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Shakespeare's ‘Titus Andronicus’ boasts blood, murder, hatred



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Tamora is portrayed by senior Julia Klinestiver in IU Theatre's performance of "Titus Andronicus." The play runs from Jan. 18-26 at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre. Ty Vinson Buy Photos

A character dies, on average, once every seven minutes in the second act of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.”

The play, one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest works, also includes six severed body parts, one rape with multiple perpetrators, cannibalism and live burial. 

The play runs from Jan. 18-26 at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre.

Title character Titus Andronicus, a Roman general played by senior Reid Henry, returned victorious from a long war with the Goths. Immediately, he sacrifices one of his prisoners to avenge the death of his 21 sons during the war. The other prisoners are shocked and horrified — the mother of the sacrificed and Queen of the Goths, Tamora, played by senior Julia Klinestiver, vows revenge.

This sets in motion a whirlwind of horrific, cruel deeds, enacted by both Goths and Romans and led by the diabolical mastermind, Aaron, played by graduate student Kenneth Arnold. Aaron is Tamora’s lover and carries out a long and complicated revenge plot with her. He is consumed by revenge, once saying he had performed a thousand dreadful things as willingly as one would kill a fly.

“Nothing grieves me heartily indeed but that I cannot do ten thousand more,” he said.

The set and character design reflect this ambient air of cruelty and spite. The edges of the stage are surrounded in bloody spikes. Splotches of red cover the set. Two of the vengeful goths, Chiron and Demetrius, played by seniors Nathaniel Kohlmeier and Caleb Curtis, wear dark makeup and leather armor that looks like something out of “Mad Max.” 

Even those who don’t generally enjoy Shakespeare plays will have no problem following the action from scene one to the finale. The production's passion for revenge touches a confusing and possibly uncomfortable part of the audience member’s heart — the desire to see revenge satiated with death. 

Blood frequently spurts from necks, hands, mouths and more. Human entrails and severed heads make appearances to grotesque effect. The atrocities committed, while inhumane and shocking, make for a gripping performance. 

“Titus” treats death with intensity similar to the fantasy series “Game of Thrones.” Lavinia, played by senior Mia Siffin, resembled Cersei Lannister in dress and hair. 

"Titus" is more than a play of mindless violence. It’s an important reminder of the brutality of ego and unrestrained human malice. The performances on stage — rape, horrific murder and revenge — show what happens when we let bitterness control us and guide our choices. 

"Titus" could be read as a reflection of a society without empathy across lines of difference. Frequently, characters in peril of death beg for mercy, but it’s always in vain. If anything, it increases the satisfaction of the one taking revenge.

Near the end of the play, Aaron wraps up in one emblematic line the mindset that consumes the show, that damns him and many others:

“If one good deed in all my life I did, I do repent it from my very soul!” 

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