David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TITUS ANDRONICUS: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 2

— 4.2 —

In a room in the palace, Aaron, Demetrius, and Chiron were talking when young Lucius, with an attendant carrying a bundle, entered the room. The bundle consisted of weapons with a scroll of writing wrapped around them.

Chiron, who like the others had heard rumors of Titus Andronicus’ insanity, said, “Demetrius, here’s the son of Lucius. He has some message to deliver to us.”

Aaron said, “Yes, some mad message from his mad grandfather.”

Young Lucius, who had heard the comment, said, “My lords, with all the humbleness I may, I greet your honors from Titus Andronicus.”

He thought, And I pray that the Roman gods destroy both of you!

“Thank you, lovely young Lucius,” Demetrius said. “What’s the news?”

Young Lucius thought, The news is that we now know that you two villains have committed rape and mutilation.

He said out loud, “May it please you, my grandfather, who is sound of mind, has sent by me the best weapons from his armory to please you honorable youths, who are the hope of Rome — so he told me to say, and so I say it. He wanted me to present your lordships with these gifts of weapons so that, whenever you have need to be, you will be well armed and well equipped, and so I now leave you both.”

The attendant handed over the gift of weapons, and young Lucius thought, And so I now leave you both, Demetrius and Chiron, you bloody villains.

Young Lucius and the attendant exited.

Demetrius said, “What’s this? A scroll, with words written round about it? Let’s see.”

He read out loud, “Integer vitae, scelerisque purus, non eget Mauri jaculis, nec arcu.”

This is Latin for “He who is of upright life and free from crime does not need the javelins or the bow of the Moor.”

Chiron said, “Oh, it is a verse in Horace; I know it well. I read it in my grammar book long ago.”

The passage is a quotation from Horace’s Odes, I, xxii, 1-2.

“Yes, correct,” Aaron said. “It is a verse in Horace; right, you have it.”

He thought, What a thing it is to be an ass! Here’s no sound jest — this is not at all a joke! Titus Andronicus, that old man, has discovered their guilt, and he sends them weapons wrapped about with a scroll containing a message that wounds to the quick although Demetrius and Chiron are too stupid to feel it. If our intelligent Empress were up and about instead of giving birth, she would applaud Andronicus’ ingenuity, but I will let her rest in her unrest for a while longer.

Aaron said out loud, “And now, young lords, wasn’t it a happy star that led us to Rome, although we were strangers, and more than that, we were captives, and we have advanced to this height? It did me good before the palace gate to defy Marcus the Tribune in his brother Titus’ hearing.”

Demetrius said, “But it does me more good to see so great a lord as Titus basely curry favor with us by sending us gifts.”

He thought that Titus had given them the weapons as a way of gaining entry into the royal court.

Aaron said, “Doesn’t he have a good reason to give you gifts, Lord Demetrius? Didn’t you treat his daughter in a very friendly way?”

Demetrius replied, “I wish we had a thousand Roman dames cornered in a desolate place so that they would be forced to take turns satisfying our lust.”

Chiron said, “That is a charitable wish and full of love.”

Aaron said, “All that is lacking is for your mother to say ‘amen’ and give you her blessing.”

“And she would do that even if we wished for twenty thousand more Roman dames,” Chiron said.

“Come, let us go and pray to all the gods for our beloved mother in her pains of childbirth,” Demetrius said.

Aaron thought, Pray to the devils; the gods have abandoned us. Titus Andronicus knows who raped and mutilated Lavinia.

Trumpets sounded.

“Why do the Emperor’s trumpets sound like this?” Demetrius asked.

“Probably for joy,” Chiron said. “Probably the Emperor has a son.”

Demetrius said, “Quiet! Who is coming toward us?”

A nurse entered the room. In her arms, she carried a newly born black infant: a boy.

“Good morning, lords,” the nurse said. “Tell me, have you seen Aaron the Moor?”

Aaron answered, “Well, more or less, or never a whit at all.”

He added, “Here Aaron is: I am he. What do you want with Aaron?”

“Oh, gentle Aaron, we are all undoneand ruined!” the nurse said. “Now help us, or may woe overwhelm you forevermore!”

“Why, what a caterwauling you keep up!” Aaron said to her. “What do you have so clumsily wrapped in your arms?”

“I have that which I would hide from the eyes of Heaven. I have our Empress’ shame, and stately Rome’s disgrace! She is delivered, lords; she is delivered.”

“Delivered?” Aaron said. “To whom?”

“I mean that she has given birth,” the nurse said.

“Well, God give her good rest! What has God sent her?” Aaron said.

“A devil.”

This society regarded the devil as being the color black.

“Why, then she is the devil’s dam; this is a joyful issue.”

“A joyless, dismal, black, and sorrowful issue,” the nurse said. “Here is the babe, as loathsome as a toad among the light-complexioned parents of our land. The Empress sends it to you. This babe is your stamp, your seal, your issue, and she bids you to christen it with your dagger’s point.”

The Empress Tamora wanted Aaron to kill his own child. If the Emperor Saturninus were to see the child, he would know immediately that he was not the father and that Tamora had cheated on him.

“Damn, you whore!” Aaron said. “Is black so base a color?”

He looked at his son and said, “Sweet blowse, you are a beauteous blossom, to be sure.”

A “blowse” was a red-faced girl. Of course, Aaron was speaking ironically.

Demetrius and Chiron knew immediately that Aaron had fathered the infant.

“Villain, what have you done?” Demetrius said.

“I have done that which you can not undo,” Aaron replied.

“You have undone our mother,” Chiron said. “You have ruined her reputation. Now the Emperor will know that she has been unfaithful to him.”

“Villain, I have done your mother,” Aaron said. “I have slept with her.”

“And therein, Hellish dog, you have undone her,” Demetrius said. “Woe to her luck, and may her loathed choice be damned! The offspring of so foul a fiend is cursed!”

“The infant shall not live,” Chiron said.

“The infant shall not die,” Aaron said.

“Aaron, it must die,” the nurse said. “The mother wants it to be killed.”

“What! Must it be killed, nurse?” Aaron said. “Then let no man but I execute my flesh and blood.”

He meant that no man would execute his flesh and blood — he certainly would not.

“I’ll pierce the tadpole on my rapier’s point,” Demetrius said. “Nurse, give it to me; my sword shall soon dispatch and kill it.”

“Sooner than that, this sword shall plow your bowels up,” Aaron said as he took the infant from the nurse and drew his sword.

“Stop, murderous villains!” Aaron shouted. “Will you kill your brother? Now, by the burning candles of the sky that shone so brightly when this boy was conceived, whoever touches this my first-born son and heir dies upon my scimitar’s sharp point. I tell you, youngsters, that the giant Enceladus, with all his threatening band of the giant Typhon’s giant brood — all of whom threatened the Olympic gods — shall not seize this prey out of his father’s hands. And neither great Hercules nor the war-god Mars shall seize this prey out of his father’s hands.

“What! What! You red-faced, shallow-hearted boys! You white-limed walls! You alehouse painted signs! You are copies of men — not real men! Coal-black is better than another hue because it scorns to bear another hue — black cloth cannot be dyed another color. All the water in the ocean can never turn the swan’s black legs white, although the sea washes them hourly in the tide.

“Tell the Empress from me that I am of an age to keep what is my own, excuse it how she can.”

“Will you betray your noble mistress in this way?” Demetrius asked.

“My mistress is my mistress,” Aaron replied. “This infant is myself, the vigor and the picture of my youth. I prefer this infant to all of the world. I will keep this infant safe in spite of all the world, or some of you shall smoke for it in Rome.”

The word “smoke” was a metaphor for “be punished.” The metaphor came from the smoke arising from a burning at the stake.

“By this our mother is forever shamed,” Demetrius said.

“Rome will despise her for this foul sexual escapade,” Chiron said.

“The Emperor, in his rage, will sentence the Empress to death,” Demetrius said.

“I blush when I think about this ignominy,” Chiron said.

“Why, there’s the privilege your fair beauty bears,” Aaron said. “A white face can blush. White is a treacherous hue that will betray with blushing the secret resolutions and counsels of the heart!”

Referring to his infant son, he said, “Here’s a young lad framed of another leer. Look at how the black slave smiles upon the father, as if he should say, ‘Old lad, I am your own.’ He is your brother, lords, clearly nourished with that blood that first gave life to you, and from that same womb where you were imprisoned, he is freed and come to light.

“Certainly, he is your brother by the surer side, although my seal is stamped in his face.”

The surer side is the mother’s. In the days before DNA testing, people could be sure who a child’s mother is, but because of the existence of cheating wives, people could not always be certain who the child’s father is.

 “Aaron, what shall I say to the Empress?” the nurse asked.

“Advise us, Aaron, what is to be done,” Demetrius said. “And we will all subscribe to your advice. Save the child, as long as we may all be safe.”

“Then let us sit down, and let us all consult,” Aaron said. “My son and I will keep downwind of you. Stay there.”

Aaron was mistrustful. He wanted to keep Demetrius and Chiron at a distance from him and his son in order to protect his son’s life.

Demetrius and Chiron sat down.

Aaron then said, “Now we can talk as we wish about your safety.”

“How many women saw this child of Aaron’s?” Demetrius asked.

“Why, that’s the way to act, brave lords!” Aaron said. “When we join together in league, I am a lamb, but if you challenge and defy the Moor, then the angered boar, the mountain lioness, the ocean swells not as much as Aaron storms. You asked a good question. But let me ask it again: How many saw the child?”

“Cornelia the midwife and myself,” the nurse replied. “And no one else but the Empress who gave birth to it.”

“The Empress, the midwife, and yourself,” Aaron said. “Two may keep a secret when the third’s away. Go to the Empress, and tell her I said this.”

He killed the nurse.

Aaron imitated the sounds the nurse made as she died and said, “So cries a pig when it is being prepared to be spitted and roasted.”

Demetrius and Chiron jumped up.

Demetrius asked, “What do you mean by this, Aaron? Why did you do this?”

“Oh, Lord, sir, it is a deed of policy,” Aaron replied. “It is part of a plan. Should the nurse — a long-tongued babbling gossip — live to betray this guilt of ours? No, lords, no. And now I will tell you my full plan. Not far away from here, a man named Muli lives. He is my countryman, and his wife just last night gave birth. His child looks like her; his child is as fair and white as you are. Go and make an agreement with him, and give the mother gold. Tell them everything, and tell them that their child shall be advanced in life — it will be treated as and believed to be the Emperor’s heir. You can substitute their infant for mine and so calm this tempest whirling in the court. Let the Emperor dandle their son on his knee as he thinks that it is his own son.”

Aaron added, “Look, lords; you see that I have given the nurse medicine. And you must now provide a funeral for her. The fields are near, and you are gallant fellows. Once she has been buried, don’t waste time but make sure that you send the midwife immediately to me. Once the midwife and the nurse are dead, then let the court ladies gossip as they please.”

Aaron had said, “Two may keep a secret when the third’s away,” but he preferred this proverb: “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”

“Aaron, I see that you will not trust even the air with secrets,” Chiron said.

“For this taking care of Tamora, she and hers are highly bound to you,” Demetrius said.

Demetrius and Chiron carried away the corpse of the nurse.

Alone, Aaron said, “Now I will go to the Goths as swiftly as a swallow flies. There I will dispose of this treasure — my infant — that I am holding in my arms, and I will secretly greet the Empress’ friends.”

He said tenderly to his infant son, “Come on, you thick-lipped slave, I’ll carry you away from here because it is you who puts us to our makeshifts. I’ll make you feed on berries and on roots, and feed on curds and whey, and suck goats’ milk, and take shelter in a cave, and I will bring you up to be a warrior and command a military camp.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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