A Mirror Made From Blood:
Caricaturing Horror in Titus Andronicus
by Mather Walker
It is by now custom for critics to voice their
dislike of Titus Andronicus. [The
title page of quarto found in Bacon's
library.] One of these is Harold Bloom
who, according to the blurb at the beginning of his book,
"SHAKESPEARE The Invention of The Human", spent most of his life
"reading, writing about, and teaching Shakespeare." Bloom says,
"Titus Andronicus is ghastly bad. I can concede no intrinsic
value to Titus Andronicus." Certainly, the play is set in the mold of
the Senecan revenge tragedy, and even has a number of references to
specific plays of Seneca. This type of play was typically filled with
blood and gore, but Titus Andronicus makes that additional effort,
and goes that additional step. In Titus Andronicus Bacon
caricatures horror because he wants to show the extremes that can
arise from the condition he symbolizes.
The Senecan revenge type of tragedy had established a proven popularity with the Elizabethan audiences. In fact, the play Titus Andronicus, was itself extremely popular with Elizabethan playgoers. It would be easy to assume the author was catering to popular taste, and that the play has no further intrinsic value. However, people presumptuous enough to criticize the works of the greatest writer who ever lived have an obligation to examine these works very attentively. A close study of the play leaves Mr. Bloom looking as wilted in his opinion as in his portrait at the end of his book.
Anyone who reads Titus Andronicus attentively cannot fail to note the episode in Act III, scene 2, where Marcus kills the fly because, as he says, "It was a black, ill-favored fly" that reminded him of Aaron, the queen's Moor. Bacon never presented a scene such as this unless it had some significant meaning in relation to the play as a whole. This scene certainly does, and it puts a different face on the whole matter. The devil is in the details, and, in some instances, more literally than in others.
Furthermore, in the play the king's name is Saturninus. This name is derived from Saturn, the titan in mythology who (as the symbol of time) ate his children. Saturninus does not eat his children in the play, however, his wife, the savage Tamora does. In the myth Saturn has two aspects, the benevolent and the savage aspect. On the one hand his reign was said to have been the golden age of innocence and purity, and on the other he was described as a monster who devoured his children. This inconsistency arose because the Saturn of the Romans was merged with the Grecian deity Cronos (time). If one examines the play closely, a number of flip-flops between these two aspects can be discerned, and it is his savage half that eats the children. Does anyone believe this is a coincidence?
I would note one further point before we jump into the deep end of the swimming pool. The afflictions of Titus Andronicus have evident resemblances to the afflictions of Job in the Bible, although those of Job pale somewhat in comparison. Job has been often pointed out as representing Everyman, or mankind in general. The name Andronicus is made up of two parts. The first part, Andro, comes from a Greek root meaning man, or Man, implying mankind in general. Is this also a coincidence?
Actually Titus Andronicus is an allegory throughout, displaying its symbolism on three levels:
1. On the level of Titus himself as an individual man 2. On the level of the Roman Empire as a whole, as Titus personifies the typical Roman commander which, in turn, is a personification of imperial Rome. 3. On a universal level as Titus Andronicus personfies Everyman.
Those critics who denigrated the play should have tried to understand the allegory before they ventured a value judgment. They should have kept in mind the warning in the introduction "To the great Variety of Readers" by John Heminge and Henrie Condell at the beginning of the First Folio:
".if then you do not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him."
At the very least, they should have made an effort to determine what the author was doing in the play. Because, Titus Andronicus is one of the most brilliant and profound plays Bacon ever wrote, and it deals with a subject that is vitally important for all humankind.
In Titus Andronicus, as was his customary practice, Bacon has crafted two faces under the surface, one looking toward the past, and the other toward the future. The face looking toward the past deals specifically with Ancient Roman custom, but the implications of this custom has a universal significance. Before we can consider this, an overview of the story is necessary.
THE FACE LOOKING TOWARD THE PAST
As the play opens Saturninus and Bassianus, sons of the deceased Roman Emperor, both claim the succession. However, Titus Androninus, who is returning from his wars with the Goths, is the people's choice. As is the custom for victorious Roman commanders, Titus appears in triumph with the rulers of those he has conquered. In this case, he has as captives Tamora, the Queen of the Goths, her sons, and the Moor Aaron. Titus is urged by his brother Marcus to become a candidate for the throne, but instead, persuades the people to accept Saturninus.
Titus has brought with him for burial one of his sons who has fallen in battle. In accordance with Roman custom, he has given up his sons to the service of their country, and, with the death of this son he has lost 21 sons who have died in the service of his country. In accordance with Rome custom also, he selects Alarbus, eldest son of Tamora, proudest prisoner of the Goths, as most suitable That his limbs may be hewed to pieces, and on a pile Ad manes fratrum [to the spirits of the brothers] be burned so the shades of the brothers be appeased.
Tamora pleads for the life of her eldest son, but Titus says the religious custom must be followed. The four sons who remain to Titus exit with Alarbus and soon return with their swords all bloody, proudly proclaiming how they have performed the Roman rites, and Alarbus' limbs have been lopped and his entrails fed to the sacrificing fire whose smoke like incense perfumes the sky.
In gratitude for Titus' support Saturninus promises to marry Titus' daughter, Lavinia. Titus is pleased. But Saturninus sees Tamora and is attracted to her. In addition, Bassianus suddenly seizes Lavinia, who has been betrothed to him, and carried her off. Titus' sons assist Bassianus, and Titus kills his son Mutius for preventing the pursuit. Resentful, Saturninus forgets his debt to Titus and determines to marry Tamora. After the marriage rites, Saturninus threatens to make Bassianus and the Andronici suffer for the abduction of Lavinia, but Tamora pretends to make peace, assuring her husband privately that she will find a way to destroy all the Andronici. Saturninus outwardly feigns forgiveness and agrees to join a hunt that Titus proposes for the next morning.
The morning of the hunt the scene opens upon Aaron who is gloating over the fortunate position of Tamora and his dominance of her. He voices his intention to "wanton" with Tamora, and to see the shipwreck of Saturninus and his commonweal. Tamora's sons Chiron and Demetrius enter wrangling over which of them will win the favor of Lavinia, whom both desire. Aaron suggests that the forest offers many secluded spots where Lavinia may be raped and urges them to seek their mother's advice as to the best plan to achieve their desire.
Later we see Aaron bury a bag of gold under a tree in a lonely part of the forest and learn that this is part of a plot he has hatched. When Tamora greets him amorously, he declares that his mind is occupied with vengeance. Bassianus and Lavinia appear on the scene and taunt Tamora about her illicit love for Aaron. In retaliation, Tamora falsely accuses them of threatening her, and Demetrius and Chiron stab Bassianus. Tamora's move to kill Lavinia is stopped by Demetrius, who tells her that they have other plans. When Lavinia realizes what they have in mind, she pleads with Tamora to show mercy by killing her. Tamora tells her sons that Titus rejected her pleas for her own son's life, and that they will best please her by giving Lavinia the worst possible treatment. Demetrius throws Bassianus' body into a nearby pit, and he and Chiron drag Laviania away to rape her. In the meantime, Aaron has lured Titus' sons to the spot and Martius falls into the pit. In the attempt to rescue his brother, Quintus falls in also. Before they can get out Aaron appears with Saturninus. Tamora also arrives, with Titus. She gives Saturninus a letter that Titus found, which reveals a plan to murder Bassianus; it mentions buried gold for the murderer's fee. This forgery by Aaron is accepted by Saturninus as proving the guilt of Titus' sons. He refuses Titus' petition to let them be bailed, and Martius and Quintus are dragged off to prison to wait until Saturninus can devise some never-heard-of torturing pain for them before executing them.
In another part of the forest we see Lavinia with Tamora's sons. They have cut her tongue out, and cut off her hands, and gloat at her saying now lets see if you can tells anyone who ravished you. They leave her there in the forest. She is discovered there by the brother of Titus, Marcus.
In scene three the Judges, Tribunes, and Senators, with Titus's two sons Martius and Quintus bound, pass on the stage to the place of execution, and Titus goes before them pleading for the lives of his sons. When they will not heed him he falls upon the ground and says if they will not hear he will tell his sorrows to the stones. His son, Lucius, appears before him with his sword drawn, and says that he has attempted to rescue his two brothers from their death, and, as a result, the judges have pronounced upon him the everlasting doom of banishment. At this point Marcus appears with Lavinia, and Titus learns what has happened to her. Just when his devastation has reached the point where it seems it cannot become more extreme, Aaron appears. Aaron says that the Emperor has sent word that if Titus will chop off one of his hands and send it to the Emperor he will return both of the sons alive to Titus. Titus allows Aaron to chop off and take one of his hands. Aaron leaves, and soon afterwards, a messenger appears with the heads of his two sons, and with his hand, that the messenger says is sent in scorn back to him.
In his sorrow and rage Titus instructs his son Lucius to go to the Goths and raise and army there so that he may return with them and they may take their revenge. There follows the scene where Marcus kills the fly because it reminds him of Aaron. Next Lavinia turns over the pages of a book of Ovid's Metamorphoses with the stumps of her arms to the tragic tale of Philomel that treats of Tereus' treason and his rape of Philomel. Then she takes a staff in her mouth and guides it with her stumps to write the names "Stuprum-Chiron- Demetrius" in the sand. The meaning of stuprum was rape, and so Titus learns that it was Chiron and Demetrius, the two sons of Tamora who raped and mutilated his Lavinia. `Magni Dominator poli, tam lentus audis scelera? Tam lentus vides?' Titus says, paraphrasing a line from Phaedra a revenge play of Seneca, i.e. "Great ruler of the heavens, are you so slow to hear of crimes and to observe them?"
In scene four a messenger appears at the court of Saturninus announcing the imminent approach of Lucius with an army of Goths, determined to destroy the city. Tamora convinces Saturninus that she will be able to persuade Titus to intercede with his son. She sends a message to Lucius requesting a parley at his father's house.
In Act V, Lucius, encamped near Rome, receives from his soldiers the captured Aaron and his child. He is about to have Aaron hanged when the Moor dissuades him by promising to reveal the villainous deeds he has done on the condition that his child's life is spared. Lucius swears by his gods that he will spare the child, and Aaron reveals the names of the ravishers of Lavinia and the truth about Bassianus' murder. A messenger brings Saturninus' request for a parley, and Lucius agrees to the meeting on condition that hostages are left with Titus.
Tamora plans to fool Titus, whom she believes mad, by assuming a disguise as Revenge, accompanied by her sons disguised as Rape and Murder. She hopes that the deception will enable her to trap Lucius. Titus recognizes the trio but pretends to accept their false identities. He agrees to provide a feast for Tamora and Saturninus when they come to his house, which "Revenge" promises to arrange. She slyly suggests that Lucius be invited, and Titus sends Marcus to invite him. When Tamora departs to make arrangements, Titus has her sons bound. As Lavinia holds a basin with her stumps to catch their blood, Titus cuts their throats, planning to have their blood and bones ground into a paste upon which he will feast their mother.
Saturninus and Tamora duly arrive and are greeted by Titus, who then kills Lavinia, referring to Virginius' slaying of his daughter to spare her shame. He maintains that Demetrius and Chiron are really responsible for his daughter's death and, when asked where they are, points to the pie of which Tamora has already eaten. He stabs Tamora. Saturninus stabs him. Lucius, in turn, kills Saturninus. Marcus and Lucius address the Roman populace, relating the whole story of the injuries done their family. They ask the people to judge whether they have done wrong to avenge such villainies. The people hail Lucius as Emperor. Lucius condemns Aaron to be set in the earth, buried up to his chest, and starved. Tamora's body is to be thrown to scavenging birds and beasts.
What does all this mean? To find the solution we must first understand what the black man Aaron represents in the play. That Aaron was the source of all the villainies he confesses himself. Aaron says to Lucius:
`Twas her two sons that murdered Bassianus; They cut thy sister's tongue, and ravish'd her, And cut her hands, and trimm'd her as thou sawest.
Then he goes on to say that all this arose from him:
Indeed, I was their tutor to instruct them.
That codding spirit had they from their mother,
As sure a card as ever won the set;
That bloody mind, I think, they learn'd of me,
As true a dog as ever fought at head.
Well, let my deeds be witness of my worth.
I train'd thy brethren to that guileful hole
Where the dead corpse of Bassianus lay;
I wrote the letter that thy father found,
And hid the gold within that letter mention'd
Confederate with the Queen and her two sons;
And what not done, that thou hast cause to rue,
Wherein I had no stroke of mischief in it?
I play'd the cheater for thy father's hand,
And, when I had it, drew myself apart
And almost broke my heart with extreme laughter.
I pried me through the crevice of a wall,
When, for his hand, he had his two sons' heads;
Beheld his tears, and laugh'd so heartily
That both mine eyes were rainy like to his;
This is extreme villainy indeed, but when Aaron goes on we begin to realize there is something more than villainy in him. Lucius asks him, "Art thou not sorry for these heinous deeds?" And Aaron says:
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 hay-stacks in the night,
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.
Oft have I digg'd 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.
These are not the words of a man, but of the devil, and Lucius indicates this when he says:
Bring down the devil, for he must not die
So sweet a death as hanging presently.
Aaron is further indicated as the devil by his
name. Lucifer is a translation of the Hebrew word helel, and means
The Shining One. Bacon selected a Hebrew word which was as near in
meaning to this as he could find for his name. Aaron means illumined.
The punishment of Aaron at the end of the play is that he is buried
in the earth, just as was the Fallen Angels (which included Lucifer
among their number) in the legends of the Fallen Angels. When the
nurse comes to Aaron and tells him Tamora is brought a-bed (with his
son). He Says,"Well, God give her good rest! What hath he sent her?"
The nurse replies, "A devil." Aaron says,"Why, then she is the
devil's dam; a joyful issue." To the typical Elizabethan the color
black symbolized evil. The similarity of the afflictions of Titus
with those of Job has been noted on numerous occasions, and the
character corresponding to Aaron in the Book of Job was the devil.
But the most telling point of all is when Marcus kills the fly
because he says the fly reminds him of Aaron. One of the titles of
Beelzebub, who was equated with the devil, was the `Lord of Flies.'
And this scene of Marcus killing the fly symbolizes to us that Aaron
was the devil.
Having determined that Aaron symbolizes the devil, the next step is to determine what the devil symbolizes. Bacon constantly symbolizes various aspects of the inner being of man. The best place to look for an answer is some place where a meditative tradition exists, and where a goodly number of people have spent extensive time engaged in the inner disciplines. What better place than a Buddhist Monastery? In the book "The Empty Mirror" Janwillem Van DeWetering describes how he entered a Zen Monastery to experience the discipline of meditation that was practiced there. The Zen Master authorized his entry into the monastery, however, he told him that he would first like to tell him a short story. The head monk poured some tea, passed around sugar cakes from an ornamental box, and the Zen Master then proceeded to tell the following odd story:
"Some two hundred years ago a gentleman, who lived by himself in a large house not far from here, saw a devil in a cage when he was visiting the market: a devil with a tail, yellow skin, and two long sharp fangs-he was about the size of a large dog. The devil sat quietly in a strong bamboo cage and gnawed on a bone. Next to the cage a merchant was watching the crowd and the gentleman asked him if the devil was for sale.
`Of course,' the merchant said. "Otherwise I wouldn't be here. This is an excellent devil, strong, diligent and able to do anything you want him to do. He knows how to do carpentry, he is a good gardener, he can cook, mend clothes, read you stories, chop wood, and what he doesn't know he can learn. And I don't ask much for him, if you give me 50,000 yen (50 pounds) he is yours."
The gentlemen didn't haggle and paid in cash. He wanted to take the devil home at once.
`One moment,' the merchant said. `Because you haven't bargained with me I want to tell you something. Look here, he is a devil of course, and devils are no good, you know that don't you?'
`And you said he was an excellent devil.' The gentleman said indignantly.
`Sure, sure,' the merchant said, `And that's true as well. He is an excellent devil, but he is not good. He will always remain a devil. You have made a good buy, but only on the condition that you keep him going all the time. Every day you'll have to give him a routine, from this time to that time; you have to chop wood; and then you can start preparing the food; and after dinner you can rest for half an hour, but then you really have to die down and relax; and after that you can dig in the garden, etc., etc. If he has time to spare, if he doesn't know what to do, then he is dangerous.'
`If that's all,' the gentleman said, and took the devil home. And everything went beautifully. Every morning the gentleman called the devil who would kneel down obediently. The gentleman would dictate a daily program and the devil would start his chores and work right through the day. If he wasn't working he rested or played, but whatever he did, he was always obeying orders.
Than, after some months, the gentleman met an old friend in the city, and because of the sudden meeting and the thrill of seeing his old buddy again he forgot everything. He took the friend to a caf and they started drinking sake, one little stone jar after another, and then they had a very good meal and more to drink, and they landed up in the willow quarter. The ladies kept the two friends busy and our gentleman woke up in a strange room, late the next morning. At first he didn't know where he was but gradually it all came back to him and he remembered his devil. His friend had gone and he paid the bill to the women, who looked quite different now from what he remembered the previous evening, and rushed home. When he reached his garden he smelled burning and saw smoke coming from the kitchen. He stormed into his house and saw the devil sitting on the wooden kitchen floor. He had made an open fire and was roasting the neighbor's child on a spit."
If we dig a little deeper in the Buddhist tradition we find that the followers of Buddha were those who fought sleep. In the legend of Buddha when he had achieved illumination, Gautama went to the city of Benares where he preached his first sermon-forever remembered as The Sermon At Benares. When he finished, according to legend, one monk asked him:
"Are you a god?
"No." Answered Gautama.
"Then, are you a saint?"
"No." came the prompt reply.
"If you are not a god and not a saint, then what are you?"
"I am awake," Answered Gautama.
From that day forth his disciples and followers called him The Buddha, which means The Awakened.
In their discipline of meditation the buddhist monks were seeking to shake off that hypnotic sleep under which mankind slumbers. They were trying to escape the mechanical, automatic, stream of associative thought consciousness, which they considered as sleep. To the way of thinking of the Zen Master, this was the devil. The devil could be very useful. The state of automatic consciousness was a good servant. Many of the chores of everyday living could be performed very efficiently in this state. But it was a very dangerous state also. People who live in the state of waking-sleep are like the old story of the frog that is told in biology classes. You can put a frog in a tub of hot water and it will make every attempt to escape. But put it in the same tub with the water cool, but with the tub over a low flame, and the frog will swim around placidly as the temperature of the water gradually rise, until it eventually boils to death. People in the state of waking- sleep will react adversely if confronted with something horrible that contrasts with their ordinary, everyday life. But, in a situation of gradual escalation, the same people can arrive at the stage where they will do the most horrible things. There is a story of a Jew at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, who, while Eichmann was on the stand, suddenly emitted a strange cry, and then keeled over in a dead faint. When he was brought to, and asked what had happened. He explained that he had watched Eichmann on the stand. And had suddenly realized that, instead of being a monster as everyone thought, Eichmann was really an ordinary person, no different from him or any of the other people in the room, and the realization had been too much for him.
This, then, is the devil we are dealing with in Titus Andronicus. But the afflictions of Titus arise from custom. It was custom that caused him to bring Tamora, her sons, and Aaron with him to display in his triumph. It was in accordance with custom that Alarbus was sacrificed ad manes fratum. The were the two events from which the horrors of the story arose. It was custom, also, that caused him to kill his raped and mutilated daughter. Titus refers to L. Virginius who had killed his daughter to prevent her being raped, and thus to the custom established by that event, before he kills Lavinia so (he says), she will no longer have to live with her shame. Bacon said, "...custom is the principal magistrate of man's life.." and he had noted the iron rule that custom has over men. So we must ask what relation does custom have to the devil symbolized in Titus Andronicus. The answer is obvious. Custom is the external projection of the internal waking-sleep consciousness. If most people exist for 90 percent of their time in a state of total mechanical, automatic associative, waking-sleep consciousness, custom represents an island of 100 percent in the midst of this 90 percent sea.
It is no accident that for the custom that led to Titus' afflictions, Bacon selected the root of the most egregious of all Roman atrocities,- the sacrifice "ad manes". For this custom was the root cause that led to the infamous Roman Games. Two brothers, Marcus (now we know why Bacon selected Marcus for the name of Titus' brother) and Decimus Brutus, wanted to have a particularly spectacular "ad manes" for their father's funeral. The usual processions, sacrificed animals, and prayers were not enough for them, so Marcus came up with an idea.
There was an old custom, dating back to prehistoric times, of having a few slaves fight to the death over the grave of some great leader. Why not revive this custom to show how much they revered the memory of their father? So three pairs of slaves fought to the death, and not only was the spirit of the father appeased, but the brothers became the most popular men in Rome for having put on such a good show.
The custom took on a life of its own, and began to escalate. In 264 B.C. it was only 3 pair of slaves. In 216 B.C. it was 21 pair. In 174 B.C., at Flaminius' games in honour of his father, 74 men fought and killed each other during a display lasting three days. As time passed popular figures found staging these spectacles one of the best ways to ensure their continued popularity. Eventually gladiatorial entertainments became a wholly indispensable feature of the services a ruler had to provide in order to keep his popularity and his job. Always they grew larger and larger.
In 2 B.C. Augustus organized a naval battle in which over 6,000 gladiators took part. The games had attained the magnitude of artificial wars and were still growing. A continual stream of men, beasts, and even women, slaughtered each other for the public entertainment of the "sleeping" masses. In the early years of the christian era Claudius staged a contest on the Fucine Lake in which over 19,000 combatants took part, and there was over 500,000 spectators. The records show that nearly all the Roman people wallowed unrestrainedly in blood- lust. They were as monstrous as their emperors.
As I have already pointed out, the symbolism in Titus Andronicus operates on three levels. One of these is the level of the entire Roman Empire. On this level Bacon answers a question that has plagued scholars for centuries. What caused the fall of the Roman Empire? There has been any number of speculations about this: everything from bribery to the lead pipes they used for their plumbing. But Bacon's answer is even more bizarre. What he says, in effect, is that they fell asleep at the wheel of the greatest empire in the ancient world. Bacon has another idea in the play. This may be the weirdest idea of all. Titus Andronicus, who symbolizes mankind, selects Saturninus to be his emperor. What this implies is that we select time as our ruler. The idea seems too bizarre. However, I would direct the attention of the reader to the introduction of the book, "Mysticism and the New Physics" by Michael Talbot, where he points out that the implications of the New Physics is that, in some bizarre manner, it is our consciousness that selects the reality we experience.
One notes that as the play ends we are left with two sons. Lucis, the son of Titus whose name Lucis means light, and the black child of Aaron whose color means darkness. As he does both in his acknowledged works, and throughout his unacknowledged works-the plays, Bacon adheres to the doctrine of the Persian Magi.
THE FACE LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE
The particular which is present in the Table of Presence in the play (the first 32 speeches), and which is absent in the Table of Absence (the second set of 32 speeches) is custom. In Titus Andronicus Bacon's discovery device arrives at the form of Custom. The form that is shown in the play is a decline and fall leading to eventual total annihilation. This happened to the Roman Empire. It happens to every empire that falls asleep. It happens to individual humans, and it will eventually happen to mankind if mankind reaches the state of total sleep. You will know that the time of the end is near when, instead of dark clouds and super-cells, the cluster of customs begins to gather and darken the human horizon.
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