How we cite our quotes:
What, madam! be dishonour'd openly,
And basely put it up without revenge?
be won at last;
Dissemble all your griefs and discontents:
You are but newly planted in your throne;
Lest, then, the people, and patricians too,
Upon a just survey, take Titus' part,
And so supplant you for ingratitude,
Which Rome reputes to be a heinous sin,
Yield at entreats; and then let me alone:
I'll find a day to massacre them all
And raze their faction and their family,
The cruel father and his traitorous sons,
To whom I sued for my dear son's life,
And make them know what 'tis to let a queen
Kneel in the streets and beg for grace in vain. (1.1.18)
This passage reveals a lot about Tamora's character and her motivation for taking revenge against Titus. Whereas Saturninus wants to seek revenge against Titus's family out in the open (because he lost Lavinia to Bassianus), Tamora encourages her new husband to play nice in public because the Roman people would probably side with Titus. At the same time, we can also see that Tamora wants to destroy the Andronicus family because Titus refused to spare her eldest son's life, even after she got on her hands and knees and begged him to. Is Tamora justified?
Madam, though Venus govern your desires,
Saturn is dominator over mine:
Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand,
Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.
Hark Tamora, the empress of my soul,
Which never hopes more heaven than rests in thee,
This is the day of doom for Bassianus:
His Philomel must lose her tongue to-day,
Thy sons make pillage of her chastity
And wash their hands in Bassianus' blood.
Seest thou this letter? take it up, I pray thee,
And give the king this fatal plotted scroll. (2.3.2)
OK, it's pretty clear that Aaron seeks "vengeance" for something, because here he passes up an opportunity to get all steamy with his lover, Tamora, in order to plot against the Andronicus family. The question, however, is this: What is it, exactly, that Aaron seeks retribution for? Does he have any real or justifiable motives?
On the one hand, we could say that Aaron has no real motives for vengeance and that he just likes to be bad. After all, Aaron brags openly about doing a "thousand dreadful things, / As willingly as one would kill a fly" and that he curses the day "wherein [he] did not some notorious ill; / As kill a man, or else devise his death, / Ravish a maid or plot the way to do it," and so on (5.1.11). Yet when Aaron lashes out at the nurse for calling his dark-skinned child a "joyless, dismal, black and sorrowful issue" that should be "christen[ed] with a dagger's point" (4.2.6), we can see that Aaron may be responding to the way the Romans and Goths treat black men. This seems especially true when he asks "is black so base a hue?" (4.2.11).
But straight they told me they would bind me here
Unto the body of a dismal yew,
And leave me to this miserable death:
And then they call'd me foul adulteress,
Lascivious Goth, and all the bitterest terms
That ever ear did hear to such effect:
And, had you not by wondrous fortune come,
This vengeance on me had they executed.
Revenge it, as you love your mother's life,
Or be ye not henceforth call'd my children. (2.3.5)
Tamora sure could use some parenting classes, don't you think? Here she not only lies to her sons about why she's in the middle of the forest with Aaron, she also encourages them to kill Bassianus and rape Lavinia. If we haven't already lost sympathy for Tamora, here's where she becomes a completely unsympathetic figure.