Saturday, October 4, 2008

Courseblogging: Being the Work of a Young Man Whose Interests are Rape, Ultraviolence, and Ovid

We finished Titus Andronicus on Monday, but I haven't had a spare moment to type up a post about it until today. Some thoughts:

-- This is the only totally new text I'm teaching this semester, and I was nervous about it. I shouldn't have been. It teaches like a charm, although one of my brightest students absolutely hated it. I feel like I should have done more to draw her out on the assumptions and aesthetic values that were shaping her hatred, only I'm not confrontational like that, and she's one of those bright-but-not-talkative students, so I wouldn't have known she hated it if it weren't for her written responses. Some of the others were getting rather alarmingly into it :)

-- We talked a LOT about Lavinia, who of course needs people to talk about her, since she can't talk for herself through most of the play. Especially: how much is she directing things throughout the last two acts? When she starts leafing through Ovid, does she INTEND to suggest a particularly nasty mode of revenge to her father, or is she a reluctant participant? Should the death scene be played as a willing sacrifice, as it is in the Taymor film, or is Titus forcing it on her without her consent? (I would very much like to see a production where she is unwilling.)

-- What the hell is up with that clown? Is there anything going on with the fact that he's invoking St. Stephen, of all people (and seems to be the only Christian character in the play, if you take this as evidence?) I threw this idea out there, sort of randomly, and one of the students pointed out that this is really rather suggestive, in light of the fact that he's a messenger and gets killed. And then I thought, holy crap, he's got pigeons -- doves, essentially -- and I'm still not sure what to do with this, but I find him intriguing.

-- Good thing about the Norton Shakespeare: It reproduces the Peacham sketch, so we could all look at it and talk a bit about it. Mostly, I think we talked about costume as shorthand for identity, and what does it mean that Titus = Roman but Tamora = queen?

-- Bad thing about the Norton Shakespeare: "Bear thou my hand, sweet wench, between thine arms." Oh no no. It is just not Titus Andronicus unless she bears it between her TEETH (as she does in both Quarto and Folio texts, so I can't find a rationale for this choice other than editorial squeamishness). Harrumph. I think I shall go back to using individual paperback texts after this. They're cheaper and easier to carry around, anyway.

-- I really, really want to see Samuel L. Jackson play Aaron, especially the "yo, I'm so evil that I dig up CORPSES and prop them up at their friends' doorsteps" speech. That is all.


Bardiac said...

Told ya! It's an incredible teaching play.

I especially love working with students through the 2.4 speech where Marcus gradually sees how badly Lavinia is mangled. It's beautifully filmic, in a way, and also so directive of what a stage audience would see.

Did you share pasty recipes?

Fretful Porpentine said...

Alas, no pasty recipes, but we did watch Anthony Hopkins in his cook's hat :)

Unknown said...

Hee. I love how you *have* to tack Ovid onto that list. It's one of my favorite things about Titus (maybe because I did Latin in high school), that there's this constant tension between the idea of poetry and the reality of violence, and then maybe the poetry of violence (or the violence of poetry)... The idea that you could *rehearse* those previous poetic narratives really stuck with me, for reasons I still don't get.

Renaissance Girl said...

I LOVE teaching Titus. My students get very freaked out about Lavinia's silence,--more so than about her rape. I showed the Taymor film last time I taught it. The pies might have been a bit too much for the students, I say with the benefit of hindsight.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Hmm, mine seemed to like the pies. But perhaps the ones who were deeply traumatized by them are waiting to inform me on the course evals.