Titus, the eponymous hero of the piece, is a bit of a tartar. He takes no prisoners (well not metaphorically anyway), he brooks no foolishness, he butters no parsnips, blah blah…
He is a man. He is a man with a hairy chest and a deep brown voice and he totally owns the remote control in his villa.
Titus is also a hero. In Rome, to be a hero you have to slaughter your way through a small sea of people approximately once every six months. You have to frolic through their remains until the blood runs through the holes in your gladiator sandals but you still don’t slip over. That is true heroism.
To be a real hero, you must also not be allergic to laurel, and be very good at waving and smiling during your victory parade. You must not leap from your chariot and hack of the heads of those plebs who insist on showing their gratitude by doing the Mexican wave, or worse, blowing vuvuzelas. No matter how tempting it may be, and even though you have the sneaking suspicion that no court in the land would convict you.
As a hero, you are also obliged to bring back lots of freakish wild animals for the emperor whenever you go on holiday (Club Pillage and Burn 18-30) – but we won’t talk about the great sea lion disaster of 89 BC here. (See Shakespeare’s lost plays). It is Titus’s darkest moment, and he has spent the whole of the rest of his life trying to atone for the gaffe.
Titus is now a general in the Roman army. He has gold epaulettes on his toga and a raging sense of entitlement that make him absolutely charming to spend time with. He has made it.
To add the icing to the cake, at the beginning of the play Titus has just won a ten year fight with the Goths.
Now, one might be forgiven for immediately thinking of a slightly more butch version of Robert Pattinson from Twilight when picturing these Goths. Either that or a black eyeliner wearing emo with long hair and a perpetual squint from fearing the light of day, coupled with RSI from having to flick his fringe out of his eyes every thirty seconds.
These Goths are old school goths. We’re thinking Wayne Hussey from the Mission but with Dolph Lundgren abs, kick ass weaponry and a serious temper after a vicious come down after ten years of being off his face on something that makes his voice so whiny you can barely hear it unless you’re a bat. These are enraged, sleep deprived Goths on a mission.
The Queen of the Goths is called Tamora, and she is a fearsome, leather bikini clad hell bitch with even more of a hatred of toga wearing, gladiator sandal befooted he men than me.
You can only imagine.
She also has a negro lover you know.
She is not best pleased that Titus has won the great arm wrestling championship of 67BC, and even less pleased that rather than just killing her and trampling in her innards, like any sensible Roman general would do, Titus is intent on dragging her and her sons – and her negro lover – to Rome as presents for the Emperor (to make up for the great sea lion disaster of 89BC).
It is taking Titus an extraordinary amount of time to get home, due to the moaning and wailing and general dragging of feet from Tamora and her fellow prisoners. She has also refused to don the sea lion suit he has made her. He is not best pleased, which puts him in an even worse mood than normal, and he normally registers 11 on the Snitometer at the best of times. Although he doesn’t do rage, he does full on glacial sulking with a hint of Cliff Richard lip.
While Titus is storming his way to Rome across the steppes, things are kicking off at home. Unbeknownst to him, the current Emperor has curled up his toes and died, rather inconveniently not leaving a will and not having decided which of his sons, Saturninus or Bassianus, should be Emperor after him.
Probate could take months. Nobody has sorted out who is responsible for the aqueduct, and whether they can dispose of the Samian ware tea service everyone hates because the spout has never poured properly and you get tea all over your toga, and everyone is cursing the Emperor roundly.
Meanwhile, all hell is breaking loose on the streets of Rome as the tribunes try to whip up support for their preferred brother amongst the plebs, and the plebs take advantage of the lack of an effective ruler by breaking into TK Maxxicus and stealing all the sandals.
Cue roars of ‘Rhubarb! Rhubarb!’ and the frenzied scuttlings of thousands of people with grimy hands and weeping sores asking to have their babies kissed and demanding something be done about the state of the public baths (Frankly, they’re a disgrace). The brothers float about in the midst of it all, trying not to be stabbed by their political opponents and worrying as to whether the crown will make them look fat.
Into this mix comes Titus’s brother, the tribunal, Marcus. Marcus announces that having done a poll with a clipboard, standing outside TK Maxxicus, he has discovered categorically that the plebs don’t like Saturninus or Bassianus. They want Titus as their Emperor, because he is cool, and looks down on them a bit (but in a good way, so they know their place), and he totally knows how to wield a sword. These are all key elements of success for wooing the plebs.
Titus arrives in Rome just as this bombshell has been dropped by loud mouth Marcus, and everyone turns to glare at Titus in an accusatory fashion as he rocks up with a bunch of indignant, sweating Goths on a string.
Marcus gets his coat…
Titus, in the meantime, tries to deflect attention away from his brother’s gigantic social faux pas by producing Tamora, her negro lover slave, and her children, for the admiration of all. When this doesn’t work, he ups the ante by sacrificing Tamora’s first born son on the cobblestones.
He tries balloon modelling and a bit of juggling on a unicycle, but despite failing to get his toga wrapped in the bike chain, which is pretty damned impressive, they’re having none of it.
It’s a hard crowd.
Titus broods for a while, and then has a brain wave. He announces that he doesn’t really want to be Emperor. Being Emperor is the furthest thing from his thoughts. Being Emperor would probably make his allergies flare up etc.
This is better.
Things improve markedly when Titus casts his vote in with Saturninus, who is duly elected Emperor, with a hey and a ho and a rah rah rah, from everyone except Bassianus.
Bassianus hides his disappointment and thinks of weeing in Saturninus’s soup later. He consoles himself with the fact that although he does not have the empire, he does have Titus’s daughter, Lavinia, and Lavinia is a babe.
Lavinia is like, totally, top babe of Rome. Everyone has the hots for Lavinia, even the girls.
It is at this point, that having saved the day, Titus makes a gigantic tit of himself and it all starts to go horribly wrong.
Having realised that giving up his claim to the throne was a genius plan that saved him from a grisly death with his head displayed on a spike in the forum, Titus decides that he is on a roll and every decision he makes from now on will absolutely make everything better than ever. Performing a small drum roll on the seat of his unicycle he announces that not only will he give the throne to Saturninus, but he will also give him Lavinia.
Rather than the spontaneous overflow of joy that Titus expects to meet this announcement, there is a horrible silence in which tumbleweed rolls gently through the square…
…and then all hell breaks loose.
Everyone protests. Even the Goths know that Lavinia is like totally dating Bassianus, and that it would be like totally harshing everyone’s mellow if Saturninus got the bling and the babe.
But no. Titus has made his mind up. He is implacable.
His sons try to reason with him. They show him a diagram of Saturninus versus Bassianus. They show him a graph which is made up of foxes heads on sticks. They show him photos of Lavinia and Bassianus’s engagement party which came out in Rome’s hottest celebrity lifestyle magazine; ‘Salvete’.
He is having none of it.
The final straw comes when, while Titus is denouncing his whole family as traitors to the Emperor, the oil from his unicycle chain falls on the picture of Lavinia and Bassianus in their secret love nest, show casing a mosaic of their upcoming nuptials.
Mayhem ensues. Brother hits brother, togas unravel, people are battered to death with their own sandals. It is total carnage, and in the fracas, Titus totally loses his head and manages to kill his own son, Mutius.
At this point any rational person would probably realise that they have gone too far, and find some way of making amends. Titus, being a stubborn old git, digs his heels in, mutters something about Mutius jolly well deserving it, and anyway, he’s never been the same since Titus discovered the sea lion clippings under his mattress, and sticks his bottom lip out in mutiny.
Saturninus is now mightily hacked off. Having had to rely on Titus’s good graces to get his crown, he has already been harbouring a smouldering resentment against him for the last half an hour. The thought of bedding Lavinia had dampened it somewhat, but when the fighting started, and someone stubbed his toe, and totally ruined his hair, he had time to reflect on the fact that a) he was still hugely pissed off with Titus, and b) he didn’t want his brother’s sloppy seconds – so there.
Saturninus has now completely embraced the role of all powerful yet pea brained ruler of the Empire.
To prove how special he is, and how removed from the desires of the everyman an Emperor is, Saturninus throws Lavinia back in Titus’s face, much to Bassianus’s secret glee and Titus’s glowering misery. Nobody really cares what Lavinia thinks about it all.
Saturninus then announces that Titus should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for showing off in the forum and letting himself down, and his family down – and would he behave like that if he were at home?
Titus, scuffs his sandal along the pavement and mutters something incomprehensible.
Saturninus is now in the mother of all snits. He grabs Tamora, the Goth queen, away from the corpse of her son, and announces he is going to marry her instead, just to spite Titus.
Tamora is about as grateful as you would imagine for this piece of kindness on the part of her captor. Her negro lover is not best pleased either.
Her negro lover has a name, Aaron, but it is the custom in all Shakespearean plays to mention that a character is black, nine billion times during the course of a single play.
‘Is it because I is a Moor?’
Unlike Titus, who is now sulking all the way up to eleven, Tamora (and her negro lover) manages to keep her feelings to herself. Titus, in the meantime, is utterly disgracing himself with some grade A glowering, which doesn’t win him any friends or influence people. Even the plebs are going off him now. There are low mutterings of ‘Rhubarb! Rhubarb!’ from amongst the olive trees.
Saturninus denounces Titus for an ungrateful wretch, gives him five hundred lines (I must not glower at the Emperor) and sends him into exile. He turns on his heels and hot foots it back to the palace where he ensconces Tamora in his boudoir of lurve and fondly imagines she wants to lick him all over because he is all that.
Titus goes home to kick the cat and brood over his unfair treatment. He blames the sea lions.
Meanwhile, back at the palace, Tamora is plotting like a woman possessed. She feels that exile is too good for Titus, what with him slaughtering her son in the streets and all. She also blames him for the fact that she is now married to the dimwit Saturninus, who is already getting on her nerves by his incessant mooning around and the constant ‘what are you thinking of?’ questions. She has fobbed him off with the answers ‘hearts’, ‘flowers’ and ‘unicorns’, but it’s not going to be too long before her bile rises enough for her to blurt out the whole ‘You repulse me and I want to slaughter you all in your beds’ line.
She must act quickly.
She persuades Saturninus to forgive Titus, because she needs to be able to mess with Titus’s mind, and she can’t do that if he’s on the red eye to Alicante with all his worldly goods in a holdall.
She then persuades him to hold a royal hunt on the following day. She does this by toying with his affections.
We will draw a veil.
Her plan is to invite the world and his wife to the forest, make an enormous furore and get everyone galloping about like loons, and then cut Lavinia off from everyone else, whereupon Tamora’s surviving sons, Demetrius and Chiron, can, with some prompting from her negro lover, Aaron, rape and pillage Lavinia – a move guaranteed to upset almost everyone.
All this comes to pass. Demetrius and Chiron are rather like an evil version of the Chuckle Brothers. They are totally hopeless, yet up for all acts of malevolent ne’er do welling, as long as they don’t have to do anything other than turn up and act on instructions. It is a good job the negro lover is there to show them the ropes, or they would make a total hash of things. As it is they do a sterling job of raping Lavinia and then ripping her tongue out so she cannot say who has hurt her. They also chop her hands off after a little prompting, so she can’t write down whodunnit either.
Which is nice.
On a roll, the brother’s kill Bassianus, and then frame two of Titus’s surviving sons for the murder, (well, the negro lover does actually) whereupon Saturninus gets really mad and sentences Titus’s sons to death.
The whole Andronicus family are really beginning to get on his pip. How can a man rule an Empire when people keep being so ruddy annoying? Eh? Eh?
Marcus, who is still wondering what the hell he has done to incur his brother’s wrath, is wandering about in the forest in a daze when he stumbles across the mutilated Lavinia. He escorts her home to Titus, and finds himself about as welcome as before.
Marcus is now officially the Andronicus family’s harbinger of doom.
He has a t-shirt with the word ‘Harbinger’ on it. Titus makes him wear it every time they go out.
Titus is now going quite insane, in a very genteel, stiff upper lip, do one’s duty type way.
The negro lover, who is now getting mightily pissed off that a) everyone keeps calling him black – like he hasn’t figured that out, and b) he has to share Tamora with Saturninus, who is wetter than a paper bag full of cat sick, kicks the evil plots up a notch.
He sends a message to Titus, purporting to be from Saturninus, saying that Saturninus will pardon his sons if either Titus or one of his remaining family cuts off a hand and sends it to the palace.
None of the Andronicus family stop to question this at all. Which just goes to prove quite how bonkers a life in the military can make you.
Obviously Lavinia is a non starter in this game. The men casually discuss whose hand will be lopped off, fighting for the privilege of being the most stupid Roman in history, and not paying any attention to the fact that they are not helping Lavinia’s post traumatic stress disorder any.
Titus, who is already streets ahead in the game of most stupid Roman in history, promptly hacks his hand off and sends it to Saturninus in a brown paper package all wrapped up in string.
He is already de whiskering the kittens and praying for snow.
Saturninus is not best pleased to receive an unasked for, soggy parcel that leaks blood all over his toga and which, when unwrapped, proves to be the hand of a man who has already enraged him beyond measure. There isn’t even enough meat on it to make a decent stock.
The hand is returned to sender along with the heads of Titus’s two sons.
Titus cannot understand how Saturninus can be so ungrateful and sends his only surviving son, Lucius, hot footing it back to the Goths he has only just finished subduing, with the order to get them on board, and raise an army to march against Saturninus.
The fact that the Goths do this, proves quite how popular mad Tamora the hell queen must have been. There have been non stop parties ever since Titus dragged her off into the distance.
Back at Titus’ house, Lavinia marks out the names of her attackers in the earth using a stick and a lot of willpower.
Titus is quite undone by this news. It is amazing to him that the woman who he has humiliated beyond measure, ripped from the bosom of her people, and whose son he has killed, would even think of being so mean.
He wonders if she is on her period?
The pace is now hotting up. News is circulating that Lucius is on his way to Rome with an army of enraged Goths to back him up, and there are whispers that Titus may have gone more than a bit bonkers to boot.
Lucius is in fact about to attack Rome. His plans get delayed slightly when he finds Tamora’s negro lover skulking through the undergrowth with a baby he has fathered on Tamora, which she cannot pass off as Saturninus’s because he is black.
Lucius holds the baby hostage until Tamora’s negro lover confesses everything, in order to save the baby’s life.
This is all unbeknownst to Tamora, who, not satisfied with the havoc she has already wreaked, and annoyed after another night of having to play doctors and nurses with Saturninus, decides to push things further. Just to see what will happen.
Clearly there was not a lot on telly in Rome at the time.
People had to make their own entertainment.
Tamora enlists the evil Chuckle Brothers to her aid, and they all dress up as spooky old demons and turn up at Titus’s house at the dead of night going ‘wooohhh’ and ‘wheeeerrrrr’ and being all frightening.
This, frankly, is where the plot falls down a bit. Up to now Tamora has been all blood and gore and splashing around in entrails with the best of them, and now all she can come up with is Roman Halloween?
I wonder if it’s because she’s on her period?
Anyway, she and the Chuckle Brothers pretend to be the gods of Revenge, Murder and Rape, and say that if Titus will persuade Lucius to hold back on killing everyone in town they will help him by taking revenge on his enemies for him.
Titus, fooled for about as long as any person of average intelligence (i.e. not at all) says that this is a great idea, but that he will look after the evil Chuckle Brothers while Tamora, or the Goddess of Revenge (nod, nod, wink, wink), pops off to invite everyone to a grand feast at Titus’s house, so that they can finally put the whole sorry mess to bed.
While Tamora capers off into the darkness gathering everyone for the most improbable finale in the history of drama, Titus cuts the Chuckle Brother’s throats and bakes them in a pie – whilst humming ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence.’
Completely sane, that’s Titus.
Everyone turns up for the feast, which, as you can imagine is a jolly affair.
They should have got Gordon Ramsay in to do the catering.
Titus starts by killing Lavinia, so that she can get over the shock and dishonour of being raped, for which, as you can imagine, she was profoundly grateful, as would be any dutiful daughter.
He then kills Tamora, but only after she has had a lovely slice of Chuckle Brother pie.
Saturninus snaps at this point, and finishes off Titus, having been pushed beyond the endurance of any mortal emperor.
Lucius is not having that, so he quickly murders Saturninus to revenge his father’s honour.
Lucius is the only one left standing, so he becomes Emperor by default. His first act as Emperor, which shows what a genial ruler he will be, is to order the negro lover be buried chest deep in sand and left to die in agony.
That’ll learn him.
The negro lover, by this time, is heartily sick of the whole bally lot of them, and counts himself lucky.