Titus Andronicus Race Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Riverside edition.
Let fools do good, and fair men call for grace.
Aaron will have his soul black like his face. (3.1.4)
When Aaron announces that he loves being a villain with a soul that's "black like his face," he simultaneously embraces and defies the 16th century notion that dark skin color is synonymous with evil. This reminds us of a passage in Othello, in which the title character associates the blackness of his skin with his reputation, which he feels has been stained:
My name, that was as fresh
As Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black
As mine own face. (3.3)
Pardon me, sir; it was a black ill-favor'd fly,
Like to the empress' Moor; therefore I kill'd him.
Well, God give her good rest! What hath he sent her?
Why, then she is the devil's dam; a joyful issue. (4.2.8)
In a previous passage, we saw how Aaron's black skin is associated with evil. Here, Aaron is defiant (and witty) when the nurse declares that his child is "a devil." Unfortunately, the nurse's attitude was all too common when Shakespeare wrote Titus Andronicus. Check out what Reginald Scott writes in his famous book The Discovery of Witchcraft (1584):
A damned soule may and dooth take the shape of a black moore [ ...] Bodin alloweth the divell the shape of a blacke moore, and he saith he used to appear to Mawd Cruse, Kate Darey, and Jone Harviller.
'Zounds, ye whore! is black so base a hue?
Sweet blowse, you are a beauteous blossom, sure. (4.2.10)
After being insulted by the nurse, who refers to Aaron's baby as a "loathsome toad" among the white babies in Rome, Aaron is quick to defend his skin color while sarcastically pointing out that the nurse's ruddy complexion isn't exactly attractive.
We also want to point out that, when Aaron demands to know why black is such a bad color or "base hue," he sounds a lot like Shylock, who, in The Merchant of Venice, demands to know why the Christian characters seem to think Jews are inhuman: "Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?" ( Merchant of Venice, 3.1).