As Act Two of Titus Andronicus begins, we hear from Aaron the Moor for the first time. He is named in the list of characters as “Aaron, a Moor, lover of Tamora.” Most critics state that Aaron is her slave, but there isn’t much to support this in Aaron’s opening speech, the play’s first soliloquy. [is Aaron the only character to have monologues? we’ll have to wait and see] Aaron makes reference to his “slavish weeds and servile thoughts” (II.i.18), but this is less than clear-cut; and if he is her slave, his job to “wait” on her turns out to be to “wanton” with her (II.i.21), then he would be her sex slave. This may be the appearance, but he says that Tamora is his “prisoner held, fettered in amorous chains, // And … bound to Aaron’s charming eyes” (II.1.15-16). So it’s an interesting relationship to say the least.
Onto the stage come the Queen of Goth Tamora’s two sons, Chiron and Demetrius, talking smack to each other, and the object of their boasts is Lavinia, whom each wants as his lover. The fact that she “belongs” to Bassianus doesn’t seem to bother either. And neither son treats Aaron with any respect, going so far as to draw their swords on him, at the slightest perception of a slight from his part. Then, to these young men, Aaron becomes the voice of reason, as he tries to calm (or at least make more pragmatic) the sons’ desires. They will not be able to win Lavinia’s love, Aaron says, so they must then take a different route, rape:
That what you cannot as you would achieve,
You must perforce accomplish as you may.
Take this of me: Lucrece was not more chaste
Than this Lavinia, Bassianus' love.
They cannot achieve her love, so they must take what they can get. And here TAKE is the key word… Aaron references Lucrece, a famous rape victim, one about whom Shakespeare himself wrote in his long narrative poem “The Rape of Lucrece.” [this piece was written around the same time as Titus Andronicus… so the question arises: did this line reference his own poem, or did his writing here spur thinking about this story and lead to the composition of the poem itself? This sort of chicken-and-egg question comes up more than one time in the Canon (wait until we get to Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream)]
Aaron even gives them advice on how to do the deed:
The woods are ruthless, dreadful, deaf, and dull;
There speak, and strike, brave boys, and take your turns;
There serve your lusts, shadow'd from heaven's eye,
And revel in Lavinia's treasury.
Rape her in the forest, boys… but take your turns. It’s sick. But I can see how it can be played in a truly grotesquely comic way.
The second scene of the act is s short one, and in it we see the beginning of the hunt Titus promised the new Emperor at the end of Act One.
The third scene begins with another soliloquy by Aaron as he hides a bag of gold under a tree. He doesn’t tell us exactly why he’s doing this, only that it will create a “very excellent piece of villainy” (II.iii.7). And here he creates suspense for the rest of the scene.
Tamora joins him on the stage, and through her opening speech we hear some evidence of Aaron’s earlier boast that she is prisoner of his “charming eyes”; she considers what they have is love, a love to rival that of Aeneas and Dido (II.iii.22), one that will leave them “each wreathed in the other’s arms” (II.iii.25). But love is not what interests Aaron; he has plans… plans for the death of Bassianus, as well as the rape and dismemberment of Lavinia, and he then hands Tamora a letter to give to Saturninus. [again, Aaron creates the scene’s suspense… what is going on?]
Tamora questions nothing, accepts all from her lover, and tells Aaron that he is “sweeter to (her) than life” (II.iii.51). He certainly doesn’t seem to be her slave; if anything, it is he who is the puppetmaster. And as Aaron see who’s about enter the scene (Bassianus and Lavinia), he directs Tamora to pick a fight with her new brother-in-law. It doesn’t take any work; both Bassianus and Lavinia are suspicious of Tamora meeting with Aaron (Lavinia going so far as to intimate cuckoldry on Tamora’s part [II.iii.67ff]).
Nice mother, huh? or is that nice muthah…?
Enter the sons, to whom Tamora complains of her treatment by Bassianus… and as any good Gothic son would do, the boys stab and kill him. Chiron then tells his mother of his/their intention to rape Lavinia (“Drag(ging) hence her husband to some secret hole, // And make his dead trunk pillow to our lust” [II.iii.129-30]). And Tamora’s response? Not a reprimand. Not an order to not do this. But rather simply the Aaron-ic advice to not let this come back “us both to sting” (II.iii.132).
Lavinia attempts to beg for her life and chastity to each of the three Goth villains, but to no avail (just as Tamora’s pleas to Titus at the beginning of the play were in vain). And just before they drag off Lavinia for their act of brutality, they deposit Bassianus’ body into the pit “where Aaron bid us hide him” (II.iii.186). [And Aaron’s scene-opening suspense grows…] Re-enter the Moor, leading Titus’ sons Quintus and Martius, and leading them close enough to the pit for them to fall in. Aaron exits long enough for the Roman sons to realize that Bassianus is dead and in the pit with them. Re-enter (again) Aaron, this time with Saturninus, to whom Martius reports (from in the hole) fining Bassianus… in the hole.
kinda comic in a sad way…
Re-enter Tamora, this time with Titus and his last son Lucius. After learning of Bassianus’ death, Tamora bemoans her tardiness with this letter, “this fatal writ” (II.iii.264) that pins the death of Bassianus on Martius and Quintus… and Aaron finds the bag of gold (referenced in the letter) in the pit… evidence and motive… and the sons are taken into custody. Saturninus, more than willing to see Titus’ sons die for this crime, says that they will get to say nothing in their defense: “Let them not speak a word; the guilt is plain” (II.iii.301). Titus’ only comfort comes from–you guessed it!–Tamora, who says that she’ll “entreat the king” (II.iii.304) on his behalf. [lying witch! (or would that be a word that rhymes with “witch”?) … and of course, you can almost picture Aaron laughing… suspense resolved]
The Act’s final scene opens with Chiron and Demetrius entering “with LAVINIA, ravished; her hands cut off, and her tongue cut out” (II.iv.opening s.d.). After cruelly tormenting her, they abandon her, who is then found by Titus’ brother, Marcus. It’s a brutal vision and scene.
And the second act ends.