TW: discussions of violence, rape, murder, racism and cannibalism.
There are two opinions of Titus among us.
Option 1: Shakespeare is trying to work with some particular greek myths and surpass them. He is also showing how when society falls apart, chaos reigns. The way he is doing so is just highly distasteful by today’s standards.
Option 2: This is Shakespeare’s first “true tragedy,” and the reason why the most serious and gut-wrenching moments are played for laughs is that he has no idea what he’s doing. In short, this just a horrible play.
What we know for sure is this:
-The characters feel that Aaron the Moor is “a devil” because of the color of his skin. Lucius is implied to have gotten rid of Aaron’s child despite promises to save it. Once Aaron serves Lucius’ purposes, he is left in a pit to die. (Granted, Aaron the Moor is by no stretch of the imagination a nice man. But that’s still a horrible way to die.)
-Lavinia, who is valued for having “virtue” (read: virginity) is basically passed around as sexual property for her family’s political gain. Then she is raped by two guys. To prevent her from telling others who did it, they cut out her tongue and chop off her arms. Her father, Titus, later kills her because according to his enemy Saturninus, “the girl should not survive her shame/ And by her presence still renew his sorrows ” (5.3.40-1). Because that’s not endorsing blame-the-victim or slut-shaming at all.
-As part of his revenge plot, Titus kills the two brothers that raped Lavinia and bakes them into a pie. Then he feeds it to their mother and step-father.
-The most horrible moments, including when Quintus and Martius are framed for murdering Bassianus, are played for laughs. It’s pure physical comedy.
So yeah. If this wasn’t attributed to Shakespeare, I doubt it would be studied by English majors today. But does anyone have different thoughts about this?