There are few writers who inspire the kind of awe and adulation playwright William Shakespeare does, so it was with some trepidation I knocked on his chamber door in his lodgings in Silver Street to quiz him about the furore his play Titus Andronicus is causing.
It was reassuring to discover my reputation as a critic of incisive integrity had preceded me: “Loved thy piece on Robert Greene,” quoth he, guiding me to a window seat. “How didst thou describe his romance Pandosto? Let me think on. Ah yes! No. No, sorry ’tis gone. But t’was a sharp and witty profile that did sketch that smirking villain in his true colours, and I thank thee for thy stiletto sharp observations. Drink, madam?”
And so saying the great bard furnished me with a goodly tankard of porter. However, I am not one to succumb to the honeyed flattery dispensed by oleaginous theatrical types, and so moved swiftly on. “Mr Shakespeare, or may I call you Will?” I began.
“I would fain thou wouldst call me Will, for Will I am,” he replied with a bardic twinkle in his eye.
“If that is your will, Will you shall be,” I retorted, a remark which I parried. “But to the purpose of this interview: your play Titus Andronicus has been widely loathed by the critics, who accuse you of bringing gratuitous violence to the stage. What would you say in your defence?”
“I sayeth thus: bums on seats. A theatrical company cannot live on royal favour alone. And (this be off the record) Her Majesty, our good Queen Bess, hath but little inclination to dispense with so much as a farthing if that she can avoid it, so royal performances bring not the guineas one might think. The simple, workaday man desireth not entertainment based on lofty subjects. He hath not the wit to consider such riddles as, “to be or not to be?”
“So, you believe the groundlings find delight in gore, gore and more gore?”
“Verily, our ticket receipts prove it. Compareth thou September’s returns for As You Like It, with October’s for Titus Andronicus. Titus wins. And for why? There be more graphic injury, slaughter and blood than even that upstart crow, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs doth display. Gadzooks! Violence be most bloody and most vile, but ‘tis most profitable and as thou knowest, the arts gaineth little these days in support from government patronage.”
“But is the cannibalism truly necessary?” I asked, “And in such savage manner? The action of Titus serving up the queen’s sons to her baked in a pie is sufficient to make all pastry comestibles most disagreeable to many people, and may even have a negative impact on outlets such as Greggs.”
“I do but reflect society, I do not create it,” he answered. “More porter?”