To be fair, I never expected a Shakespearean tragedy to be a barrel of laughs, but Act II of Titus Andronicus went places I was not expecting. I was not overly surprised that there was rape and murder, but I was thrown by the cruelty displayed by some of the characters and even though just last time I was saying I wouldn’t be able to sympathize with Titus, I already feel bad for him and his whole family.
The act opens with Aaron, a Moor who is having an affair with Tamora, attempting to break up a fight between Tamora’s sons, Demetrius and Chiron. They are fighting over who gets to lay claim to Lavinia, new wife to Bassianus. Aaron says y’all aren’t thinking straight, but if you really want to get Bassianus out of the way and have Lavinia to yourselves, well then the forest is a great place to make that happen.
The action now moves to the forest where there is an imperial hunt going on with all our characters in attendance. Aaron hides a bag of gold by a tree and Tamora meets him nearby where he gives her a letter to give to Saturninus when the time is right. Bassianus and Lavinia arrive and deduce Aaron and Tamora are having an affair. Before they can leave to tell on them, Demetrius and Chiron show up and Tamora tells them Bassianus and Lavinia lured her out to the forest to spread falsities about her to Saturninus. Demetrius and Chiron then stab Bassianus. In a truly disturbing piece of dialogue, Chiron says, “drag hence her husband to some secret hole and make his dead trunk a pillow to our lust”. I mean, that’s not necessary, is it? And why did Aaron and Tamora even run with the pretense that Bassianus was insulting them when the boys wanted to kill him and take his wife anyway? Seems like a bit of overkill to me.
Really, it only gets worse from here. The boys drag Lavinia off and Aaron lures Titus’ sons Quintus and Martius to the hole where Bassianus’ body was dumped. One of the guys falls in and Aaron runs off to bring Saturninus and the gang around. They arrive and Tamora walks up and says she has a letter to give Saturninus. It lays out the plot to kill Bassianus and collect a reward in gold. They find the gold by the tree and Quintus and Martius are taken off to be executed. Once everyone is gone, Demetrius and Chiron drag Lavinia out of the deep part of the woods where they had been and we learn that they have cut out Lavinia’s tongue and cut off her hands so that she cannot speak or write who has done this to her. They saunter off laughing and her uncle Marcus shows up wanting to know why she looks such a mess. This is where the act ends.
I don’t know, this part was pretty rough to get through. It has certainly made the Goths out to be inhuman and served to make me sympathize with the Andronici. Hopefully that was as rough as this play gets. I guess we will wait and see next time on another thrilling episode of Hey, Shakespeare!