A Dish Best Served Cold

“It’s almost always the first play I teach,” she said. “I do that because very often students have only encountered Shakespeare in high school and have a misunderstanding of him as safe, moral, and dull. This one really dislodges the idea that Shakespeare is full of eternal moral truths. It takes place in a different world from what they expect.”

And how does Titus go over with her students?

“Many of them have a very hard time with it,” she told me. “They expect to be able to like somebody in a piece of literature, to find somebody they can identify with, and that is quite difficult in this case. It’s hard to identify with Titus, who kills his own son for dishonoring him. The moral ambiguity of the play is very, very difficult for some of them.” — Denise Albanese, interviewed by Scott McLemeeA Dish Best Served Cold (Inside Higher Ed)

Great analysis of Shakespeare’s slasher farce, Titus Andronicus.

I still swell with pride when I recall that as an undergrad, I asked Gordon Braden, who was teaching the Shakespeare survey at the University of Virginia, about the role of rhymed verses in this play. I pointed out that we are most likely to see rhymed verse when Aaron is either performing or talking about his most wicked, most violent deeds — a detail that suggested to me that Shakespeare knew exactly what he was doing, rather than than that Shakespeare made a terrible play.

Prof. Braden said that Shakespeare often used rhymed verses to end scenes, which is true most of the time, but, as I pointed out in the 100-student lecture hall, “Not in this play.” Prof. Braden cocked his head, opened up his book, and checked a few scenes, then agreed with me that Shakespeare’s use of rhymed verses is unusual in this play. (He didn’t actually agree with me about what I thought the unusual rhyming meant, but that was all I needed to feel like I was pretty hot stuff that day.)

I ended up writing a paper on “Head-hewing, Limb-lopping, and General Nastiness in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.”