Aaron Monologue (Act 5, Scene 1)
Meet Aaron, one of Shakespeare’s most morally reprehensible characters. In this monologue Aarons hens have finally come home to roost. After returning to the Goths to ask them to care for his illegitimate child that he has born with the now Queen of Rome Tamora, after having been there for a significant portion of time, he is captured by them and set to die. This is an incredibly dark and high stakes monologue that is not for the faint of heart. This monologue is at the very, very end of the play. But in order to understand it, let’s take a look at Aarons journey throughout
TW: THIS TEXT CONTAINS SENSITIVE REFERENCES. PLEASE READ WITH CAUTION.
At the beginning of the play we meet the titular character; Titus Andronicus, who is returning home to Rome after being away for the past 10 years at war with the Goths. Upon his return he brings with him a whole bunch of Prisoners including but not limited to Tamora, the Queen of the Goths, her sons Alarbus, Demetrius and Chiron, and her lover Aaron. During some political madness Titus sacrifices Alarbus and Tamora swears she will have her revenge.
Later on during even more political back and forth with people arguing over who’s gonna marry who and who killed who’s children Titus accuses some of his own sons of treason and actually kills one of them. Ultimately this leads to Saturninus, the newly elected emperor of Rome, marrying Tamora and obviously setting them all free.
The next day on a royal hunt Aaron convinces Demetrius and Chiron to murder Bassianus, the brother of Saturninus, and sexually assault and dismember Lavinia. In a horrific show of violence and horror cutting out her tongue and removing her hands from her arms the daughter of Titus. It’s not until much later when her Uncle Marcus finds her in the woods that she receives any help at all. Aaron frames Titus’ sons for the murder.
And so Lavinia is brought to Titus who is beyond distraught to find her in such a condition. Aaron arrives on the scene not long after saying that Saturninus is willing to let Titus’ two sons go for the murder of Bassianus in exchange for one of Titus’ hands. Titus obviously agrees and Aaron removes the hand himself and “takes it to the emperor”.
We learn not long after that Aaron was lying, when a messenger arrives with the two severed heads of Titus’ sons, along with Titus’ own hand. Naturally Titus swears his revenge.
A few days later Lavinia reveals what happened to her. She points to a very similar event in the story Metamorphosis, and used a stick held between her teeth to write the names Demetrius and Chiron in the sand.
Later we find out that Tamora has given birth to a child. But it is clear by the colour of its skin that the child is Aarons and not Saturninus’. So Aaron swaps it out with a baby of a lighter skinned complexion and conspires to save his child by taking it to the goths.
But Aaron is captured, as they are about to execute him, they ask if he regrets his crimes and he has this to say as his final words.
Ay, that I had not done a thousand more.
Even now I curse the day – and yet I think
Few come within the compass of my curse –
Wherein I did not some notorious ill,
As kill a man or else devise his death,
Ravish a maid or plot the way to do it,
Accuse some innocent and forswear myself,
Set deadly enmity between two friends,
Make poor men’s cattle break their necks,
Set fire on barns and haystacks in the night
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.
Oft have I digged up dead men from their graves
And set them upright at their dear friends’ door,
Even when their sorrows almost was forgot,
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
‘Let not your sorrow die though I am dead.’
Tut , I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.
Ill: Bad deeds
Ravish: Sexually Assault
Yes, that I didn’t do a thousand more.
Even now I curse the day, even though there haven’t been that many days like this,
When I didn’t do some heinous thing.
Like kill a man, or plan his death.
Sexually assault a woman, or plan her attack.
Accuse an innocent person and swear on it.
Make two friends hate each other.
Kill the cattle of poor farmers.
Burn down barns in the night and make the owners douse it with their own tears.
I’ve often dug up peoples graves and put the bodies at the doors of their friends, just as they were finished grieving.
And carved into their skins with my knife in roman letters ‘Even though I’m dead don’t let your grief die’, just like carving the bark of a tree.
Tisk, I’ve done a thousand horrible things as easily as killing a fly.
And nothing makes me sadder than the fact that I can’t do a thousand more.
Notes on Performance
Now, in Aaron we find, not unlike Richard the III, a villain who likes being a villain. So it is important to keep that in mind when playing Aaron. He revels in the fact that he does things to people that are reprehensible and enjoys it. Play with that, don’t shy away from it.
With that said, we must keep in mind, also not unlike Richard, the reasons for Aaron being the way he is. Aaron is a Moor. Now the term Moor does not conflate a specific group of people, but was used interchangeably by white, mostly christian Europeans to refer to a large group of people including Arab people and North African Berbers, as well as Muslim Europeans, but generally, it was used to refer to any Muslim person in general. Ultimately, what this means in context of the story we’re telling is that Aaron is a person of colour, and the word Moor was used as a derogatory term. So with that said it brings us back to understanding Aaron. Aaron is a heinous, evil man who does terrible things to people around him and beyond, and there is no excuse or apology for those actions. But much like Richard he has been cast aside his entire life as someone who is different and therefore inferior to the white Europeans he spends time around. With that information it is up to you to make decisions on how you approach this character but the historical context of his circumstances can not go unnoted.
So what the rest of your work comes down to is allowing yourself to connect to the given circumstances, the relationships, and history of Aaron. Meditate on it. Think to yourself: how would I react if I was about to be executed. How would I react if I had been treated as less-than my whole life. And how would I react if I had done these horrific acts with zero remorse whatsoever. What kind of a person would that make me?
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