Dismemberment, rape, cannibalism and murder make Titus Andronicus Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy. The boundless grief and savage justice of Titus explores the expression of tragic passion, the Senecan tradition, Roman history and government, the body and structures of interpretation.
This text is based on the 1594 First Quarto, with corrections from the 1600 Second Quarto and the addition of III.ii from the 1623 First Folio. It has been suggested that the first act shows signs of the involvement of George Peele, whose work Shakespeare may have revised.
Titus returns to Rome from war against the Goths, in which two of his sons have died. He has captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and her three sons Alarbus, Chiron and Demetrius, as well as her servant and lover Aaron the Moor. Titus gives Alarbus up for sacrifice. Titus suggests Saturninus for emperor. Saturninus offers to marry Titus’ daughter Lavinia, but her fiancé Bassianus (Saturninus’ brother) claims her. There is a struggle, and Titus kills one of his sons for assisting Bassianus. Saturninus marries Tamora instead, who privately promises to avenge her son.
Demetrius and Chiron fight over Lavinia; Aaron interrupts them and advises them on how they may rape Lavinia during the hunt the next day. Aaron and Tamora conspire to bring Lavinia and Bassianus to a pit, where Bassianus is killed by Chiron and Demetrius. Lavinia begs Tamora for mercy, but is dragged away to be raped by her sons. Aaron and Tamora frame Titus’ sons Martius and Quintus for Bassianus’ murder. They are condemned to death; Titus’ other son Lucius is banished.
Titus’ brother Marcus discovers Lavinia with her tongue cut out and her hands cut off. Aaron brings word that if Titus cuts off his hand his sons will be spared; Titus does so but his sons are executed anyway. Lavinia silently explains who raped her. Aaron flees the city with his son, the black baby that Tamora has given birth to. He meets the army of the Goths outside Rome, who are led by the banished Lucius.
Tamora visits Titus disguised as the spirit of Revenge, with her sons as Rape and Murder. Titus kills her sons and serves them to Tamora baked in a pie. Titus kills Tamora; Saturninus kills Titus; Lucius kills Saturninus and is elected emperor.