First, I’ll admit that Titus Andronicus isn’t the greatest Shakespeare play, and I know about the dispute concerning Shakespeare’s complete authorship of the play. But it was his first Tragedy and he did write at least some of it–enough to have it included in collected works of his plays. And in recent years scholars and directors have been re-examining the play.
So, why do teachers shy away from a play whose plot has all of the blood, guts, and violence that would draw students into the work–and some of the most moving poetry in all of the plays? And why not teach a play that was made into a fascinating film, Titus, by Julie Taymor.
For a long time, I worked with students at risk of leaving high school, and I often used Titus as a way to get them started on their journey through some of Shakespeare’s plays. Just tell students that Titus had 25 sons and a daughter and you’ve got everyone’s attention–even my colleague in the next classroom! At any rate, think about Tamora as an early version of Lady Macbeth; Titus as a later King Lear; and Aaron as Iago. There are three additional plays a teacher could explore with her/his students focused on ambition, family relationships, and jealousy, among other themes. And that’s just for starters.
It might also be good for students to read a play by one of the world’s most respected playwrights that wasn’t so good as a way to show how writers can develop over time. Who knows? There might be a student in your class who will find her/his way into a life-long relationship with the Bard’s works because of Titus Andronicus.