Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Godfather, Titus Andronicus

Upon rereading William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Titus Andronicus, I was struck by the notion of how much the final scene reminded me of the movie The Godfather (1972).

The title character, Titus, is an old Roman general who has lived his life in servitude of his nation. Titus has lost the majority of his sons in wars, and even when he is offered the garland of Rome, he humbly refuses it in favour of the dead emperor’s eldest son, Saturnine.

For his queen, Saturnine chooses the captive Goth, Tamora, whom Titus had defeated and brought back to Rome. In a sacrificial rite, Titus had slain Tamora’s eldest son, and she vows vengeance.

Now in a position of power, Tamora and her two remaining sons, Chiron and Demetrius wreck havoc on the Andronici. Tamora’s sons kill the Saturnine’s brother, Bassianas, who is married to Titus’s daughter, Lavinia. Chiron and Demetrius frame Titus’s sons for Bassinas’s death, for which they are arrested. In trying to rescue his falsely accused brothers, Titus’s other son, Lucius is banished from Rome.

In a most brutal act, Chiron and Demetrius rape Lavinia and cut out her tongue and cut off her hands so she cannot reveal who had assaulted her. 

Tamora’s secret lover, Aaron the Moor (Shakespeare’s most evil villain), comes to Titus and tells him that his two arrested sons will be spared if Titus cuts off his own hand and gives it to the Emperor. Titus does so, but in return his son’s heads are sent to him.

This would be enough to make anyone mad with grief, and at one point Titus appears to be mad, but he will have his revenge, for he learns that Chiron and Demetrius are the cause of his woes.

In the climax of the story, Titus invites Saturnine, Tamora, and Lucius who is now the leader of the enemy Goths. Shocking his dinner guests, Titus kills Lavinia so she does not have to live with her shame. Titus reveals Chiron and Demetrius assaulted Lavinia, and that he killed them and baked their heads in the pie they have just eaten. Titus kills Tamora, the Emperor kills Titus, and Lucius kills the Emperor. That’s a high body count for a dinner party.

Titus Andronicus is reputed to be Shakespeare’s first tragedy, and it certainly is tragic, not to mention bloody.

The bloodbath in the last act of Titus made me recall the violent last act of the first Godfather movie when Michael Corleone orders the assassinations of mob dons, Moe Green, his brother-in-law Carlo, and Tessio, who betrayed the family. When Tessio is led off to his death, it reminded me of Aaron who gets his just deserts in the last act of the play.
Both The Godfather and Titus Andronicus are bloody (remember Sonny’s death).  Old Vito Corleone reminds me of old Titus. Both men are patriarchs who lived with honour. Titus even kills his own son out of loyalty to the Emperor. Michael Corleone would eventually have his own brother killed. These are stories of revenge and murder, both families working outside the justice system and seeking their own sense of justice.

Michael Corleone ended up taking over the family and becoming the Godfather. In the similar fashion, Titus’s son Lucius became Emperor.

William Shakespeare probably got his ideas for Titus Andronicus from Roman history and Greek myths, and it would seem The Godfather could have been influenced by Titus Andronicus.

Whereas The Godfather movie has been proclaimed as one of the greatest American motion pictures ever made, Titus Andronicus has not always been a favourite of Shakespeare fans. If you are one of those, or if you have never read the play, I would suggest you watch Julie Taymor’s Titus (1999) staring Anthony Hopkins; it is one of my favourite Shakespearean films.

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Merchant of Venice - Courtroom Drama

While watching a fine production of The Merchant of Venice at the Stratford Festival this week, I was stuck by the fact that it is probably the oldest courtroom dramas ever written. Surely it is the most compelling; with Shylock poised with his knife ready to cut off a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Portia’s Quality of Mercy speech is something school children should memorize. The manner in which we show mercy to others is how mercy will be given to us is a lesson we should all realize.

It made me start to think of other great courtroom dramas; such as Witness For the Prosecution (1957) with Charles Laughton. The story and dialogue move along well and Agatha Christie has a great surprise ending.

To Kill a Mockingbird
(1962) with Gregory Peck about a white lawyer in the deep south defending a black man against rape while under the eyes of his young children.

Presumed Innocent (1990) with Harrison Ford and a strong cast has a DA on trial for murder. Just because some of the movie was shot in Windsor did not bias my opinion.

My all-time favorite Australian movie is Breaker Morant (1980) with Edward Woodward. Based on true events, three Aussies are put on trial by the British military during the Boer War.

Paths of Glory (1957)  with Kirk Douglas in Stanley Kubrick's anti-war film. Three French soldiers are put on trial for cowardice during The Great War.

One of my personal favorites (not only for the courtroom drama) is A Man For All Seasons (1966) with Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More who was put on trial and executed under Henry VIII.

Other more contemporary movies such as JFK (1991), A Few Good Men (1992), A Time to Kill (1996) also make the list.