Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism

By Ania Loomba | Go to book overview

3
Wilderness and Civilization
in Titus Andronicus

Ravenous Tigers

In their account of staging Titus Andronicus (1594) in apartheidscarred South Africa, Antony Sher and Gregory Doran describe how black audiences identified so powerfully with Aaron, the black villain of the play, that they 'cheer him right the way through the plot to rape Lavinia', backing off only when he hacks off Titus' hand. When Aaron defies Tamora's order to kill their black child, saying 'Tell the empress from me, I am of age | To keep mine own, excuse it how she can' (4.2.103–4), the entire house erupted:

'Yebo!' the audience shriek out, 'Yebo!' yelling their approval and solidarity. A
memorable show.

Afterwards standing in the bar, one of them comes up to us, 'I didn't
understand it all here', he says, pointing to his head. Then he bangs his chest,
'But I understood it here'.1

It is not surprising that black South Africans who had long been struggling to affirm that they were of age and competence to govern themselves, 'to keep their own', would forge emotional bonds with Aaron. In other situations, it is harder to interpret Aaron as an exposure of the demonization of blackness. Directors have sometimes edited the play severely in order to elevate Aaron 'into a noble and lofty character', as happened when the famous Ira Aldridge played the role in 1857.2

Because Aaron is a textbook illustration for early modern stereotypes of blackness, his skin colour has never been disputed in the same

-75-

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