Titus Andronicus was one of Shakespeare’s first plays, his first tragedy and his most brutal as well. Written in the late 1500s, historians say that Shakespeare made this bloody web of vengeance to please audiences who found revenge stories enjoyable at the time. As his body of works grew, Titus Andronicus got pushed aside, disregarded as trashy by the 1700s and largely forgotten. It took over 200 years for the play be fully appreciated.
I had the opportunity to speak to Kevin De Ornellas, a Lecturer of English Renaissance Literature at Ulster University at Coleraine in Northern Ireland. I asked him why Shakespeare’s most murderous play didn’t receive proper acclaim until long after his death.
“The play became fashionable again only in the 20th century when the play’s violence made more sense, in the context of the world wars, the Shoah and Hiroshima etc.,” said De Ornellas. “The play also gets attention now because of the literal cutting-up of Livinia – an obvious metaphor for patriarchal subjugation of women.” De Ornellas also mentioned that with the aftermath of popular movies like Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock), the play regained popularity as it holds up well against modern Hollywood horror movies.
It is exactly that which I found so impressive as I sat wincing in my seat. As old as it is, Titus Andronicus still holds its own in our modern age. Personally, I enjoyed it despite the violence because the plot was rich and thick with substance, in contrast to today’s more empty slasher films.
I sat down with the Seoul Shakespeare Company’s Titus Andronicus director Raymond Salcedo to see why he chose to wrangle with Titus Andronicus.
What made you want to tackle Shakespeare’s most savage play?
There is a definite relevance of the forms of violence in this play to a lot of what we hear in the news these days. I knew I could bridge a lot of what happens in the world of this tragedy with our own now. Thematically, it is a very stark contrast to last year’s staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was a very fun and light romantic comedy. This show allowed us to showcase our company’s range and depth.
Above all, when I conceptualized how I might stage certain moments of the different plays we were considering, I found myself most excited about Titus Andronicus. When it was official that we would do this play, I was so excited thinking about so many of the concepts I intended to stage that I couldn’t sleep that whole first night. That is a true indicator to me as an artist that I’m jumping into the right project.
What were your plans with this production?
I always try to honour an original text and indeed we did in this show — but there are ways we can stage any play that can give it an individual company’s touch. I know some will see moments and think, “yep, Ray directed that.” There’s an edginess to Shakespeare’s works that I love seeing companies highlight and I very much push for that myself. Our actors have also interpreted and processed their characters so that they own them in their own unique way and that is truly a lovely thing to witness.
What surprised you the most about directing this year’s play?
The best part of this whole production was being able to assemble some of the most talented group of designers and cast members available. I was somewhat expecting this to happen but I’m just so pleased that it did. My right-hand man, Heeyoung Sunwoo (Stage Manager), is an absolute gift from the universe. Lauren Ash-Morgan (Producer, Actor, Costume Designer and Props Mistress) has awed me in ways that I am still befuddled by for the sheer amount of talent and energy that she has demonstrated with all that she has done for our show.
If that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will. As someone who enjoys Shakespeare but knows few of his works, it was thoroughly enjoyable based on the action and plot-driven momentum. If you’re interested but unsure about Shakespeare, this is a fantastic gateway production. Jump in, get your feet wet (and bloodied) with Titus Andronicus and let this be your guiding light on how you see Shakespeare afterwards. You will feel a lot of things when you leave the theater but I guarantee regret will not be one of them.
Titus Andronicus is performed in English with Korean subtitles.
Dates and times for the remaining shows:
Saturday, June 6: 2pm & 7pm
Sunday, June 7: 2pm & 7pm
Saturday, June 13: 2pm & 7pm
Sunday, June 14: 2pm & 7pm
Location: Theater Egg and Nucleus
Directions: On the subway, get off at Hyehwa Station (Line 4), exit 2. Turn left at the first road and walk for about a block. The theater will be on your left.
Tickets are 20,000 KRW with and online reservation or 25,000 KRW at the door.
For more information on the The Seoul Shakespeare Company and Titus Andronicus, click here.