Gezelle Lopez on Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, Act 3

Published by admin_main on Mon 11 Oct, 2010

11. In Act 3, Scene 1, Titus is confronted with two shocks: the impending execution of two sons, and the sight of his mutilated daughter Lavinia, brought to her by his brother Marcus. How does he understand Rome now? To what extent is the representation of Titus' suffering at this point designed to elicit pity? What in the representation might be said to work against pity?

Aaron (Tamara's lover) devises an elaborate, evil ploy in which Titus' two sons (Martius and Quintus) have been set up for the murder of Bassianus, which was actually committed by Tamara's sons Chiron and Demetrius. Scene three opens with Martius and Quintus being led to the place of execution by Rome's tribunes, senators and officers. Titus, meanwhile, is broken to pieces by the looming execution of his sons. He stands by pleading for their release, hoping his cries will reach the hearts of the tribunes:

For pity of mine age, whose youth was spent
In dangerous wars, whilst you securely slept;
For all my blood in Rome's great quarrel shed;
For all the frosty nights that I have watch'd;
And for these bitter tears, which now you see
Filling the aged wrinkles in my cheeks;
Be pitiful to my condemned sons,
Whose souls are not corrupted as 'tis thought
For two and twenty sons I never wept,
Because they died in honour's lofty bed,
For these two, Tribunes, in the dust I write
My heart's deep languor and my soul's sad tears.
Let my tears stanch the earth's dry appetite;

My sons' sweet blood will make it shame and blush. (3.1.1-15)

Lucius then arrives at the scene with his sword drawn and advises his father to stop his pleading as the tribunes will not consider his appeal for pity and reconsideration. Titus' perception of Rome shifts completely, from the country he would give his life for to the country which has deserted him. Dejected and distraught, Titus decides that the stones which he stands on are better to him than the tribunes:

Therefore I tell my sorrows to the stones,
Who, though they cannot answer my distress,
Yet in some sort they are better than the tribunes,
For that they will not intercept my tale.
When I do weep, they humbly at my feet
Receive my tears, and seem to weep with me;

. . .

A stone is soft as wax, tribunes more hard than stones;
A stone is silent, and offendeth not,

And tribunes with their tongues doom men to death. (3.1.36-46)

And after Lucius reveals he has been banished for attempting to rescue his brothers from an unjust death, Titus explains that Rome is full of lions and Titus and his family are their prey:

Why, foolish Lucius, dost thou not perceive
That Rome is but a wilderness of tigers?
Tigers must prey; and Rome affords no prey
But me and mine: how happy art thou then,

From these devourers to be banished! (3.1.52-56)

Immediately after realizing he has essentially lost three sons, Titus' brother Marcus delivers the mutilated and ravaged Lavinia to her father. It is no surprise that his feelings for Rome change drastically: "'Tis well, Lavinia, that thou hast no hands, / For hands, to do Rome service, are but vain." (3.1.79-80)

Titus has been stabbed in the heart multiple times by his once beloved Rome. Soon after this character's victorious return from war, his world begins to collapse and this repeated injury can only evoke sympathy from the audience. However, an audience may also find the gruesome, disturbing scenes of violence rather absurd. Imaging they're about to enjoy a dignified production about royalty, could they possibly take this Roman tragedy seriously given the numerous displays of brutality? The shocking violence is unrelenting which could have generated a surprising reaction from Shakespeare's audience.

12. In Act 3, Scene 1, what deception does Aaron practice against Titus, and on what basis is he able to get away with it -- that is, why, with respect to Titus' outlook and sensibilities, is Aaron's stratagem so successful? In addition, what does Aaron reveal about his motivation for behaving as he has so far in the play -- what are his allegiances and desires?

The death of two sons, banishment of another and mutilation of his daughter have almost driven Titus to madness, but the malevolent Aaron arrives with yet another ploy to cause Titus further affliction. Aaron delivers the news that Saturninus is willing to release Titus' sons if one of them (Lucius, Marcus or Titus) chops off their hand and sends it to him. Well, at this point, Titus is willing to do anything to have his sons back and he has the utmost faith in the "gracious" Emperor's proposition, so Titus asks Aaron to help him chop off his hand. Unfortunately, this act will not reward the honorable Titus with a fair exchange. Aaron delights in his latest act of treachery:

O! how this villany
Doth fat me with the very thoughts of it.
Let fools do good, and fair men call for grace,

Aaron will have his soul black like his face. (3.1.200-204)

Aaron, described as the devil incarnate by Lucius, is pure evil: He later confesses to have instructed Chiron and Demetrius to take advantage of Lavinia, plots the death of Bassianus, sets-up Titus' sons for the death of Bassianus and chops off the hand of Titus unlawfully -- all in an effort to feed his wicked soul and bring him closer to Tamara. Aaron's true allegiance is with Tamara and he dreams of being with her, enjoying her riches and perhaps taking the place of Saturninus:

Away with slavish weeds and servile thoughts!
I will be bright, and shine in pearl and gold,
To wait upon this new-made empress.
To wait, said I? to wanton with this queen,
This goddess, this Semiramis, this nymph,
This siren, that will charm Rome's Saturnine,

And see his shipwreck and his commonweal's. (2.1.18-24)

In my opinion Aaron is one of Shakespeare's ultimate villains. Later in Act 5, he is disappointed that he could not commit more evil deeds in his lifetime:

I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed

But that I cannot do ten thousand more. (5.1.140-144)