The Curse of Aaron

If you ask a casual Shakespeare fan to name the Bard’s most villainous character, odds are the answer will be Richard III. And that’s not a bad response. Richard is indeed a murderous scoundrel. But the thing is, from the very first scene, Richard tells the audience exactly who he is, what he’s planning to do, and why.

There’s no mystery to Richard.

Now, Iago, on the other hand, presents a more complex puzzle. Why does Iago feel the need to destroy Othello? Well, throughout the course of the play, via his interactions with other characters and his soliloquies, Iago offers many possible reasons. Racial animus, professional envy, sexual jealousy. The audience is left with several possible motives to ponder.

But then we come to Aaron, the villainous Moor from Titus Andronicus. And just to save certain Twitter know-it-alls from wasting their time “filling me in” on what I already know, there’s a debate among scholars regarding possible coauthorship of several of Titus’ acts. That, however, is irrelevant to the present discussion.

Whereas Iago is a white guy who torments a black, Aaron is a black guy who torments, well, everyone. He’s the lover and consigliere of Tamora, the Goth queen who marries the Roman Emperor Saturninus. Aaron is firmly in the catbird seat; he has the ear and affection of the empress, who dominates the weak and ineffectual emperor. Aaron’s got power, riches, and babes. And yet…he’s unsatisfied. Material success is not what matters to him. He despises the whites, foes and allies alike, and he’s driven by a compulsion to destroy their society. He arranges brutal rapes, horrific mutilations, and sadistic murders (he even tricks Titus into cutting off his own hand). He foments the unrest that will eventually bring down his own house. Aaron is, in the words of Titus’ brother Marcus, the “chief architect and plotter of these woes.”

Unlike in the case of Richard III, in which the audience is given a clear motive for the character’s villainy, and unlike in the case of Iago, in which the audience is given a choice of possible motives, Shakespeare never offers a glimpse into what makes Aaron tick. No monologue or soliloquy about wrongs done to him in the past or evils perpetrated by whites that made him the monster he is. Aaron is very defensive about his race; he defiantly throws it in the face of other characters. But throughout the course of the play, no one oppresses him because of his race. Indeed, his race does not hinder his estimable success.

You look at Aaron, living the high life—adviser and lover to the empress, a black man basking in luxury among whites…respected, feared, obeyed by those in power, and yet everything he does is geared toward punishing those who elevated him and destabilizing the society that allowed him to achieve influence—and you just want to say to the guy…what the fuck is your problem? You have it so good! Why the need to burn down the system and harm those around you?

Tamora asks that very question:

My lovely Aaron, wherefore look’st thou sad,
When every thing doth make a gleeful boast?

Aaron’s reply?

Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand,
Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.

But why? Why the anger and hatred? By not answering that question, Shakespeare has inadvertently given us the most relevant 21st-century black character of any playwright in history. A character living in a society in which he is afforded all possible opportunities, while—even as he takes advantage of those opportunities—he harbors nothing but hostility toward the majority population, even if he can point to no specific reason why they deserve such enmity. His very identity is based upon hatred of whites. There’s no tidy origin story, no specific wrong that’s being avenged or injury that served as a catalyst for the rage. There’s just an angry black man who looks gift horses in the mouth and yanks their teeth for pleasure. A black man who finds more satisfaction in being at war than he does from achieving success.

A black man who feels entitled to that war, even if he cannot name a single concrete reason why he should be.

Behold the black New York Times and Washington Post and MSNBC journalists and the black Biden administration officials and the black Hollywood producers and the black athletes and academics who live lives that would make most people green with envy, yet who seem to find fulfillment only in antiwhite, anti-West rage.

Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand,
Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.

If you could hear the innermost thoughts of someone like the NYT’s Nikole Hannah-Jones, that’s exactly what would be playing on a loop.

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