The Other Within: Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus

February 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

England’s unexpected victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588 did much to bolster England’s national spirit and usher in a new era of exploration and imperial sentiment. Exploration of the world beyond the boundaries of the British Isles “was accompanied by an intensified production of visions of ‘other’ worlds” (Bartels 433) culled from both classical sources and first-person accounts. England’s newfound imperialist tendencies became a double-edged sword: it opened the world to English prying eyes, but at the same time opened the door to allow the “other” worlds into England. This era of English history is typefied by “not only a burgeoning taste for imperial enterprise but one timpered by fears of nvasion by others” (Royster 435). In reaction, whether through “conscious or unconscious agenda” (Bartels 434), England’s cultural rhetoric “began to outline space and close off borders, to discriminate under the guise of discerning, and to separate the Other from the self” (Bartels 434). With skin color so easily discerned from afar, it is not surprising that the Moor emerged as an Other in Renaissance England, “becoming increasingly visible within English society in person and in print” (Bartels 434). However, the Other carries more of a threat to the mainstream than simply his skin color alone, “[f]or what emerges as a key focuse of ‘othering’ within Renaissance depictions of Moors is behavior that paradoxically…showed them too like the English” (Bartels 435). Such depictions recall what Susan Schibanoff calls the “rhetoric of proximity, which draws the Other dangerously near by suggesting its similitude or ‘intimacy,'” that ultimately “[maintains] rigid binary oppositions by temporarily destabilizing them” (Schibanoff 64). As England was still 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 complex, nuanced racial world rather than constituting one pole of a clearly binary system” (Royster 438). The process 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 be Roman, but as a representation of England, its camouflage is thin.”O, tell me, did you see Aaron the Moor?” the nurse asks when she enters with the blackamoor child of Aaron and Tamora. Aaron himself responds “Well, more or less, or ne’er a whit at all” (Titus Andronicus IV.i.52-53), cleverly punning on Moor/more and whit/white, a testament to 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 simply Aaron or the Moor, considering that “[b]esides Lavinia, Aaron is the most visible character in Rome” (Little 65), being the only Moor mentioned by any of the Romans. One other character, who appears only briefly, does emerge withthe potential to challenge even Aaron’s visibility in Rome: Aaron’s child. 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 despite Tamora’s command to Aaron that he “christen it with [his] dagger’s point” shows his even 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 might have helped to devise the scheme to save the child that Aaron ultimately does. Aaron embraces his offspring as a new companion in Otherness, “[recognizing] his color difference as alien and ultimately alienating” (Bartels 446). What makes the child possibly more threatening to Rome than Aaron himself is that the Other is now multiplying.Race in Titus at first glance appears 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). Between these two extremes we are left to place the Romans, along a continuum between the two aforementioned extremes. It is not simply an issue of Whiteness versus Blackness, as “Tamora’s whiteness is racially marked, is made visible, and thus 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 both 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 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 number 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 ways 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 better than another hue / In that it scorns to bear another hue / For all the water in the ocean / Can never 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 during 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, however, does not allow Aaron’s position as an effective double Other to distance his character too far from the Roman mainstream; he “accords him a voice of eloquence and knowledge, and allows his schemes to shape the plot” (Bartels 442). Despite all that sets him apart from the Romans physically, there is so much more that brings him closer to the Romans. He can trade witty discourse with the Romans, is well read in their literature, and is familiar with their religious customs. In Schibanoff’s “rhetoric of proximity,” he is more dangerous in this respect: “his ability to speak of [Roman] gods and goddesses, to decipher Latin, and to imagine the world as myth integrates him to some degree into the community of Romans and Goths” (Bartels 444). At the same time, however, “[i]n speaking and defining (or not defining) himself, Aaron enforces his own alienation even as he appropriates ‘the texts of the fathers’ and particularly as he makes his own text essentially unreadable” (Bartels 445). Aaron seems to cloak himself in his own rhetoric that pushes him further from the mainstream, in an almost conscious attempt to define himself as the supreme Other in the play.Works CitedBartels, Emily. “Making 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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