a very solid story. So, we are not camping it in any way; it’s just this is the play.”