Act Three: Can You Give Me a Hand (or 3)?

Act Three, Scene One of Titus Andronicus begins with a procession of Judges and Senators heading to the trial of Martius and Quintus.  Titus, attempting to get them to hear his pleas, prostrates himself before them and gives a long (26 line) speech.  What he doesn’t know is that the audience isn’t there, they’ve walked on by.

His son Lucius (who enters “with his weapon drawn” [III.i.22ff s.d.]) finds him in mid-speech, and tells him that he speaks only to a stone.  Titus doesn’t care:

Why, tis no matter, man; if they did hear,
They would not mark me, or if they did mark,
They would not pity me, yet plead I must;
Therefore I tell my sorrows to the stones;

— III.i.33-36

He “must” plead, even if the end result is nothing positive. [Kinda sounds like revenge, no?] Titus asks his son why he is carrying a sword.  Lucius replies that he had attempted to rescue his brothers, and for his actions had been banished from Rome.

This has been a bad day for Titus and his offspring… a very bad day (and it’s going to get worse)

Surprisingly, Titus greets the news of Lucius’ banishment positively; at least Lucius will be out of Rome.  That positive vibe lasts exactly seven lines before Marcus enters the stage with the raped and mutilated Lavinia.  Titus is crushed.  He wants to chop off his own hands in sympathy.  It is a dismal scene, and it only gets worse with the entrance of Aaron, who brings word from Saturninus (supposedly), that if either Titus or Lucius or Marcus will cut off and send his hand to the emperor, then that will ransom the other two sons.

The male Andronici are all over it, each stating that he wants to be the one to lose a hand.  Lucius and Marcus are adamant that Titus should not be the one to sacrifice; he has already given too much to Rome.  Titus, the cagey old man that he is, tells his son and brother that he’ll spare his own hand and sends them off to get an ax.  The second they leave, he tells Aaron, “Come hither, Aaron; I’ll deceive them both: // Lend me thy hand, and I will give thee mine” (III.i.186-187). [Ba-dum-bump! This a bad joke on the highest (or would that be lowest?) level…] Aaron cuts off Titus’ hand, and departs, saying, “I go, Andronicus: and for thy hand // Look by and by to have thy sons with thee” (III.1.200-201), and then as an aside: “Their heads, I mean” (III.i.202). [nyuk, nyuk, nyuk… ya gotta admit, the guy does have a certain over-the-top style]

Brother and son return, and after some familial lamenting, enter a messenger from Saturninus (“with two heads and a hand” [II.i.233ff s.d.]):

Worthy Andronicus, ill art thou repaid
For that good hand thou sent'st the emperor.
Here are the heads of thy two noble sons;
And here's thy hand, in scorn to thee sent back;
Thy griefs their sports, thy resolution mock'd;
That woe is me to think upon thy woes
More than remembrance of my father's death.

— III.i.234-240

Not only did Aaron lie about the ransom, but the emperor sends the heads of the executed sons and the cut-off hand back to Titus.  This is some truly f’ed-up stuff, so much so that even the messenger says that this makes him sadder than his own father’s death. [by the way, I’m wondering if this is the first use of “woe is me” in literature…. (that would be a resounding NO… it has been used in literature since the 13th century)]

More lamentation (with everyone feeling completely defeated), but midway through, Titus stops, and Marcus asks why he has frozen.  Titus’ response is chilling… a three syllable line: “Ha, ha, ha!” (III.i.264).  He has had enough crying; with eyes clouded with tears, he says, how “shall (he) find Revenge’s cave?” (III.i.270).  He is now a man with a mission.  He sends Lucius off to his banishment, but more importantly to raise an army to invade Rome.  As for Titus, his brother and daughter, they need to regroup… but they need to get home first.  So, Titus gives them jobs for the trip home:

Come, brother, take a head;
And in this hand the other I will bear.
Lavinia, thou shalt be employ'd in this:
Bear thou my hand, sweet wench, between thy teeth.

— III.i.279-282

Sick, sick stuff.

The second and last scene in Act Three is a short one, in which the Andronici eat a meal to gather strength for what they need to do.  There is a philosophical argument between brothers when Titus takes offense to Marcus’ killing of a fly… but by the end of the scene, Titus is trying to kill flies with a knife as well.  Marcus begins to wonder if all this grief is taking its toll on the old man.

We’ve got to wonder that, too…