David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TITUS ANDRONICUS: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 1

— 4.1 —

In Titus’ garden in Rome, Lavinia ran after young Lucius, who was carrying books under his arm. Titus and Marcus entered the garden and saw them.

Young Lucius dropped his books and ran to Titus and Marcus, yelling, “Help, Grandfather, help! My aunt Laviniafollows me everywhere, I don’t know why. Good uncle Marcus, see how swiftly she comes.Alas, sweet aunt, I don’t know what you want.”

“Stand by me, Lucius,” Marcus said. “Do not fear your aunt.”

“She loves you, boy, too well to do you harm,” Titus said.

“Yes, when my father was in Rome, she loved me,” young Lucius said.

“What does my niece Lavinia mean by these gestures she is making?” Marcus asked.

“Don’t be afraid of her, young Lucius,” Titus said. “She means something. See, young Lucius, see how much she gestures to you. She would have you go somewhere with her. Ah, boy, Cornelia never with more care read to her sons than Lavinia has read to you sweet poetry and Cicero’s book Orator.”

Cornelia Africana’s sons, whom she educated well, were known as the Gracchi. They were social reformers of Rome when Rome was a republic.

“Can’t you guess why Lavinia keeps at you like this?” Marcus asked.

“My lord, I don’t know, nor can I guess, unless some fit or frenzy is possessing her. I have heard my grandfather say very often that an extremity of griefs would make men mad, and I have read that Queen Hecuba of Troy became insane through sorrow after Troy fell and so many of her children died.

“My lord, although I know my noble aunt loves me as dearly as my mother ever did, and would not, except in delirium, frighten my youth, I was frightened, which made me throw down my books, and run away — without a good reason to, perhaps.

“But pardon me, sweet aunt. And, madam, if my uncle Marcus goes with me, I will most willingly go with your ladyship.”

“Young Lucius, I will go with you,” Marcus said.

Lavinia and the others went to the books that young Lucius had dropped, and Lavinia began to look through them, moving them with her stumps.

Titus Andronicus said, “How are you, Lavinia! What are you doing? Marcus, what does this mean? She wants to see a particular book.

“Which is it, girl, of these? Open them, boy. But you, Lavinia, are deeper read, and better skilled at reading, and can read harder books than young Lucius. Come, Lavinia, and take your choice of all the books in my library, and so forget for a while your sorrow, until the Heavens reveal the damned contriver of this evil deed.”

Lavinia raised her stumps.

Titus asked, “Why is she lifting up her arms like this now?”

Marcus answered, “I think she means that there was more than one confederate in the crime. Yes, there was more than one, or else she heaves her arms to Heaven as a way of asking for revenge.”

Titus asked, “Young Lucius, what book is that she is tossing about?”

“Grandfather, it is Ovid’s Metamorphoses. My mother gave it to me.”

Marcus said, “Perhaps she selected it from among the rest for the love of her who is gone.”

“Look!” Titus said. “See how busily she turns the pages!”

He helped her turn the pages and asked, “What is she looking for?”

Lavinia stopped at a passage in the Metamorphoses.

Titus said, “This is Ovid’s account of the tragic tale of Philomela. It tells about Tereus’ treason and his rape. And rape, I fear, is the root of your distress.”

“Look, brother, look,” Marcus said. “Note how she closely observes the pages.”

Titus asked, “Lavinia, were you attacked, sweet girl, raped, and wronged, as Philomela was, and forced to have sex in the ruthless, desolate, and gloomy woods?”

She nodded, and Titus said, “See, see! Yes, such a place there is, where we hunted — oh, I wish that we had never, never hunted there! That place was just like the place that the poet here describes; nature made that place for murders and rapes.”

Marcus Andronicus asked, “Why should nature build so foul a den, unless the gods delight in tragedies?”

Titus said to Lavinia, “Give us signs, sweet girl, for here are none but friends. With signs let us know which Roman lord it was who dared to do the evil deed. Did Saturninus slink — it is possible that he did — as Tarquin did formerly when he slunk out of the military camp to commit rape in Lucrece’s bed?”

Marcus said, “Sit down, sweet niece. Brother, sit down by me. Apollo, Pallas, Jove, or Mercury, inspire me so that I may find who did this treason!

“My lord, look here. Look here, Lavinia: This sandy plot of land is level. Lavinia, guide, if you can, my staff. Watch me and then imitate me. I will use my staff to write my name without the help of any hand at all.”

He held one end of the staff in his mouth and used his feet to guide the other end of the staff and write his name in the sand.

He said, “Cursed be that heart that forced us to this makeshift!

“Write, you good niece, and here display, at last, what God wants to be revealed so that we may take revenge. May Heaven guide your pen to print your sorrows plainly so that we may know the traitors and the truth!”

Lavinia took one end of the staff in her mouth, and she used her stumps to write with the staff.

Titus said, “Do you read, my lord, what she has written? ‘Stuprum. Chiron. Demetrius.’”

The word Stuprumis Latin for “Rape.” Lavinia had succeeded in telling Titus and Marcus that Chiron and Demetrius had raped her.

Marcus said, “What! The lustful sons of Tamora are guilty of this heinous, bloody deed?”

Titus said, “Magni Dominator poli, tam lentus audis scelera, tam lentus vides?

This is Latin for “Ruler of the great heavens, are you so slow to hear crimes, so slow to see them?” Titus was quoting a passage from the Roman playwright Seneca’s tragedy Hippolytus.

Marcus said to Titus, “Calm yourself, gentle lord, although I know enough is written upon this earth in front of us to stir a rebellion in the mildest thoughts and arm the minds of infants to make outcries of protest.

“My lord, kneel down with me; Lavinia, kneel; and kneel, sweet boy, the Roman Hector’s hope.”

They knelt.

Hector was the foremost Trojan warrior; his hope was his son. Marcus was calling the elder Lucius the Roman Hector.

Marcus said, “Swear with me, as, along with the woe-stricken spouse and father of that chaste dishonored dame, Lucrece, Lucius Junius Brutus swore for her rape, that we will pursue a good plan to get deadly revenge upon these traitorous Goths, and see their blood, or else we will die with this disgrace.”

They swore and rose.

“Revenge is certain, if you know how to get it,” Titus said. “But if you hunt these bear-cubs, then beware. The dam will wake up; and, if she once catches your scent … she’s still deeply in league with the lion, and lulls him while she plays sexually on her back, and when he sleeps she does whatever — and whoever — she wishes.

“You are an inexperienced huntsman, Marcus, so leave the plot to me. Come, I will go and get a leaf of brass, and with a pen of steel I will write these words on it, and store it. That will make our oath of revenge permanent.

“The angry northern wind will blow these sands, like the Sibyl’s leaves, abroad, and where’s your lesson, then?”

The Sibyl was a prophetess who wrote her prophecies on leaves that the wind scattered.

Titus asked, “Boy, what do you have to say?”

Young Lucius replied, “I say, my lord, that if I were a man, not even their mother’s bedchamber would be a safe harbor for these bad men — these slaves who are under the yoke of Rome.”

Marcus said, “Yes, that’s my boy! Your father has very often done the like for his ungrateful country.”

“And, uncle, so will I, if I live,” young Lucius said.

“Come, go with me into my armory,” Titus said. “Young Lucius, I’ll outfit you; and my boy, you shall carry from me to the Empress’ sons presents that I intend to send to both of them. Come, come; you’ll deliver the message, won’t you?”

“Yes, with my dagger in their bosoms, Grandfather.”

“No, boy, no,” Titus said. “I’ll teach you another course of action. Lavinia, come. Marcus, look after my house. Young Lucius and I will go and swagger at the court. Yes, by the virgin Mary, we will, sir; and we’ll not be ignored.”

Titus, Lavinia, and young Lucius exited.

Marcus Andronicus, who felt that Titus was exhibiting signs of insanity and therefore would not be able to get revenge, said to himself, “Heavens, can you hear a good man groan, and not relent or feel compassion for him? I, Marcus, will attend Titus in his bout of insanity. He has more scars of sorrow in his heart than enemy soldiers’ marks upon his battered shield, but yet he is so just that he will not get revenge. Get revenge, Heavens, for old Titus Andronicus!”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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