The Scene: Rome
[Titus Andronicus having pissed off Tamora, Queen of the Goths, by sacrificing her son and also by making snide remarks about Bauhaus, a sequence of dreadful and gory outrages take place, mostly involving his daughter Lavinia, and culminating in the following simile:]
Marcus Andronicus. Alas, poor heart, that kiss is comfortless
As frozen water to a starved snake.
[Later, Titus serves a banquet to his enemies.]
Roman citizen. Dear Jupiter, he’s serving instant coffee! [A great tumult.]
(Auden omits this play completely, without even offering an excuse, as he did with The Merry Wives of Windsor. In the lecture on The Taming of the Shrew he mentions Titus in passing as Shakespeare’s other total failure. I’m not sure I agree with that: it’s not his best work, but as a disgustingly horrible revenge tragedy involving racism, rape, mutilation, murder and cannibalism, it pretty much accomplishes what it sets out to achieve, and apparently did great box office on its premiere. I read it after I’d finished all the plays covered by Auden but I’m putting it here because I’d prefer to end with The Tempest.)