David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TITUS ANDRONICUS: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scenes 1-2

— 2.1 —

In front of the palace, Aaron the Moor stood alone.

He said to himself, “Now Tamora has climbed to the top of Mount Olympus, home of the gods. She is safe from the slings and arrows of Lady Fortune, and she sits aloft, on high, safe from the crack of thunder and the flash of lightning. She has advanced so high that she is above the threatening reach of pale and envious people.

“Tamora now is just like the golden Sun that salutes the morning and after having gilded the ocean with its yellow beams gallops through the zodiac in its glistening coach, and looks over the highest hills. Upon her does Earthly honor wait, and virtue stoops and trembles at her frown.

“So, then, Aaron, arm your heart and fit your thoughts tomount aloft with your imperial mistress, and mount with her as high as she goes, whom you in triumph have long held prisoner, fettered in amorous chains and faster bound to Aaron’s eyes that bewitch and charm than Prometheus is tied to a rock in the Caucasus, a mountain range in Caucasia.”

Aaron had been having an affair with Tamora and so he had mounted her, and he intended to benefit from her rise in fortune. She was bound by love to him as securely as Prometheus, who had stolen fire from the gods to give to human beings, was chained to a rock in the Caucasus — as Prometheus’ punishment for helping human beings, Zeus had chained him to that rock. Each day, an eagle ate Prometheus’ liver, which grew back each day and was eaten again the following day.

Aaron continued, “Away with slavish clothing and servile thoughts! I will be bright and shine in pearl and gold as I serve this newly made Empress. To serve, did I say? I mean to wanton sexually with this Queen, this goddess, this Semiramis, this nymph, this Siren, who will charm Rome’s Saturninus, and see the shipwreck of himself and his commonwealth.”

Aaron compared Tamora to Semiramis, an Assyrian Queen who was known for her power, sexual appetite, cruelty, and beauty.

He also compared her to a Siren, who would sing beautifully in order to cause sailors to become entranced by her song and wreck their ships on the shore of her island.

Aaron, hearing some people fighting, said, “Hello! What storm is this?”

Tamora’s two living sons — Demetrius and Chiron — came near Aaron. They were shouting and swaggering.

Demetrius said, “Chiron, you are not as intelligent as your age suggests, and your intelligence cannot be sharp since you intrude where I am welcomed and may, for all you know, be loved.”

Chiron replied, “Demetrius, you presume too much in everything, just like you are doing now as you try to intimidate me with your boasts. You are older than I am by only a year or two, and that is not enough to make me less gracious than you or to make you more fortunate than me. I am as able and as fit as you are to serve and to deserve my mistress’ favor. I shall use my sword to prove that to you, and I shall use it to plead my passion for Lavinia and her love.”

Aaron said quietly to himself, “Clubs! Clubs! These lovers will not keep the peace.”

The phrase “Clubs! Clubs!” was a call to the city watch to come and use their clubs to break up a fight in the city streets — or a call to apprentices to grab clubs and come and fight on one or the other side.

Demetrius said, “Why, boy, although our mother, unwisely, gave you a dancing-rapier — used for fashion and decoration while dancing, and not used for fighting — to wear by your side, have you grown so desperate that you threaten your friends? Ha! Have your useless sword — a stage prop! — glued inside your sheath until you know better how to handle it.”

Chiron replied, “Meanwhile, sir, you shall perceive very well how much I dare to do with the little skill I have.”

Addressing him by an insulting title, Demetrius said, “Boy, have you grown that brave?”

They drew their swords.

Having naked weapons so near the palace was illegal, and could result in serious punishment, including death, and so Aaron now intervened.

He came forward and said, “Why, what is going on now, lords! Do you dare to draw your swords so near the Emperor’s palace and engage in such a quarrel openly? I know very well the reason for all this quarreling. I would not for a million gold pieces allow that reason to be learned by them it most concerns, and your mother — even for much more than a million gold pieces — would not allow herself to be so dishonored in the court of Rome as that would make her. For shame, put up your swords.”

Demetrius said, “Not I, not until I have sheathed my rapier in his bosom and completely thrust down his throat these reproachful speeches that he has breathed to my dishonor here.”

“I am prepared and fully resolved to fight you,” Chiron said. “You are a foul-spoken coward, who thunders with your tongue, but who dares to do nothing with your weapon!”

“Put your swords away, I say!” Aaron thundered. “Now, by the gods that warlike Goths adore, this petty quarrel will ruin us all. Why, lords, aren’t you thinking how dangerous it is to encroach upon a Prince’s right? Lavinia is married to Prince Bassianus. Has Lavinia then become so loose, or Bassianus so degenerate, that for her love such quarrels may be raised without check, justice, or revenge? Young lords, beware! If the Empress should learn the reason for this discord, the music would not please her.”

“I don’t care whether she and all the world know,” Chiron said. “I love Lavinia more than all the world.”

Demetrius said, “Youngster, learn to choose to love someone of a lower social status. Lavinia is your elder brother’s desired.”

“What! Are you mad?” Aaron asked. “Don’t you know how furious and impatient men can be? Don’t you know that they cannot tolerate competitors in love? I tell you, lords, you are pursuing your own deaths when you pursue Lavinia in this way.”

“Aaron, I would be ready to meet a thousand deaths in order to achieve her whom I love,” Chiron replied.

“To achieve her!” Aaron said. “What do you mean?”

“Why are you pretending not to understand?” Demetrius asked. “She is a woman, and therefore may be wooed. She is a woman, and therefore may be won. She is Lavinia, and therefore must be loved. Why, man, more water glides by the mill than the miller knows of; and we all know it is easy to steal a slice from a cut loaf of bread. Why can’t we steal a piece of ass? Although Bassianus is the Emperor’s brother, better than he have worn Vulcan’s badge.”

Vulcan’s badge was the horns of a cuckold — a man whose wife had cheated on him. Vulcan, the blacksmith god, was married to Venus, who had an affair with Mars, the war god.

Aaron thought, Someone as high ranking as Saturninus may wear Vulcan’s badge.

Demetrius continued, “Then why should a man despair who knows to court a woman with the help of words, fair looks, and liberality? Haven’t you very often struck a doe, and carried her by the gamekeeper’s nose without getting caught?”

“Why, then, it seems, some certain snatch or so would serve your turns,” Aaron said.

He meant that Demetrius and Chiron could snatch — kidnap — Lavinia and forcibly make her serve them sexually. In other words, Demetrius and Chiron could take turns raping her.

“Yes, so the turn were served,” Chiron said. He wanted to make sure that he had his turn.

“Aaron, you have hit it — you have hit on the solution to our problem,” Demetrius said.

“I wish that you had already hit it — by shooting your arrow into the center of your target,” Aaron said. “Then we should not be troubled with this business. Why, listen! Are you two such fools that you would you argue over this solution to your problem? Would it offend you, then, if both of you would have sex with Lavinia?”

“Truly, that would not bother me,” Chiron said.

“Nor me, so long as I had my turn with her,” Demetrius said.

“For shame, be friends, and join together so that you can both get what you are fighting for,” Aaron said. “Plots and stratagems must get you what you want; therefore, you must resolve that since you cannot achieve what you want the way you want to achieve it — that is, with words — you must therefore achieve it by what works — that is, with force.

“Learn this from me: Lucrece was not more chaste than this Lavinia, Bassianus’ love.”

Lucrece was an ancient Roman gentlewoman who committed suicide after being raped.

One meaning of chastity is abstinence from sex, but the meaning of chastity used here was abstinence from illicit sex, including extramarital sex.

Aaron continued, “A speedier course than lingering languishment you must pursue, and I have found the path. My lords, a ceremonious hunt will take place today. There the lovely Roman ladies will troop. The forest paths are wide and spacious, and many unfrequented places in the forest are suitable for rape and villainy. Separate this dainty doe from the rest of the herd in such a place and strike her home — have sex with her — by force, since words will not get you what you want. This is the only way you will have sex with Lavinia.

“Come, come, we will tell our Empress, Tamora, who has consecrated her wit and intelligence to villainy and vengeance, as if they were her religion, everything that we intend to do. She will sharpen our plot with advice and make it better. She will not allow you to fight each other, but she will help you get everything you wish.

“The Emperor’s court is like the house of rumor and gossip. The palace is full of tongues, eyes, and ears. In contrast, the woods are ruthless and pitiless, dreadful, deaf, and dull. There speak, and strike, daring boys, and take your turns with Lavinia. There satisfy your lust, hidden from the eye of Heaven, and revel deep in Lavinia’s treasury.”

“Your counsel, lad, smells of no cowardice,” Chiron said to Aaron.

Demetrius said, “Sit fas aut nefas, until I find the stream that will cool this heat I feel, a charm to calm these fits, per Styga, per manes vehor.”

Sit fas aut nefasis Latin for “Whether right or wrong.” Per Styga, per manes vehoris Latin for “I am borne through the Stygian realms.” The Styx is a river in Hell, and so Demetrius was saying, “I am in Hell.”

Considering the way that Demetrius was planning to treat Lavinia, whom he — and Chiron — had said they loved, he — and Chiron — deserved to be in Hell.

— 2.2 —

Titus Andronicus and his sons Lucius, Martius, and Quintus were in a forest near Rome. Also present were Marcus Andronicus and some hunters, hunting hounds, and attendants.

Titus Andronicus said, “The hunt is afoot. The early morning is bright and grey, the fields are fragrant, and the woods are green. Release the hunting hounds, and let them bay and awaken the Emperor Saturninus and his lovely bride and rouse Prince Bassianus. Also let the horns sound a hunter’s peal so that all the court may echo with the noise.

“Sons, let it be your responsibility, as it is ours, to attend the Emperor’s person carefully. I was troubled in my sleep last night, but this dawning day has inspired new comfort.”

Hounds bayed and horns sounded. Saturninus and Tamora arrived, as did Bassianus and Lavinia. Demetrius and Chiron then arrived, along with some attendants.

Titus Andronicus said, “I give many good mornings to your Majesty. Madam, to you I give as many and as good. I promised your grace a hunter’s peal.”

“And you have rung it lustily, my lord,” Saturninus said, “but somewhat too early for newly married ladies.”

Bassianus asked, “Lavinia, what do you say to that?”

“I say that it is incorrect,” Lavinia said. “I have been wide awake two hours and more.”

“Come on, then,” Saturninus said. “Let us have horses and chariots, and let us begin our hunt.”

He said to Tamora, “Madam, now you shall see our Roman hunting.”

“I have dogs, my lord,” Marcus Andronicus said, “that will rouse the proudest panther in the hunting ground, and climb the top of the highest hill.”

Titus Andronicus said, “And I have horses that will follow where the game makes its way and runs like swallows over the plain.”

Demetrius said quietly to his brother, “Chiron, we will not hunt with horse or hound, but we hope to pluck a dainty doe from the crowd and throw her to the ground.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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