As an actor, I believe that every single role you have a chance to play is a gift. I choose the term gift, because I feel that inherent in each role is the opportunity for healing, growth, and impact. I have often found that whichever role I am working on, in each unique period of my life, contains an emotional truth that I personally have not fully accepted in my personal life. It could be a negative aspect of myself I choose to keep shadowed, ignored or repressed like I found when I last played Phoebe in As You Like It. It could be a facet of my personality I am not comfortable with, a main reason I tend to avoid playing the clown roles in Shakespeare; something about the role of humour in my life challenges me. For Lucius it tapped directly into the process, experience, and aftermath of grief that I lived for a very extensive period of my personal life.
Tragedy smashes our boxes, it dismantles the nice, comfortable structure we come to ascribe as our reality, and hurls us into a state of existence in which we must spend a large amount of time in the unsteady, unclear, uncomfortable state of just being. A place in which you have more questions then answers, and those questions have a rage and aching sorrow that pains you as they hang, unresolved and pulsing. A a new stage, at which you stand alone at the precipice looking back and realizing, that moving forward, nothing will ever be the same.
Overall, the play Titus Andronicus is a constant barrage of change and loss. Not only is the trauma felt by the Andronicii family members individually, but they have the added layer of witnessing their loved ones hurt and suddenly forced to process the shock, horror, and uprooting suffering of violent, tragic change.
Grief has a way of halting forward motion suddenly, plummeting one into a quiet, aching stillness. The scariest and hardest thing felt in grief is trying to move forward. Will tomorrow be as painful as today? Will I forget the sound of my father's voice? Will my sister ever experience the joy she deserves in life? Will she ever feel love? Will I have to bury my father? Will I lose the all my other loved ones? Will this pain ever end? Who am I? Why do I exist? The are a few of the questions haunting Lucius, binding, halting, and stilling him.
Yet the remarkable thing about Lucius, truly the single thing we look at in any character in any story, is how they react. What are their actions in the wake of the tragedy. To play a character well, to commit myself fully to the process of telling their story, I need to fall in love with them. I fell in love with Lucius because of his ability to move forward.
When we first meet Lucius in Act 1 Scene 1 he seems violent and cruel in his line:
Give us the proudest prisoner of the Goths,
That we may hew his limbs, and on a pile
Ad manes fratrum sacrifice his flesh,
Before this earthly prison of their bones;
That so the shadows be not unappeased,
Nor we disturbed with prodigies on earth.
He mentions mutilation in his second line, after all. However, if you peer beyond the surface a consider the influence of the culture of the Roman military at the time, along with the given circumstance that he just returned from warring against a civil faction which took the life of hundreds of his associate Roman soldiers you comprehend more. First, that he did he job as a soldier protecting the freedom and safety of his country. Secondly, clearly Roman culture and spiritual practices dictate a blood sacrifice of the enemy in order to honor the Roman dead and keep their spirits from revolting or threatening natural chaos. It purposeful violence, even ordained in the lens of Roman society in that time period. As the scene continues, despite Tamora’s emotional appeals, he moves forward completing the sacrifice so the dead may be honored and life can return to normal in Rome.
Skipping ahead in the Act 2, scene 4 you can see Lucius’ initial reactions to tragedy. When Lavina is revealed in her mutilation his first few lines seek to pin down the person who caused her harm. His approach is active. Let’s find out who did this and avenge this wicked deed. He finds out they cannot know because Lavinia has been rendered incapable of speech. Another blow. Lucius’ reaction is to get his father and Lavinia to stop crying. Aaron arrives, requesting a hand to save the two imprisoned brothers lives. Lucius does everything thing he can with his words to try and convince them to take his hand, and even runs off first to fetch an axe. At the culmination of the scene, and the presentation of his two deceased brother’s heads with Titus’s detached hand he ends the scene with a monologue stating:
If Lucius live, he will requite your wrongs;
And make proud Saturnine and his empress
Beg at the gates, like Tarquin and his queen.
Now will I to the Goths, and raise a power,
To be revenged on Rome and Saturnine.
A plan of action, that is how Lucius leaves us at the brink of his sorrowful doom of banishment. Finally, the biggest testament of his ability to move forward, with respect and dignity, is clear in Act 5, scene 1.
Amidst a great tumult several bodies hit the floor, including Titus, Lavinia, and the Roman Emperor, Saturnine, whom Lucius himself slays in reaction to seeing him murder Titus. Following this, Lucius is able to recount honestly for the surrounding Romans the facts about from whom and how these tragic events began. Further, he accounts his personal suffering while maintaining humility and reverence to the public. In response to this, the crowd decides to crown him the new emperor. Lucius rises up to the offer, but in a moment of grace amidst chaos, asks for space and time to say his farewell to Titus. It is a beautiful, tender, and intimately vulnerable moment for the soldier we have seen thus far and it is quite striking and unexpected. Furthermore, after saying his farewell to his father, he calls his son near and takes a moment to teach the young boy, imparting the significance of expressing love for the departed and bidding them goodbye:
In that respect, then, like a loving child,
Shed yet some small drops from thy tender spring,
Because kind nature doth require it so:
Friends should associate friends in grief and woe:
Bid him farewell; commit him to the grave;
Do him that kindness, and take leave of him.
Take the time to pay your respects, to cry, to bid them farewell, and take leave of them. This is the message that Lucius’ actions leave us. In a world where grief is so often treated as an inconvenience, an obstacle to be overcome to keep the momentum of forward progress, Lucius teaches us that first you must be still, you must feel the pain, then you can accept it and move forward. A truly important and encouraging message for us all.