Titus Andronicus is unlike any other Shakespeare play and, as such, there has always been much historical controversy about the extent of his authorship of it. The tragedy is believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593 and is likely Shakespeare’s first tragedy. Besides being one of his earliest plays, it has historically been one of the least respected with many critics feeling that if it were not attributed to Shakespeare it would have been well forgotten long ago. While it certainly lacks in maturity and depth from his later tragedies, its type of revengeful, brutal and bloody action was popular at the time of its writing and, in today’s often even more violent world, does make it interesting and even exciting to read. Certainly the theme of bloody revenge, violence and barbarism is unfortunately relevant in today’s world.
There are not nearly the large number of quotes that strike me as artistically blissful or intellectually deep as in most other Shakespeare plays. None-the-less, there is some excellent dialogue.
In this example, Lavinia pleads with Empress Tamora for mercy to stop her sons from defiling her:
Oh Tamora, be call’d a gentle Queene, And with thine owne hands kill me in this place, For ’tis not life that I have beg’d so long, Poore I was slaine, when Bassianus dy’d. … Tis present death I beg; and one thing more, That womanhood denies my tongue to tell: O, keep me from their worse than killing lust, And tumble me into some loathsome pit, Where never man’s eyes may behold my body: Do this, and be a charitable murderer.
So should I rob my sweet Sonnes of their fee, No let them satisfie their lust on thee.
As Heinrich Heine states in the Commentary concerning this passage:
In this virginal purity Lavinia forms the fullest contrast to the Empress Tamora; and here, as in most of his dramas, Shakespeare places two entirely different types of woman together, and renders their characters clearer by the contrast.
Later in the play, Marcus Andronicus, brother to Titus, remarks:
O why should nature build so foule a den, Unlesse the Gods delight in tragedies?
Thankfully the Gods must delight in (fictional) tragedies, as Shakespeare went on to pen Romeo and Juliet and, of course, Hamlet. The lack of either of these to humanity would be tragic indeed!
The illustrator of this Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition, Nikolai Fyodorovitch Lapshin, also illustrated the 1934 LEC of The Travels of Marco Polo. While I enjoyed his work there, his work for Titus Andronicus stands well above. In fact, I believe his work here is arguably among the best of the entire LEC 37 volume Shakespeare in their raw power of expression. Don’t take my word for it…from the Commentary letter that accompanied this work:
It is the opinion of the writer of these words that the Lapshin illustrations for Titus Andronicus form the finest set of illustrations made for this Shakespeare… Shakespeare’s characters seem, in this set of pictures, to form themselves into melodramatic groupings. In every gesture of their hands, in every opening of their mouths, the artist expresses a dramatic vivacity. Each picture seems a work of art, in lovely colors upon a lovely background.
As you can see in the examples below, the colors are fantastic, wonderfully capturing the essence of the brutality that emanates from the play. The images are dark, but lively. Earth tones dominate, with dark reds providing hints of power and blood; just spectacular for the tone of this play. In the Commentary, Lapshin tells us:
I was not aspiring for an illusionary, naturalistic description of our heroes; on the pictures they are evidently and simply made by brush on paper, but I hope they are reviving in the imagination of spectators as well as by reading the tragedy, they are reviving the words of Shakespeare I would like, that not only the represented heroes would affect the spectators, but the design itself, with its picturesque side and the pictures itself could complete the tragedy of Shakespeare.
As I slowly make my way re-reading through the 37 volumes, I am simply bowled over by the accomplishment of George Macy and all involved with this Shakespeare set. It really is astounding, and I think the pinnacle of all that was done by the LEC. Here is an overview of the entire set, though if you go to the index by author, you can see detailed reviews of each edition as I read and publish articles on them.
About the Edition
- Part of the 1939/1940 thirty seven volume The Plays of William Shakespeare by the Limited Editions Club
- Designed by Bruce Rogers
- Text of the First Folio, with Quarto insertions, edited and amended where obscure by Herbert Farjeon
- Illustrations from drawings by Nikolai Fyodorovitch Lapshin; reproduction done by chromo-lithography in the atelier of Mourlot Frères in Paris
- Note concerning the play (in the prospectus) by William Allan Neilson, from “The Student’s Cambridge Shakespeare”
- Preface to the play (in the prospectus) by Heinrich Heine, from “Shakespeare’s Maidens and Women”
- Printed at the Press of A. Colish in New York
- Type is an 18 point close facsimile of Janson, made by the Lanston Monotype Company, with the italic used being a creation of the Monotype Company since Rogers did not like the Janson 18 point italic; italic small capitals were made by re-cutting the Italic capitals of the Monotype Garamond Bold in a special size and with slight alterations of a few of the characters with a close new type face
- New paper created for this edition by the Worthy Paper Company of Springfield
- The binding was done by Russell-Rutter Company in New York
- Bound with gilt tops and uncut edges in backs of American linen, with the titles stamped in gold on the spine
- Cover design based on a decoration wall design in a house that that Shakespeare was thought to have stayed at frequently (a friend of his)
- 8 3/4″ x 13″, 91 pages
- Limited to 1950 copies
Pictures of the Edition
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