Hellish Tales Are Set in a Dog-Eat-Dog World; IN the Contest to Find Your Favourite Shakespeare Character, CHRISTINE CHAPMAN, Pictured, Looks at Bloody Macbeth and Titus Andronicus

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HUMAN FAILINGS Patrick O'Kane played Macbeth for the RSC in 2007 THEATRE audiences in Shakespeare's time would go to hear rather than see a play. This emphasis on the spoken word helps to explain the descriptive nature of Shakespearean dialogue and Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's most violent play, contains more 'talk' than most.

Full of passionate speeches and classical allusions, it is now rarely performed but was once as popular as Macbeth is today. We see Shakespeare's world through the eyes of many characters and in Titus Andronicus, an Elizabethan horror show, his imagination spawned characters so depraved their actions are often hard to watch.

Shakespeare adopted elements of revenge tragedy more than once, but the trail of destruction committed by "violent hands" is at its greatest here.

Critics estimate the horrific body count at 14 killings, six severed body parts, one rape, one live burial and an act of cannibalism.

Titus Andronicus was Shakespeare's first attempt at tragedy and it contains germs of later creations, most particularly Macbeth, his shortest tragic play. Genre is not their only common ground, however. These are hellish tales of dismemberment set in a cruel, dog-eat-dog world.

Their concerns are revenge and human suffering. Each features a banquet of gruesome nature, each a fiend-like woman, forerunners of our modern-day femme fatale.

In good, old Titus, we see signs of King Lear's impotent passion. Lear may not be literally dismembered or "play the cook" at a cannibalistic feast, but like Titus he is "shaken with sorrows" and reduced to a "feeble ruin" by grief.

Titus' only surviving son, "war-like" Lucius, is banished from Rome and returns triumphant like Coriolanus.

Aaron the Moor, like Othello, is described as "sweet" by some and "barbarous" by others, but his stratagems and deceit remind us more of Iago.

The fact that Aaron is "fettered in amorous chains" to Tamora, Queen of the Goths, also calls to mind Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's sexually-charged partnership. And like "Hell-kite" Macbeth, Aaron is "hellish" too, speaking his final words as he is buried in the ground alive.

Aaron's lover, the "lovely" but "barbarous" Tamora, is one of Shakespeare's most sensual creations and a fearsome mother-figure. Brought to Rome in conquest to "beautify Titus' triumphs", hers is a double nature: "witty Empress" and "foul adulteress". …


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