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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: August 2015

Chapter 2 - Titus Andronicus


Shakespeare's earliest plays were comedies and histories. The Taming of the Shrew (1590–1), The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1590–1) and 2 and 3 Henry VI (1591) were probably all written before his first tragedy, Titus Andronicus. The first recorded performance of Titus Andronicus was at the Rose in January 1594, but it may have been written as early as 1592. Some have argued that it was co-written with George Peele, who wrote the bloody and spectacular Battle of Alcazar (1588–9), while others, including Jonathan Bate, the play's most recent Arden editor, believe that the play is wholly by Shakespeare. I do not propose to discuss the question of authorship here, but readers should be aware that the first scene of the play, which I will use below to discuss aspects of stagecraft and scenic form, is considered by some to be wholly or partly by Peele. Since, in any case, I will argue that its strongly rhythmic and symmetrical stagecraft is heavily influenced by Kyd, purity of authorship is not the primary issue here. My concern is with the way the play as a whole operates, and what kind of impact it seeks to make. Whether Shakespeare or a collaborator wrote any given scene, it may be taken that, if there was collaboration, both authors approved, and possibly improved, each other's work. It should also be noted at the start that the scene is the basic unit of construction underpinning a Shakespearean play. The early quarto texts were printed with scene divisions only; a majority of the Folio printed versions have act divisions, but these are not necessarily Shakespeare's.

Titus Andronicus is both a Roman play and a revenge tragedy, indebted to Seneca in style and content, but not obviously modelled on any known source. Its debt to Kyd's Spanish Tragedy is equally evident.