I’ve seen about 18 Shakespeare plays live, but after seeing the latest one (Titus Andronicus at the Blackfriers) it got me thinking about who was Shakespeare’s most evil character. Some would say that title goes to Iago (Othello), but I disagree. No matter the evils Iago did, there was always a very human reason, whether jealousy from being passed over for a promotion (and maybe a slight crush on Desdemona), to general anger at the world. He’s basically a dirtbag who used guile and wit to destroy those that he felt betrayed and hurt by.
There’s also Richard III, Don John (Much ado), Lady Macbeth etc. But once again, each of them are driven by basic human emotions such as greed, anger and jealousy. But evil for evils sake. Of the plays that I’ve seen I would have to say Aaron from Titus Andronicus is pretty much just unmotivated pure evil…
“I should repent the evils I have done:
Ten thousand worse than ever yet I did
Would I perform, if I might have my will;
If one good deed in all my life I did,
I do repent it from my very soul.” – Aaron
Maybe it’s because this is an early play and Aaron is a tad bit two dimensional, but I don’t think he speaks a line where there is not deceit hidden in his words or venom dripping from his lips. Aaron doe’s not know greed, jealousy or anger and is not motivated by those emotions. Lust perhaps, but that is only secondary to the damage he can perform from lust.
Even the few times he is honest in the play he is dripping venom. When the Queen is putting the amorous moves on Aaron, Aaron tells her:
“Madam, though Venus govern your desires,
Saturn is dominator over mine:
What signifies my deadly-standing eye,
My silence and my cloudy melancholy,
My fleece of woolly hair that now uncurls
Even as an adder when she doth unroll
To do some fatal execution?
No, madam, these are no venereal signs:
Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand”
For some reason I’ve connected Iago and Aaron together in the back of my mind, and I am not quite sure why. Maybe because Aaron is an evil Moor besetting an Italian General, and Iago is an evil Italian besetting a Moorish General? When I came to compare Aaron and Iago, I found that Aaron’s pure, unmotivated evil, may simply be due to the fact he is an underdeveloped bad guy character from Shakespeare’s early years as a playwright , and therefore not given any true motivation. And though Iago is evil, he’s been made more human by the skill of a mature playwright.
But all that aside, if you really want to know what I really think about Titus Andronicus, and why Aaron is the way he is… At the time this was written, Shakespeare was a young playwright looking to make a name for himself, so he went out and wrote “Friday the 13th” for the masses. It’s all there, gore, sex, violence, and lots of blood. It’s Grindhouse theater. Aaron is actually the Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorrhees of his time, and Titus Andronicus is the Drive-in horror movie of it’s day. Plain and simple, and not much deeper then that…
Art thou not sorry for these heinous deeds?
Ay, that I had not done a thousand more.
Even now I curse the day–and yet, I think,
Few come within the compass of my curse,–
Wherein I did not some notorious ill,
As kill a man, or else devise his death,
Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it,
Accuse some innocent and forswear myself,
Set deadly enmity between two friends,
Make poor men’s cattle break their necks;
Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night,
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.
Oft have I digg’d up dead men from their graves,
And set them upright at their dear friends’ doors,
Even when their sorrows almost were forgot;
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
‘Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.’
Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.