Recipe For REVOLT: “Titus Andronicus” by William Shakespeare

In anticipation of REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN., Soho Rep. asked playwright Alice Birch about art pieces that inspired her play. Alice came back to us with a formidable list of plays, photography, feminist essays, and poetry that have all been an influence on this piece of writing.

In a series we are calling “Recipes for REVOLT”, we will be delving a bit deeper into these art pieces to give you a sense of where this extraordinary play sprung.

A surprising touchstone for  REVOLT is Titus Andronicus by Shakespeare. The play is one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest works. In a famous scene Lavinia, Titus’s daughter, is mutilated by having her hands and tongue cut out. Marcus, Lavinia’s uncle, discovers her; speech below. Both plays have an undeniable visceral quality.

An early folio cover of TITUS ANDRONICUS by William Shakespeare
An early folio cover of TITUS ANDRONICUS by William Shakespeare

But sure some Tereus hath deflowered thee,

And, lest thou should’st detect him, cut thy tongue.

Ah, now thou turn’st away thy face for shame;

And notwithstanding all this loss of blood,

As from a conduit with three issuing spouts,

Yet do thy cheeks look red as Titan’s face,

Blushing to be encountered with a cloud.

Shall I speak for thee? Shall I say ’tis so?

O, that I knew thy heart, and knew the beast,

That I might rail at him to ease my mind!

Sorrow conceal’d, like an oven stopped.

Doth burn the heart to cinders where it is.

Fair Philomela, why she but lost her tongue,

And in a tedious sampler sowed her mind;

But, lovely niece, that mean is cut from thee.

A craftier Tereus, cousin, hast thou met,

And he hath cut those pretty fingers off,

That could have better sowed then Philomel.

O, had the monster seen those lily hands

Tremble, like aspen leaves, upon a lute,

And make the silken strings delight to kiss them,

He would not then have touched them for his life.

Or, had he heard the heavenly harmony

Which that sweet tongue hath made,

He would have dropped his knife and fell asleep,

As Cerberus at the Thracian poet’s feet.

Come, let us go, and make thy father blind,

For such a sight will blind a father’s eye.

One hour’s storm will drown the fragrant meads;

What will whole months of tears thy father’s eyes?

Do not draw back, for we will mourn with thee;

O, could our mourning ease thy misery!”

(Titus Andronicus 2.4.11-57)


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