Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Why isn't Titus Andronicus Taught More Often?

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.


  • I tried Titus for the first time last year with students in an alternitive high school program. The kids loved it. Not only did I use the Juliet Taymor film, I also used part of an episode of South Park to introduce it. I didn’t do the whole play with them, in fact, I cut out large chunks and focused on the most important parts.

  • I used Titus in my 10th grade Shakespearean speeches unit. The students received a summary of the play, and we focused on the “confession” speech by Aaron (one of the most chilling villain speeches in all dramatic literature in my opinion). It was so much fun watching the students’ reactions as they realized just what Aaron was confessing to, and what he wished he could do in the future.

    There are plenty of resources for that play/speech. I showed my students the movie version of Aaron’s speech (from the Julie Taymor film that Bob mentioned- Harry Lennix’s performance is chilling). I also showed them the clip from a South Park episode that seems to be a pretty clear allusion to the “baking Chiron and Demetrius into pies and serving them to their mother” scene. The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works DVD has a short piece where they perform Titus as a cooking show, and an issue of Simpsons Comics did a two page Titus Andronicus as an Itchy and Scratchy episode (if anyone wants that, e-mail me and I can forward the scanned pages. The issue itself is somewhat tough to track down- though it is worth it if you can find it. The whole issue consists of Simpsons takes on Shakespeare.)

    I taught that speeches unit to standard 10th graders and to a 10th grade reading class (10th graders who were on a 5th or 6th grade reading level). Every time I teach it, the students are polled for their favorite of the 11 speeches that we studied. The students weigh in heavily in favor of Titus Andronicus (it ALWAYS wins, with Puck’s epilogue from MSND a usual distant second).

    Long story short, Titus is one of my favorite plays, and my students seem to see the fun of it as well.

  • I am teaching King Lear. In Act 1, scene 1 when Kent is challenging Lear about banishing Cordelia, Albany and Cornwall say the following line: “Dear sir, forbear.”

    My interpretation is that they are asking Kent to stop his arguing with Lear. They are interceding between when Lear calls Kent a “miscreant” and Kent is about to reply and tell Lear that he should “revoke they gift…”

    It could also be interpreted as their addressing Lear to stop yelling at Kent. However, to me the use of “sir” does not seem like a way to address the king. In addition, they don’t seem like they would stand up to Lear the way that Kent is willing to do.

    Any comments would be appreciated.

    • dmg,

      I’ve seen some versions of Lear that include the stage direction “Laying his hand on his sword” just before that line, making it seem like Lear was ready to attack Kent. I don’t doubt that Cornwall and Albany would be willing to stand up to Lear by that line, as he already gave them the crown about 30 lines earlier.

      That said, the scene really could work either way. Cornwall and Albany could be saying it to either Kent OR Lear. Let your students play with both ideas. How would they say the line differently if they were saying it to Lear? Would the tone be different? Body language? How would that alter how we view that scene or these characters? Let your students be directors and actors, and not only will multiple potential meanings arise, but they’ll have a lot of fun finding/discussing them. Good luck!

  • There is no denying the fact that purchasing a car can be a nerve-wracking, stress-filled experience.
    Before you make a decision and spend a great amount of money on
    a vehicle, it pays to acquire a bit of knowledge on the
    subject. Keep the tips that follow close at
    hand, and you will have what it takes to make an
    optimal decision.

  • I’m really enjoying the theme/design of your weblog. Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility problems? A number of my blog visitors have complained about my website not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Safari. Do you have any tips to help fix this issue?

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)