David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TITUS ANDRONICUS: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scenes 1-2

— 3.1 —

On a street in Rome, Martius and Quintus, guarded and with their hands tied, were being taken to the place of execution. Walking with them were Judges, Senators, and Tribunes. Titus Andronicus was begging for the lives of his sons.

Titus Andronicus begged, “Hear me, grave fathers! Noble Tribunes, stop!Out of pity for my old age, whose youth was spentin dangerous wars while you securely slept, and out of pity for all the blood of my sons that was shed in Rome’s great war, and out of pity for all the frosty nights that I have watched on guard, and out of pity for these bitter tears, which you see nowfilling the aged wrinkles in my cheeks, have pity on my condemned sons,whose souls are not corrupted although people think they are.For twenty-two of my sons, I have never weptbecause they died honorably.”

Titus Andronicus now regarded his son Mutius as having died honorably. Mutius had resisted the will of Saturninus, and Saturninus had now sentenced two of Titus’ other sons to death. Also, Mutius had died helping his sister, Lavinia.

Titus fell to the ground. Everyone walked past him, continuing to the place of execution.

He said, “For these two sons, Tribunes, in the dust I writemy heart’s deep grief and my soul’s sad tears. Let my tears quench the earth’s dry appetite. My two sons’ sweet blood will make the earth shame and blush.Oh,earth, I will befriend you with more rainthat shall fall from these two ancient urnsthan youthful April shall provide with all its showers. In summer’s drought I’ll drop tears upon you continually. In winter I’ll melt the snow with warm tearsand keep eternal springtime on your face, provided that you refuse to drink my dear sons’ blood.”

Lucius, carrying a drawn sword, walked over to his father.

Titus, his head still down, said, “Oh, reverend Tribunes! Oh, gentle, aged men!Unbind my sons, reverse the judgment of death,and let me, who has never wept before,saythat my tears are now prevailing orators. Tell me that my tears have been successful at persuading you to pardon the lives of my two sons.”

Lucius said, “Oh, noble father, you lament in vain. The Tribunes cannot hear you; no man is nearby. You are telling your sorrows to a stone.”

“Ah, Lucius, let me plead for your brothers,” Titus Andronicus said. “Grave Tribunes, once more I beg of you —”

“My gracious lord, no Tribune hears you speak.”

“Why, it does not matter, man,” Titus Andronicus said. “If they did hear me, they would ignore me, or if they did pay attention to me, they would not pity me, and yet I must plead; therefore, I tell my sorrows to the stones, which, although they cannot relieve my distress, yet in some ways they are better than the Tribunes because they will not interrupt my tale. When I weep, they humbly at my feet receive my tears and seem to weep with me, and if they were only dressed in solemn clothing, Rome could support no better Tribunes than these. A stone is as soft as wax — Tribunes are harder than stones. A stone is silent, and does not offend, but Tribunes with their tongues condemn men to death.”

Titus stood up and asked, “But why are you standing with your weapon drawn?”

“I tried to rescue my two brothers from their deaths,” Lucius said. “I failed, and because of my attempt to rescue my brothers the judges have pronounced my everlasting doom of banishment.”

“Oh, happy and fortunate man!” Titus Andronicus said. “They have befriended you. Why, foolish Lucius, don’t you perceive that Rome is only a wilderness of tigers? Tigers must prey, and Rome affords no prey except for me and mine. How happy and fortunate you are, then, because you are banished from these devourers!”

Titus saw his brother, Marcus, coming toward them. Behind Marcus was a figure that Titus could not see clearly.

Titus asked, “But who is coming here with my brother, Marcus?”

Marcus said, “Titus, prepare your aged eyes to weep, or if you do not do so, prepare your noble heart to break. I bring consuming, devouring sorrow to your old age.”

“Will it consume me?” Titus asked. “Let me see it, then.”

He was ready for his life to be consumed so that he could die.

“This was your daughter,” Marcus said as Lavinia stepped closer.

“Why, Marcus, so she still is.”

Seeing Lavinia’s bloody stumps, Lucius knelt and said, “This sight kills me!”

Titus said, “Faint-hearted boy, arise, and look upon her.”

Lucius got up.

Titus Andronicus said to his daughter, “Speak, Lavinia, what accursed hand has made you handless in your father’s sight? What fool has added water to the sea, or brought a faggot to bright-burning Troy? My grief was at the height before you came here to me, and now my grief is like the Nile River, which disdains all bounds — it overflows and floods.

“Give me a sword, and I’ll chop off my hands, too, because they have fought for Rome, and all in vain. My hands have also nursed my woe by feeding me and keeping me alive. They have been held up in unavailing prayer, and they have served me ineffectively. Now all the service I require of them is that the one will help to cut off the other.

“It is well, Lavinia, that you have no hands, because hands that do Rome service are useless.”

Lucius asked Lavinia, “Speak, gentle sister, who has mutilated you?”

Marcus answered for her: “Oh, that delightful instrument of her thoughts that blabbed them with such pleasing eloquence has been torn from forth that pretty hollow cage, her mouth, where, like a sweet melodious bird, it sang sweet and varied notes, enchanting every ear!”

“Can you say for her who has done this deed?” Lucius asked.

Marcus replied, “I found her like this, straying in the enclosed hunting ground, seeking to hide herself, as does the deer that has received some terminal wound.”

Titus said, “Lavinia is my dear, and the man who wounded her has hurt me more than he would have if he had killed me. For now I stand like a man upon a rock surrounded by a wilderness of sea, who sees the incoming tide grow wave by wave, expecting always that some malicious surge of the sea will swallow him in its brinish bowels.”

Titus pointed and said, “My wretched sons have traveled down this way to their deaths.”

He then said, “Here stands my other son, a banished man, and here is my brother, weeping at my woes. But that which gives my soul the greatest hurt is dear Lavinia, who is dearer than my soul.”

He said to her, “Had I but seen your picture in this plight, it would have made me insane. What shall I do now that I behold your living body like this? You have no hands to wipe away your tears, nor a tongue to tell me who has mutilated you. Your husband is dead, and being found guilty of his death, your brothers were condemned to die, and they are dead by this time.”

Lavinia expressed her sorrow by crying.

“Look, Marcus!” Titus said. “Ah, son Lucius, look at her! When I mentioned her brothers, then fresh tears fell on her cheeks, like honey-dew falls upon a plucked lily that is almost withered.”

Marcus said, “Perhaps she weeps because her brothers killed her husband, or perhaps she weeps because she knows that they are innocent.”

Titus said to Lavinia, “If they killed your husband, then be joyful because the law has taken revenge on them.”

Then he said, “No, no, they would not do so foul a deed. Witness the sorrow that their sister shows.

“Gentle Lavinia, let me kiss your lips. Or make some sign to me to tell me how I may ease your pain. Shall your good uncle, and your brother Lucius, and you, and I sit round about some fountain, all of us looking downwards at the reflection to see how our cheeks are stained like still-wet meadows that have muddy slime left on them by a flood? And in the fountain shall we gaze so long that the fresh taste is taken from that clear, fresh water and made a brine-pit with our bitter tears?

“Or shall we cut off our hands, like yours?

“Or shall we bite off our tongues, and pass the remainder of our hateful days in mime?

“What shall we do?

“Let us, who have our tongues, plot some device of further misery that will make us wondered at in the times to come.”

Lucius said, “Dear father, stop crying. Look at how my wretched sister sobs and weeps at your grief.”

Marcus said, “Patience, dear niece. Good Titus, dry your eyes.”

He offered Titus his handkerchief.

“Ah, Marcus, Marcus!” Titus said. “Brother, I know well that your handkerchief cannot drink a tear of mine because you, poor man, have drowned it with your own tears.”

Pulling out his handkerchief, Lucius said, “My Lavinia, I will wipe your cheeks.”

“Look, Marcus, look!” Titus said. “I understand her gestures. If she had a tongue with which to speak, now she would say to her brother what I said to you. His handkerchief, which is soaked with his own true tears, can do no good on her sorrowful cheeks. Oh, what a harmony of woe is this! Our handkerchiefs are as far from being of use to us as Limbo is from the bliss of Heaven!”

Aaron, who was wearing a scimitar by his side, walked over to them.

He said, “Titus Andronicus, my lord the Emperor sends you this message — that, if you love your sons, let Marcus, Lucius, or yourself, old Titus, or any one of you, chop off your hand and send it to the King. In return for the hand, he will send to you here both of your sons alive. The hand shall be the ransom for their crime.”

Happy, Titus Andronicus said, “Oh, gracious Emperor! Oh, kind and gentle Aaron! Did a raven ever sing so much like a morning lark that gives sweet tidings of the Sun’s rise? With all my heart, I’ll send the Emperor my hand. Good Aaron, will you help to chop it off?”

“Stop, father!” Lucius said. “That noble hand of yours, which has thrown down and conquered so many enemies, shall not be sent to the Emperor. My own hand will serve the turn. My youth can better spare my blood than you can spare your blood, and therefore my hand shall save my brothers’ lives.”

Marcus Andronicus said to Titus and Lucius, “Which of your hands has not defended Rome, and reared aloft the bloody battle-axe to write destruction on the enemy’s castle? Oh, both of you deserve so much. My own hand has been entirely idle; let it serve to ransom my two nephews from their deaths. Now I know that I have kept my hand until now so that it can have a worthy end.”

Aaron said, “Come, agree quickly whose hand I shall take to the Emperor out of fear that Martius and Quintus will die before their pardon arrives.”

“My hand shall go,” Marcus said.

“By Heaven, it shall not go!” Lucius said.

“Sirs, argue no more,” Titus said. Referring to his hands, he said, “Such withered herbs as theseare suitable for being plucked up, and therefore Aaron shall carry my hand to the Emperor.”

“Sweet father, if I am to be thought your son,” Lucius said, “let me redeem both my brothers from death.”

Marcus said to Titus, “And, for our father’s sake and mother’s care,now let me show you a brother’s love.”

Titus said, “You two come to an agreement. I will spare my hand.”

He was being deliberately ambiguous. Marcus and Lucius thought that the word “spare” meant “leave unharmed,” but Titus was using the word “spare” to mean “do without.”

“Then I’ll go and fetch an axe,” Lucius said.

“But I will use the axe to cut off my hand,” Marcus said.

Marcus and Lucius departed to get an axe.

“Come here, Aaron,” Titus said. “I’ll deceive them both. Lend me your hand, and I will give you mine. Help me cut off my hand.”

Aaron thought, If what Titus is doing is called deceit, then I will be an honest man. Never will I deceive men the way that Titus is deceiving these two men. But, you, Titus, I will deceive in a different way, as you will realize before half an hour passes.

Aaron used his scimitar to cut off Titus’ hand at the elbow.

Marcus and Lucius came back.

Titus Andronicus said to them, “Now stop your strife. What had to be done has been done.”

He then said, “Good Aaron, give his Majesty my hand. Tell him it was a hand that guarded himfrom a thousand dangers; bid him bury it. My hand has deserved more and better, but let it at least be buried.As for my sons, say I value themas if they werejewels purchased at an easy and low price, and yet they are dear, too — both loved and expensive — because I bought what was already rightfully mine.”

Aaron replied, “I go, Titus Andronicus, and in return for your handlook to have your sons with you soon.”

He thought, Your son’s heads, I mean. Oh, how this villainynourishes and delights me when I merely think of it!Let fools do good, and let fair men call for grace.Aaron prefers to have his soul black like his face.

He left, carrying Titus’ severed left hand.

Titus Andronicus knelt and said, “Here I lift this one hand up to Heaven,and I bow this feeble ruin — my body — to the Earth. If any power pities wretched tears,to that power I call!”

Lavinia knelt.

He said to Lavinia, “What, will you kneel with me?Do, then, dear heart, for Heaven shall hear our prayers or we will breathe foggy sighs and dim the sky,and stain the Sun with fog, as sometimes clouds do when they hug the Sun in their raining bosoms.”

Marcus Andronicus said to Titus, “Oh, brother, speak about actions that are possibilities, and do not break into these deep, extreme, and outrageous exaggerations.”

“Is not my sorrow deep, because it has no bottom?” Titus replied, “Then my passionate outbursts should be bottomless with them.”

“But still let the power of reason govern your laments.”

“If there were reasons for these miseries,then I could bind my woes into limits,” Titus said. “When Heaven weeps, doesn’t the earth overflow?If the winds rage, doesn’t the sea grow mad and threaten the sky with his big, swollen waves?And will you have a reason for this turmoil?

“I am the sea; listen, how Lavinia’s sighs blow like wind! She is the weeping sky; I am also the earth. My sea must then be moved with her sighs. My earth must then with her continual tears become a flood, overflowed and drowned. This is why my bowels cannot hide her woes, but like a drunkard I must vomit them. So give me leave to speak, for losers will have leave to ease the resentment in their stomachs with their bitter tongues.”

A messenger arrived. He was carrying Titus’ severed hand and the heads of his sons Martius and Quintus.

The messenger said, “Worthy Titus Andronicus, you are badly repaid for your good hand that you sent to the Emperor. Here are the heads of your two noble sons, and here’s your hand, sent back to you in scorn. Your griefs are their entertainment; they mock your resolution. When I think about your woes, I feel more sorrow than I do when I remember my father’s death.”

The messenger exited.

Marcus Andronicus said, “Now let the hot volcano Aetna cool in Sicily, and let my heart be an ever-burning Hell! These miseries are more than may be endured. To weep with them who weep does ease grief somewhat, but sorrow jeered and mocked at is double death.”

Lucius said, “I am amazed that this sight should make so deep a wound, and yet detested life does not shrink away and leave this body dead! I am amazed that death should ever let life bear the name of life, where life does nothing more than breathe!”

Lavinia kissed Titus.

Marcus Andronicus said, “I am sorry, poor heart, but that kiss is as comfortless as frozen water is to a frozen snake.”

Titus Andronicus said, “When will this fearful slumber filled with nightmares come to an end?”

Marcus said, “Now, farewell, delusion. Die, Andronicus: You are not sleeping. Look at your two sons’ heads, your warlike hand, your mangled daughter here, and your other son, who has been banished and who has been struck pale and bloodless with this grievous sight. And look at me, your brother, who is now like a stony image, cold and numb. Ah, I will now no more curb your griefs. Tear off your silver hair, and gnaw your other hand with your teeth. Let this dismal sight result in the closing up of our most wretched eyes.”

Titus was silent.

Marcus said to him, “Now is a time to rant and storm. Why are you silent?”

Titus Andronicus laughed long, loud, and hard.

“Why are you laughing?” Marcus asked. “It is not suitable for this hour.”

“Why am I laughing?” Titus replied. “Because I don’t have another tear to shed. Besides, this sorrow is an enemy, and would take over my watery eyes and make them blind with tears shed in tribute to my sorrow, and how then shall I find the way to the goddess Revenge’s cave? For these two heads of my sons seem to speak to me, and threaten that I shall never come to bliss until all these evils be returned again and thrust down the throats of those who have committed them.

“Come, let me see what task I have to do. You sorrowful people, circle round about me, so that I may turn to each of you, and swear upon my soul to right your wrongs.”

He swore the oaths and then said, “The vow is made. Come, brother, take a head, and in this hand I will bear the other head. Lavinia, you shall also be employed. Carry my hand, sweet girl, between your teeth. As for you, Lucius, my boy, get yourself away from my sight: You are an exile, and you must not stay here. Hurry to the Goths, and raise an army there, and, if you love me, as I think you do, let’s kiss and part, for we have much to do.”

Titus and Lucius kissed each other, and then Titus, Marcus, and Lavinia exited.

Alone, Lucius said, “Farewell, Titus Andronicus, my noble father, the most woeful man who ever lived in Rome. Farewell, proud Rome. Until Lucius comes here again, he leaves his pledges dearer than his life — his loved ones. Farewell, Lavinia, my noble sister. I wish you were as you heretofore have been! But now neither Lucius nor Lavinia lives except in oblivion and hateful griefs. If I, Lucius, shall live, I will requite your wrongs and make proud Saturninus and his Empress beg at the gates, like Tarquin and his Queen.”

After King Tarquin’s son, who was also named Tarquin, raped Lucrece, who committed suicide, King Tarquin was overthrown. Lucius Junius Brutus led the revolt against King Tarquin.

Lucius continued, “Now I will go to the Goths and raise an army with which I will be revenged on Rome and Saturninus.”

— 3.2 —

A light meal was set out on a table in Titus Andronicus’ house. Around the table sat Titus Andronicus, Marcus Andronicus, Lavinia, and Lucius’ son: young Lucius.

Titus said, “So, so; now sit, and be careful to eat no more than will preserve just so much strength in us that will allow us to revenge these bitter woes of ours.”

Titus fed Lavinia during the meal.

He said to his brother, who had folded his arms in front of himself, which was a sign of sorrow, “Marcus, unknit that knot that is a wreath of sorrow. Your niece and I, poor creatures, lack our hands, and cannot passionately express our tenfold grief with folded arms. This poor right hand of mine is left to tyrannize upon my breast; when my heart, all mad with misery, beats in this hollow prison of my flesh, then I use my hand to thump it down.”

Titus said to Lavinia, “You map and pattern of woe, who thus talks in signs! When your poor heart beats with extremely violent beating, you cannot strike it like this to make it still.

“Wound it with sighing, girl, kill it with groans, or get some little knife between your teeth, and just against your heart make a hole so that all the tears that your poor eyes let fall may run into and soak that sink, and drown the lamenting sweet fool with sea-salt tears.”

“No, brother, no!” Marcus said to Titus, “Don’t advise her to lay such violent hands upon her young and tender life.”

“What!” Titus replied. “Has sorrow made you deranged already? Why, Marcus, no man but I should be insane. What violent hands can she lay on her life? Ah, why do you mention the word ‘hands’? Would you ask Aeneas to twice tell the tale of how Troy was burnt and he was made miserable? Oh, don’t discuss the theme of hands, lest we remember now that we have none. Oh, how stupid it is to regulate talk, as if we should forget we had no hands if Marcus did not say the word ‘hands’!

“Come, let’s fall to the meal; and, gentle girl, Lavinia, eat this.”

Titus, noticing that the servants had forgotten to bring in something to drink, said, “Here is no drink!”

Lavinia indicated with gestures that she did not need anything to drink and Titus said, “Pay attention, Marcus, to what she is saying. I can interpret all her mutilated and tortured signs. She says she drinks no other drink but tears, brewed with her sorrow, fermented upon her cheeks.”

He said to Lavinia, “Speechless complainer, I will learn your thought. In interpreting your mime, I will be as perfect as begging hermits are in their holy prayers. They are word-perfect in saying their prayers, and I will be word-perfect in interpreting your gestures. You shall not sigh, nor hold your stumps up to Heaven, nor close your eyes, nor nod, nor kneel, nor make a sign, but I will wrest an alphabet from your gestures and by constant practice learn to know your meaning.”

Young Lucius said to Titus, “Good Grandfather, stop making these bitter deep laments; instead, make my aunt merry with some pleasing tale.”

Marcus said, “Alas, the young and tender boy, moved by strong emotion, weeps to see his grandfather’s misery.”

“Be at peace, tender sapling,” Titus said to young Lucius. “You are full of tears, and tears will quickly melt your life away.”

Marcus struck at his dish with a knife.

Titus asked, “What did you strike at, Marcus, with your knife?”

“I struck at something that I have killed, my lord: a fly.”

“Get out, murderer!” Titus said. “You kill my heart. My eyes are gorged with sights of tyranny. It is not fitting for Titus’ brother to commit a deed of death on the innocent. Get out! I see you are not fit for my company.”

Marcus said, “My lord, I have killed only a fly.”

Titus said, “‘Only’? But what if that fly had a father and a mother? How would the father hang his slender gilded wings and buzz sad laments in the air! Poor harmless fly, that, with his pretty buzzing melody, came here to make us merry! And you have killed him.”

“Pardon me, sir,” Marcus said. “It was a black, ugly, ill-favored fly that looked like the Empress’ Moor; therefore, I killed him.”

“Oh,” Titus said. “Then pardon me for reprimanding you, because you have done a charitable deed. Give me your knife; I will triumph over him, pretending to myself that it is the Moor, who has come here intending to poison me.”

Titus took the knife and stabbed at the dead fly, saying, “There’s for yourself, and that’s for Tamora. Ah, sirrah! I think that we are not yet brought so low that between us we cannot kill a fly that comes to us in the likeness of a coal-black Moor.”

Marcus said to himself, “Poor man! Grief has so stricken him that he thinks that false shadows are true substances.”

“Come, take away the meal,” Titus said. “Lavinia, come with me. I’ll go to your private chamber and read to you sad stories that happened in the days of old. Come, boy, and go with me. Your sight is young, and you shall read when my sight begins to be dazzled.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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