Act II, Scenes i-iii
Aaron rejoices that Tamora is now the empress. As her lover, he anticipates better opportunities for himself. His thoughts are interrupted by a brawl between Chiron and Demetrius, who argue over which of them deserves Lavinia's love. Aaron counsels them to stop arguing and instead to catch her the next day during the hunt and to both rape her. When Titus, Titus's sons, Saturninus, Tamora, Bassianus, Lavinia, and Marcus gather the next day for the hunt, Chiron and Demetrius reaffirm their intention "to pluck a dainty doe to ground" (II.ii.26).
Away from the hunting party, Aaron buries a bag of gold under a tree. Tamora finds him and urges him to make love to her. However, Aaron is ruled by vengeance and asks her to deliver a letter to Saturninus. The couple is spotted in their physical intimacy by Bassianus and Lavinia, who proceed to roundly insult Tamora, with Lavinia being surprisingly coarse. Chiron and Demetrius enter and stab Bassianus to death in defense of their mother's honor. When Tamora wants to stab Lavinia too, her sons stop her, wishing to keep her alive until they have satisfied their lust on her. Tamora assents, ignoring Lavinia's heartrending request that Tamora kill her immediately instead.
Aaron leads Titus's sons Quintus and Martius to where he claims a panther is asleep. They both fall into the pit where Chiron and Demetrius left Bassianus's body. Aaron then leads Saturninus to the pit, where Tamora hands him the letter Aaron had previously written, and which incriminates Quintus and Martius as Bassianus's murderers. The bag of gold that Aaron buried is conveniently uncovered and taken as proof that Titus's sons were going to pay a huntsman to do the deed. Titus tries to free his sons to no avail; they are taken away by Saturninus to await execution.
These scenes concentrate on the mechanism of revenge. Significantly, Aaron, the undenied and almost two-dimensional villain of the play, is shown as the foremost agent of vengeance. Everything that transpires in this act is a direct result of Aaron's planning or coaching. Unlike Titus and Tamora, who are given ample reasons for their actions, Aaron is all action and no motivation. Such representation aids in furthering an unquestioned racial stereotype of the Moore.
Here, diabolical vengeance is linked to the wilderness. As opposed to the distinctly factionalized Rome where Bassianus and Saturninus staged their civilized war of rhetoric, the wilderness is a place without walls or dimensions, where desires and motives take on a fluid freedom. What was constrained by the rigidity of the court is given full villainous run here because "the woods are ruthless, dreadful, deaf, and dull" (II.i.128). In pursuing their black ends, humans slide through bestial forms as easily as their desires are realized; this is symbolized in the words of the panicking Lavinia, who sees her attackers as lions, tigers, and ravens.
This act is also obsessed with the idea of the pit: Aaron's bag of gold is buried underground; Bassianus's corpse is thrown into a pit; Quintus and Martius are trapped in the same; and Lavinia has her hole violated. Throughout, the language reflects horror and fear at the pit--it is "this abhorred pit" (II.iii.98), "some loathsome pit" (II.iii.176), "this unhallowed and bloodstained hole" (II.iii.210), "this fell devouring receptacle" (II.iii.235), "this gaping hollow of the earth" (II.iii.249). The constant reference to the hole as a mark of death, as a sign of the tomb, is curious, particularly because so much attention is also drawn to the fertile holes of the two main female characters (Tamora seduces Aaron, Lavinia is raped). There is a certain misogynistic identification of the women and their sexual appetites with the mysterious and wild terror of the earth. The terror of the hole, embodied in the earth as a grave, and in the body as sign of feminine danger, is continued throughout the play, and culminates in the killing mouth of the mother who devours her own sons, becoming the grave and negating her fertility all at once.
One of the most nagging problems about this Act is the behavior of Lavinia when she and Bassianus discover Tamora in the arms of her lover Aaron. Considering that Lavinia spends most of the play mute, her few words here are particularly jarring for being so uncouth. Critics have found this unappealing side of Lavinia to be an unforgivable fault, interfering with her character's role as a tragic heroine. For the insults she unleashes on Tamora, some even believe that her rape is fitting retribution. However, others argue that her behavior is completely in keeping with the standards and behavior of ladies during the Elizabethan era, and that taking offense at her coarseness is just the prudish reaction of a contemporary reader. Because of the overall contradictory representation of Lavinia, as victim and as attacker, she becomes a good study of the place and agency of the female in the Rome of Titus Andronicus.
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