Fathers and Sons (and Mother and Sons… and Father and Daughter)

A little over a week ago, we discussed the concept of brotherhood in Titus Andronicus (to no real conclusion, if memory serves).  Today, let’s take a look at another kind of familial relationship: parent and child.

We have four parents in the play:

  • Aaron: one infant son
  • Lucius: at least one son
  • Tamora: at least three sons
  • Titus: 25 sons and (at least) one daughter

Aaron has only one son, and it would have been called a “bastard” in Shakesepare’s day.  Aaron uses the term “son” only twice in reference to the baby, but calls the child a multitude of other names, both positive (“blossom” [IV.ii.72], “boy” [IV.ii.90], “heir” [IV.ii.92], “lad” [IV.ii.119], “child” [IV.ii.140, V.i.53, and V.i.68], “treasure” [IV.ii.174], “boy” [V.i.49]) and negative (“blowze” (IV.ii.72), “slave” (IV.ii.120,176) [and “slave” (V.i.27), “brat” (V.i.28), and “villain” (V.i.30, 33),  if we are to believe the Second Goth…and I’m not sure I do*]). And all this in only two scenes.  After he learns he has a son, his world becomes centered on his child: “For it is you (the baby) that puts us to your shifts” (IV.ii.177).  NOT what we expect from our play’s biggest villain.

Lucius never uses the word “son” at all in reference to Young Lucius; he uses the term only to describe his own relationship to Titus (and once to state that Titus has “slain [his] son” [I.i.296], Mutius).  Lucius sees the role of son as one filled with “duties” (V.i.155).  Interesting, then, that he never speaks to his own son; in the text, he’s only on stage with his father once, in the last scene, and even then it is Marcus who speaks to the boy, not the father.  Lucius’ last speech in Act Three, Scene Two, can be seen to contain a named reference to Lucius (“But now nor Lucius nor Lavinia lives // But in oblivion and hateful griefs” [III.ii.294-295] and Julie Taymor plays it this way in her Titus [1999]), it’s more likely a reference to himself in the third person (after all, he has two other such references in the same speech).

Tamora uses the term “son” in reference to either Alarbus, Chiron or Demetrius seven times.  Two are neutral, four are positive in connotation (“dear” [I.i.111,456], “first-born” [I.i.123], and “sweet” [II.iii.179]), and one negative: “And let my spleenful sons this trull defloure” (II.iii.191).  While the connotation of “spleenful” here is negative–filled with passion, irritable–it must also be noted that in Shakespeare’s day there was a belief in the four “humors,” body elements that controlled a person’s health, both emotional and physical.  The spleen is the organ that produces the worst of these humors, black bile, as well as the organ that is “the seat of melancholy or morose feelings” (OED).  The rest of her statement isn’t so much a justification of their act of rape (“defloure”), but a rationalization of it (Lavinia is the daughter of Titus, and therefore a “trull” or whore, who deserves what she gets).

This is a weird juxtaposition.  After the rape, Tamora barely acknowledges her own sons, and praises Titus’.  Is she feeling (Lady Macbeth-ian) guilt?  Does Tamora soften after the rape?  No, she sends her newborn baby to Aaron to kill, so I think we can safely say no to that.  But it’s weird, all the same.

After the rape, she doesn’t refer to her sons by the word “son” or even by name.  She does, however, make reference to Titus’ sons.  Before the rape, Titus’ sons are “traitorous” (I.i.455) and she plans to “massacre” (I.i.453) them, but after they are “valiant” (IV.iv.30) and “thrice-valiant” (V.ii.112).  Granted, in the latter references, she is speaking to Titus (in the guise of “Revenge”), but in the former, she is speaking to Saturninus, someone to whom she could vent her innermost anger and passion.

As for Titus, he uses the term “son” more than any other character in reference to his own offspring: 21 times (hmmmm, Titus had lost 21 sons before the start of the play… interesting… but completely coincidental, I’m sure).  Negative uses, all in reference to either his sons’ attempt to block his pursuit of Bassianus and Lavinia, count only four.  Titus uses the term seven times in fashions that are either positive (“valiant” [I.i.82 and I.i.198] and “dear” [III.i.22]) or piteous (“accursed” [II.iii.290], “condemned” [III.i.8], “sons’ sweet blood” [III.i.15], and “wretched” [III.i.98]).  Most of Titus’ total uses are neutral in connotations (“my sons” and the like), ten in total; his final use is interesting as he hands (pun intended) his severed hand to Aaron to take to Saturninus:

Good Aaron, give his majesty my hand:
Tell him it was a hand that warded him
From thousand dangers; bid him bury it;
More hath it merited; that let it have.
As for my sons, say I account of them
As jewels purchased at an easy price;
And yet dear too, because I bought mine own.

— III.i.193-199

Titus has sacrificed his hand for his sons; he “accounts” for them (“to reckon to, put to the credit of” [OED]).  Within moments, not only will his hand be gone, but his sons, too… as well as all further use of the word by Titus.  Never again does he use the term to describe any of his sons, living or dead.

He does refer to Lucius by name eight times, however, but only after Lucius is the only son left to him (after the arrest of Martius and Quintus).  It’s almost as if he’s making up for lost time.  At no other point in the play does he refer to any of his other sons by name.  Lavinia, the daughter, on the other hand, gets better “referential” treatment; Titus uses her name 18 times, and in all but four he actually uses it to address his daughter.  He uses the term “daughter” only once, though, just as he’s about to kill her rapists:

For worse than Philomel you used my daughter,
And worse than Progne I will be revenged:
And now prepare your throats.

— V.ii.194-196

It’s almost as if he can bear to say her name, but not her connection to him, not until he is ready to revenge her rape.

Aaron obviously loves his son, centers his world around him.  Lucius, who at the end of the play will be a father to all Rome, barely acknowledges his own son.  Tamora is willing to plead for her sons, praises her sons and urges them on to villainies; but once the villainies are done, she can no longer refer to her sons as hers and is even willing to send her newborn baby to its death.  Titus can talk about his sons, but until it’s nearly too late, he can’t address them by name, and then cannot bring himself to use the term “son.”  And while he can lavish verbal attention on Lavinia, he cannot bear to state that relationship, either, until the moment he can avenge her loss.

I’m not sure what all this has to say about Shakespeare or even the play in general.  But it’s all interesting subtext for the actors taking on the roles.

Here’s why I think the Second Goth is an unreliable source:
When Aaron uses the term “slave,” he precedes the term with “black” and “thick-lipped,” respectively, almost with a racial pride.  The Goth has Aaron calling his son a “tawny” slave.  And while many have translated tawny to mean “dark,” the word wasn’t used to describe brown-skinned people until 1660, nearly 70 years after the composition of the play (Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM [v. 4.0]); until then tawny meant “brown with a preponderance of yellow or orange” (OED).  And I simply don’t see Aaron saying that.

And “brat”?  I don’t think so.

Now “villain” is another matter.  But even here, I think the Goth is unreliable.  While Aaron refers to what he does as “villainies” (V.i.65), he never calls himself a “villain”… so I don’t see him calling his son one, either.