Titus Andronicus, or The rape of Lavinia

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Ravenscroft, Edward, and William Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus, or The rape of Lavinia. Acted at the Theatre Royall, a tragedy, alter’d from Mr Shakespears works, by Mr. Edw. Ravenscroft.  London: 1687.

Image Source: The Huntington Library

Titus Andronicus, a violent revenge tragedy, was one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays in the 16th century (his own time), frequently performed and appearing in three printed editions by 1611. The play’s reputation declined rapidly by the mid-17th century, when both its violence and language were heavily criticized. Indeed, for centuries, Shakespeare’s authorship of Titus was questioned, motivated by the widespread dislike for the play, though his authorship has been confirmed. His colleague George Peele has been proposed as partial contributor to the play.

In 1678, Edward Ravenscroft revised the play, which he called “a heap of Rubbish,” for performance. His revisions, he wrote in his preface, revealed that although the play was “the most incorrect and indigested piece in all [Shakespeare’s] works,” it had a good structure beneath. Ravenscroft notes that his version features “the Language not only refined, but many Scenes entirely New.”

These images show Ravenscroft’s increased focus on Aaron the Moor, revealing both the power of the original character, whose part is much expanded, and troubling developments in the representation of Moorish characters by the 17th century, when slavery had become a major part of the English economy. He also changes the story of Lavinia’s rape, eliminating explicit references to its Ovidian source material. An image here shows how Ravenscroft present Titus, rather than Lavinia, discovering a way for her to explain her trauma to her father. 

Images below include the title page, advertising the altered text and the list of characters, divided by nation and ethnicity.