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Aaron The Moor: The Most Prominent Other In Titus Andronicus
Such depictions recall what Susan Schibanoff calls the “rhetoric of proximity, which draws the Other dangerously close to by suggesting its similitude or ‘intimacy,'” that eventually “[maintains] rigid binary oppositions by temporarily destabilizing them” (Schibanoff 64). As England was nevertheless in the process of defining its own national identity, defining blackness in the same era must have been even more incomplete: “at this point in history blackness still took place in a complicated, nuanced racial globe rather than constituting one particular pole of a clearly binary system” (Royster 438). The approach may not have been complete, but the Moor in Elizabethan England was destined to occupy the position as Other in an emerging racially-binary society. In Titus Andronicus, we see this chapter of British history acted out in a Roman context. With Rome “as an analogue of Britain, we see a culture proudly committed to Romanness, to Roman honor, to ancestral Roman practices and values” as well as “the same fear of invasion, the same panic about the danger of blurred boundaries” (Royster 450). The setting may possibly be Roman, but as a representation of England, its camouflage is thin.
“O, inform me, did you see Aaron the Moor?” the nurse asks when she enters with the blackamoor kid of Aaron and Tamora. Aaron himself responds “Well, far more or less, or ne’er a whit at all” (Titus Andronicus IV.i.52-53), cleverly punning on Moor/far more and whit/white, a testament to a lot more than just his wit, but an assertion of his self-awareness of is position as Other in Rome. The nurse could just as easily have addressed him as just Aaron or the Moor, contemplating that “[b]esides Lavinia, Aaron is the most visible character in Rome” (Small 65), getting the only Moor talked about by any of the Romans. 1 other character, who appears only briefly, does emerge withthe potential to challenge even Aaron’s visibility in Rome: Aaron’s youngster. The result of the the union between Aaron and Tamora, the Blackamoor child, is described by the nurse as a “joyless, dismal black and sorrowful issue…as loathsome as a toad/Amongst the fair-facd breeders of our clime” (Titus Andronicus IV.ii.66-68). Aaron’s vigorous defense of his child regardless of Tamora’s command to Aaron that he “christen it with [his] dagger’s point” shows his even much more subjugated position as a double Other: not only his he the Other to the Romans, but even to his Gothic counterparts in Rome. Tamora enters the play pleading “noble Titus, spare my first-born son” (Titus Andronicus I.i.120), but she later demands that her last-born son be killed by his own father. We are left to speculate that if she cared for the child she may well have helped to devise the scheme to save the youngster that Aaron in the end does. Aaron embraces his offspring as a new companion in Otherness, “[recognizing] his colour distinction as alien and in the end alienating” (Bartels 446). What tends to make the youngster possibly much more threatening to Rome than Aaron himself is that the Other is now multiplying.
Race in Titus at initial glance seems to be a binary depiction of Black and White, but Francesca Royster argues convincingly for a dismantling of a “black/white binary” (Royster 432). “If Aaron is coded as black,” she argues, “Tamora is represented as hyperwhite” (Royster 432). Amongst these two extremes we are left to place the Romans, along a continuum in between the two aforementioned extremes. It is not simply an concern of Whiteness versus Blackness, as “Tamora’s whiteness is racially marked, is created visible, and hence it is misleading to simplify the play’s racial landscape into black and white, with black as the ‘other'” (Royster 433). In Titus, we have the normative Roman whiteness contrasted on each sides with Moorish blackness as Other and Gothic whiteness as Other. Evidince for Gothic whiteness as Other come from “the possibility that Saturninus’s remarks [about Tamora’s hue] suggest that Tamora is a lot more white than Roman women” (Royster 434). In deconstructing a binary view of race, the play puts a prism to a white monolith and breaks it into a quantity of demarcated hues. The most telling descriptions of whiteness come from the most recognizable Other of the play, Aaron: it “‘White’ can be viewed in multiple methods when we get an Aaron’s-eye view of white skin and its disadvantages” as he “scoffs at the Goth Chiron’s blushing” (Royster 442). In contrast, “Coal-black is greater than one more hue / In that it scorns to bear one more hue / For all the water in the ocean / Can never ever turn the swan’s legs to white” (Titus Andronicus IV.ii.99-103). It is white that is the variable color, and black the “sign of permanence and constancy” (Royster 443). Bassanius seems to draw the same conclusion in his insult to Tamora in the forest for the duration of the hunt: “Believe me, Queen, your [swart] Cimmerian / Doth make your honor of his body’s hue / Spotted, detested, and abominable” (Titus Andronicus II.iii.72-75). Bassanius suggests that even the Goth Other can be tainted by the mark of the Moorish Other, reinforcing Aaron’s double subjugation.
Shakespeare, even so, does not enable Aaron’s position as an effective double Other to distance his character as well far from the Roman mainstream he “accords him a voice of eloquence and expertise, and makes it possible for his schemes to shape the plot” (Bartels 442). In spite of all that sets him apart from the Romans physically, there is so a lot a lot more that brings him closer to the Romans. He can trade witty discourse with the Romans, is nicely study in their literature, and is familiar with their religious customs. In Schibanoff’s “rhetoric of proximity,” he is a lot more unsafe in this respect: “his ability to speak of [Roman] gods and goddesses, to decipher Latin, and to imagine the planet as myth integrates him to some degree into the community of Romans and Goths” (Bartels 444). At the very same time, nonetheless, “[i]n speaking and defining (or not defining) himself, Aaron enforces his personal alienation even as he appropriates ‘the texts of the fathers’ and especially as he tends to make his personal text primarily unreadable” (Bartels 445). Aaron appears to cloak himself in his own rhetoric that pushes him additional from the mainstream, in an virtually conscious try to define himself as the supreme Other in the play.
Bartels, Emily. “Making Much more of the Moor.” Shakespeare Quarterly 41.4(1990):433-454.
Little, Arthur L., Shakespeare Jungle Fever. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000.
Royster, Francesca T., “White-Limed Walls: Whiteness and Gothic Extremism in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare Quarterly 51.4(2000):432-455.
Schibanoff, Susan. Worlds Apart: Orientalism, Antifeminism, and Heresy in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale. Exemplaria 8.1(1996):59-96.
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