Titus Andronicus continues to decline through the third act. More hands come off and now we add some heads to boot. The Andronici find themselves in deepest mourning and yet, I have the feeling that things can still get worse.
Act III is only two scenes and the first one is a doozy. The young Andronici are being led to the gallows with Titus following and pleading for his sons. He is ignored and they continue on their way with Lucius following behind with his sword drawn. It turns out he has been banished from Rome so now he plans to free his brothers through murder. Titus says that will be a waste. Marcus shows up with Lavinia in her newly diminished state. Titus says he can’t possibly be any sadder than he already is.
Aaron then comes on the scene to tell them that if one of the remaining Andronici sends his hand to Saturninus, then the emperor will spare the boys. Titus, Marcus, and Lucius argue over who gets the honor of chopping off their own hand, but in the end it’s Titus. Aaron leaves, gloating, and we find out rather quickly that this was all a ruse and Titus’ hand is sent back to him with interest. Saturninus has also sent the heads of his two sons along with his own extremity.
At this point Titus starts laughing inappropriately because he says he has no more tears to shed. This is perhaps the most relatable he has been to me. He has reached the far side of grief and laughter is a more potent form of release than weeping. The scene ends with Titus urging Lucius to leave Rome and raise an army among the Goths. Won’t that be a fitting end?
The next scene is quick and shows us a family in mourning. Titus is mad in his grief, yet somehow is aware of his madness. He urges Lavinia to kill herself rather than live as she is. Marcus admonishes him and then kills a fly. Titus is enraged at the senseless killing of the fly, saying that the fly may have had a father who fought for his homeland. Marcus is confused and makes a rather untoward comparison of the fly to Aaron and Titus says well, then, that’s okay. The scene ends with Titus taking Lavinia off to go read to her.
It seems to me that Lucius will return at the end of the play with the Goths, who will end up killing Tamora, their erstwhile queen, in the fullest form of irony that Shakespeare can employ. I can only suppose that they will be too late and Titus’ fate will be sealed by that time. I’m not familiar with the end of this play, but that feels right and suitable Shakespearean.