Richard Ashby


This article analyses the overlooked 1985 Heiner Müller Shakespeare adaptation Anatomy Titus: Fall of Rome, a Shakespeare Commentary, which I read as a response to the Holocaust. Drawing on his controversial observations about modern European history in his 1995 interview ‘Auschwitz without End’, I will contend that Müller writes the disaster through Titus Andronicus because he understands both the play and the Shoah through the history of imperial European colonialism, whereby the violence that once took place in the ‘barbaric’ colonial spaces of empire is brought back to the very centre of enlightened ‘civilization’. This violence involves turning supposedly inferior races into victims of colonial dispossession and – ultimately – genocide within continental Europe and the civic space of the nation state itself. I will contend that, when the Andronici sacrifice the Barbarian Albarus in the opening scene of Titus Andronicus, the ethnic violence that usually takes place at the outmost margins of empire is brought to its centre – the city of Rome, which is turned into ‘a wilderness of tigers’. This makes the play – as Müller understands it – prophetic of European colonialism and the Holocaust. His own play systematically ‘anatomizes’ Shakespeare and situates the action and poetics of Titus Andronicus in modern European and world history, the ‘long march through the hells of Enlightenment, through the bloodswamp of ideologies’. With an unprecedented refugee crisis – often comprised of peoples from former colonies – and the ongoing rise of the far-right in Europe in recent times, I show that both plays have gained a new urgency.