David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TITUS ANDRONICUS: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 1

— 5.1 —

Near Rome, Lucius talked to some of the Goths in his army.

He said, “Proven warriors, and my faithful friends,I have received letters from great Rome,which tell how the Romans hate their Emperorand how desirous they are to see us.Therefore, great lords, be, as your titles witness,imperious and impatient to right the wrongs done to you,and where Rome has done you any harm, wreak triple satisfaction on Saturninus.”

A Goth leader replied, “Brave scion, sprung from the great Titus Andronicus,whose name was once our terror, but is now our comfort, andwhose high exploits and honorable deedsungrateful Rome requites with foul contempt,have confidence in us. We’ll follow wherever you lead us. We will be like stinging bees on the hottest summer’s dayled by their master to the flowered fields,and we will be avenged on cursed Tamora.”

The other Goths said, “And as he speaks, so say we all with him.”

“I humbly thank him, and I thank you all,” Lucius said. “But who is coming here, led by a strong, powerful Goth?”

A Goth with a drawn sword led Aaron to Lucius. Aaron had his infant son in his arms.

The Goth who had taken Aaron prisoner said, “Renowned Lucius, from our troops I strayedto gaze upon a ruined monastery, and as I earnestly looked upon the destroyed building, suddenlyI heard a child cry underneath a wall.I went to the noise, and soon I heardthe crying babe calmed with this affectionate discourse:‘Peace, black slave, half me and half your mother!If only your hue had not betrayed whose brat you are,if only nature had lent you your mother’s look,if only your skin color were white instead of black, villain, you might have been an Emperor.But when the bull and cow are both milk-white,they never beget a coal-black calf.Quiet, villain, quiet!’ — and so he talked to the babe — ‘For I must carry you to a trusty Goth, who, when he knows you are the Empress’ babe,will treat you well for your mother’s sake.’

“Hearing this, I drew my weapon and rushed upon him, surprised him suddenly, and brought him here so you can treat him as you think best.”

Lucius replied, “Worthy Goth, this is the incarnate devil who robbed Titus Andronicus of his good left hand. This is the pearl that pleased your Empress’ eye, and this babe here is the base fruit of his burning lust.”

Lucius was referring to a proverb when he called Aaron a pearl: A black man is a pearl in the eyes of a fair woman.

He said to Aaron, “Say, glaring-eyed slave, where would you convey this growing image of your fiend-like face? Why don’t you speak? What, are you deaf? Not a word will you speak to me? Bring a noose, soldiers! Hang him on this tree and by his side hang his fruit of bastardy.”

“Don’t touch the boy,” Aaron said. “He is of royal blood.”

“He is too much like the father to ever be good,” Lucius said. “First hang the child, so that Aaron may see the child’s death throes: a sight that will vex the father’s soul.”

Aaron, filled with bravado, said, “Get me a ladder.”

A Goth brought a ladder, and Aaron climbed it. Some Goths tied a noose to a tree.

Aaron said, “Lucius, save the child, and carry it from me to the Empress. If you do this, I’ll tell you wondrous things that may be highly to your advantage to hear. If you will not, then befall whatever may befall, I’ll speak no more but ‘May vengeance rot you all!’”

“Speak on, and if what you say pleases me, your child shall live, and I will see that it is taken care of,” Lucius replied.

“And if what I say pleases you?” Aaron said. “Why, be assured, Lucius, what I have to tell you will vex your soul to hear because I must talk of murders, rapes, and massacres, acts of black night, abominable deeds, evil plots, treasons, villainies lamentable to hear and performed with full knowledge that they would cause people to feel pity. All of this shall be buried by my death, unless you swear to me my child shall live.”

“Tell me what you have to say,” Lucius said. “I say your child shall live.”

“Swear that he shall live, and then I will begin.”

“By whom should I swear? You believe in no god. That granted, how can you believe an oath?”

“So what if I do not believe in any god?” Aaron asked. “It is true, indeed, that I do not, but because I know that you are religious and have a thing within you called conscience, with twenty popish tricks and ceremonies that I have seen you being careful to observe, I therefore want your oath. If I know that an idiot fool regards his bauble — a jester’s stick with a carved head on one end — as a god and keeps the oath that he swears by that god, then I would want him to make an oath. Therefore, you shall vow by that god, whatever god it is, whom you adore and hold in reverence, to save my boy, to nourish and nurse and bring him up — or else I will reveal nothing to you.”

“By my god, I swear to you I will take care of your son,” Lucius said.

“First know that I begot him on the Empress,” Aaron said. “Tamora is my son’s mother.”

“She is a most insatiable and lecherous woman!”

“Tut, Lucius, this was but a deed of charity in comparison to that which you shall hear me tell you now. It was her two sons who murdered Bassianus. They cut out your sister’s tongue and raped her and cut off her hands and trimmed her as you have seen.”

“Detestable villain! Do you call that trimming?”

“Why, she was washed and cut and trimmed, and it was trim entertainment for them who had the doing of it.”

The word “trim” has multiple meanings. “To trim” means “to prune” or “to cut.” Lavinia had been pruned of her hands. “Trim” also had a sexual meaning in their society: A woman who has been trimmed is no longer a virgin. The “trim” entertainment enjoyed by Demetrius and Chiron was a sexual entertainment. Aaron’s sentence also compared Lavinia to a piece of meat that was washed and cut and trimmed so that it could be cooked.

“Tamora’s two sons are barbarous, beastly villains, like yourself!” Lucius shouted.

“Indeed, I was their tutor and instructed them. Their lecherous nature they inherited from their mother. She is like a high card guaranteed to win a game of cards; her lecherous nature guaranteed that their nature would be lecherous. The bloodthirstiness of their minds, I think, they learned from me. I am as true a dog as ever fought at head; I am like a bulldog that always attacks a bull head-on.

“Well, let my deeds be witness of my worth. I guided your brothers to that treacherous hole where the dead corpse of Bassianus lay. I wrote the letter that your father found, and I hid the gold that the letter mentioned. I was a confederate with the Queen and her two sons. What haven’t I done that you have cause to rue? I always was involved in whatever has caused you grief. I cheated your father out of his hand, and, when I had his severed hand, I drew myself apart and almost injured my heart with extreme laughter — I nearly died from laughing. I was looking through the crevice of a wall when Titus, in exchange for his hand, received his two sons’ heads. I saw his tears, and I laughed so heartily that both of my eyes were as rainy as his. And when I told the Empress about this entertainment, she almost swooned at my pleasing tale, and for my good news gave me twenty kisses.”

The Goth leader said, “Can you say all this, and admit to doing all these evil deeds, and never blush?”

“I can blush like a black dog, as the common saying goes,” Aaron replied.

“Aren’t you sorry for committing all these heinous deeds?” Lucius asked.

“Yes, I’m sorry,” Aaron replied. “I’m sorry that I have not done a thousand more evil deeds. Even now I curse the day — and yet, I think, few days come within the compass of my curse — wherein I did not do some notorious evil, such as kill a man, or else plan his death; rape a virgin, or plot the way to do it; accuse some innocent person and commit perjury; make two friends hate each other and wish the other to die; set snares to make poor men’s cattle break their necks; set barns and haystacks on fire in the night, and tell the owners to quench the fires with their tears. Often I have dug up dead men from their graves, and set them upright at their dear friends’ doors, at a time when their friends had almost recovered from sorrow, and on the dead men’s skins, as if on the bark of trees, I have with my knife carved in Roman letters, ‘Let not your sorrow die, although I am dead.’ Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things as willingly as one would kill a fly, and nothing grieves me heartily indeed except that I cannot do ten thousand more dreadful things.”

Lucius said, “Bring down the devil; for he must not die so sweet a death as hanging immediately.”

Aaron climbed down from the ladder and said, “If there are devils, I wish I were a devil and would live and burn in everlasting fire, so that I might have your company in Hell and torment you with my bitter tongue!”

“Sirs, gag his mouth, and let him speak no more,” Lucius said.

Some Goths gagged Aaron.

Another Goth walked over to Lucius and said, “My lord, a messenger has come from Rome and wants to be admitted to your presence.”

“Let him come near,” Lucius ordered.

A Goth brought Aemilius, the noble Roman who was serving as a messenger, to Lucius, who recognized him.

“Welcome, Aemilius. What’s the news from Rome?”

“Lord Lucius, and you Princes of the Goths, the Roman Emperor sends all of you his greetings, and because he understands that you are armed and marching to Rome, he wants a parley with you at your father’s house. If you want hostages to guarantee your safety, they shall be immediately delivered.”

The Goth leader asked Lucius, “What does our general say?”

Lucius said, “Aemilius, let the Emperor give his pledges — the hostages — to my father and my uncle Marcus, and we will come.”

He then ordered the Goths, “Let us march away.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserve\

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1 Response to David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TITUS ANDRONICUS: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 1

  1. tref says:

    These days it’s hard to get a goth off the couch much less to march, but I guess it was a different time.

    Liked by 1 person

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