Aaron – A Sociopath Character In Titus Andronicus

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sociopath as: “someone who behaves in a dangerous or violent way towards other people and does not feel guilty about such behavior.” That definition describes the actions and demeanor in the character of Aaron in Titus Andronicus in a manner that is frighteningly accurate.

Such an evil character would be hard to find in Shakespeare or any other author’s work for that matter. His sadism, treachery, mocking, brutal actions and overall demeanor give meaning to the term evil. Aaron exists as a character only to bring misery and ruin to others in this drama. He does not care that his affair with Tamora could end up costing her life and he brazenly tosses her aside to fulfill his hateful and destructive desires. He seems to have no qualms and no regrets for the misery that he causes Titus and his family and to the very end he remains boastful of his crimes, even when he is faced with retribution, torture and death. He remains set in his ways, regretting that he would be unable to accomplish more evil, human misery and destruction. He even enjoys the horrified reactions of others to his murderous plots.

Aaron is the central villain of the play. He is shown as the foremost agent of vengeance even though his motivation, unlike other characters, is lacking. The bloody violence and murder that occurs in Act II is the result of Aaron’s scheming and encouragement. Everything that transpires in this act is a direct result of Aaron's planning or coaching, solidifying his role as a master manipulator type of villain.

Aaron establishes himself as a conniving and gleeful sadist early on in the play and remains that way until the end. The following quote excellently captures the heinous nature of the character that spins a hate-filled web which entraps the characters within the play: “I have done 1,000 dreadful things / As willingly as one would kill a fly, / And nothing grieves me heartily indeed / But that I cannot do 10,000 more”. That quote alone does a fine job of highlighting the lack of morality and empathy in Aaron’s character in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. A list of the crimes Aaron committed, colluded on or otherwise encouraged would include: murder, rape, mutilation, arson, conspiracy, kidnapping and psychological torture. Enough of a list for any evil character to make quite a mark in the annals of literary villainy.

Aaron is a particularly cruel and plotting evil-doer, who gives little reason why he enjoys the horror and violence he causes. A true sociopath by any definition, and an unrepentant scoundrel, a major part of his role takes place in Act II, where he acts as the creator of the plot. He takes Tamora’s dreams of revenge and provides a way for them to come to fruition. By spurring other characters into action and plotting all the while, he is the monster that turns the plot wheel.

It is Aaron who proposes that Tamora’s sons, Demetrius and Chiron rape Titus’s daughter Lavinia. He suggested a secluded location to take the young woman and rape her. He speaks of this plot with a sickening and sadistic excitement and states that: “Which, cunningly effected, will beget / A very excellent piece of villainy”. He continues his twisted plot with a forged letter that frames Titus’s sons for the heinous act.

While Aaron’s more active role takes place in Act II, it is not just here where his influence and plotting wreaks havoc. All of the murders throughout the first three acts are masterminded by him. Although he offers that assisting Tamora in her acts of revenge as the reason for his actions, it is clear through his discourse that his love of violence is simple driving force behind his actions. It is something he enjoys, and he shows no regrets over what he does. He lacks simple human empathy and does not seem to understand emotional pain.

Aaron prides himself on the fact that there was no crime in the various revenge plots that he was not involved in. As he faces the wrath of Titus’ son Lucius who orders him to be put to death for his crimes, he does not repent for what he has done, nor does he show any sign of even minimal regret. Instead this unrepentant monster plainly states: “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”. This produces a very clear image of Aaron as a sick, twisted and unrepentant villain.

Aaron’s quote in Act V 'If one good deed in all my life I did / I do repent it from my very soul' shows us a man who sees no difference between evil and good. He has no moral compass so that inflicting horror and pain on others is like sport and he revels in the plot twists he creates.

Is Aaron Shakespeare’s foil? A character device to drive the plot along? Perhaps this is why no rhyme nor reason is given for his actions. He is simply the devilish character designed to push the various revenge plots in the play to their bloody conclusion. As such, perhaps he does not need character development to the point where we know specific reasons for his rage.

Some modern critics suggest that the depiction of Aaron’s dark Moorish features are reason enough for his rage. It is said that his mistreatment by the Romans and the Goths are due to his dark skin color and not the fact that he is a captured enemy. One could argue that this is perhaps placing modern context on a Sixteenth Century literary work.

However, there are passages in the play that would indicate reason for critics to point this out, including stereotypes of the day concerning the “Black Moor.” Aaron angrily responds to the nurse for calling his black child 'A joyless, dismal, black and sorrowful issue / Here is the babe as loathsome as a toad'. She continues on, saying 'Bids thee christen it with a dagger's point'. So, in his actions we see that Aaron may be revealing his disgust at the way the Romans and Goths treat black men. This seems particularly to the point when he asks 'Is black so base a hue?'.

Aaron does, however, seem particularly sociopathic as he seemingly plots the demise of nearly the entire cast of the play. His scenes concentrate on the mechanism of revenge driving the play to its bloody conclusion. In one particular line of conversation with Lucius towards the end of the play, Aaron calls upon Lucius to take an oath because he believes Lucius “…hast a thing within thee called conscience”. In this Aaron reveals that he doesn’t have a conscience himself and treats it as a curious thing that others may have, seemingly treating it as a foreign concept. Without “a thing within thee” that reigns in the baser instincts of humanity, how can one have sympathy or empathy for any other? Aaron reveals here that he completely lacks a moral compass.

Significantly, Aaron is undeniably the agent of revenge in the play. His character is not as well developed, except as that of an evil personage who plots the carnage. This borders on a one-dimensional character designed to do one thing and one thing only. Everything that transpires in the central course of this play is a direct result of Aaron's planning or prodding. In characters like Titus and Tamora, Shakespeare gives good reasons for their actions. Aaron’s character seems loaded with action but without reason, without significant enough motivation.

Aaron is a character without conscience, sympathy and empathy. In him, Shakespeare creates a grotesque villain to drive the various plots in this play. This is why many see him as the sociopath of Titus Andronicus. It is through his actions, direct or otherwise, that move the play into a very dark and sinister direction. Titus Andronicus is often considered one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays, and Aaron is the one pulling the strings that causes the carnage.

16 August 2021
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