Titus Andronicus Summary

Titus Andronicus is a tragic play in which the Roman general Titus Andronicus becomes embroiled in a bloody cycle of revenge.

  • After returning to Rome from war, Titus Andronicus refuses the position of emperor. Saturninus is crowned instead and marries Tamora, queen of the Goths.
  • Tamora seeks revenge upon Titus, who killed her eldest son, with help from her lover, Aaron the Moor, and her sons Chiron and Demetrius, who rape and maim Titus’s daughter, Lavinia.
  • Titus serves Tamora her sons in a pie and kills her and Lavinia. Saturninus kills Titus and is killed by Titus’s son Lucius, who is declared emperor.

Summary

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

The Roman emperor is dead, and the people have chosen veteran military commander Titus Andronicus, recently returned in triumph from a war with the Goths, to succeed him. Titus, however, says that he is too old and ill-suited for rule and advises them to choose Saturninus, elder son of the deceased emperor. Saturninus is crowned and initially grateful to Titus, announcing his intention to marry Titus’s daughter, Lavinia, to bind their two families together. However, he soon decides that he will marry Tamora, queen of the Goths, instead. Tamora hates Titus because he defeated her people, captured her, and killed her eldest son.

Bassianus, the emperor’s brother, marries Lavinia. Tamora’s two remaining sons, Chiron and Demetrius, both claim to be in love with Titus’s daughter, but when Aaron, Tamora’s lover, tells them that the only way to have her is by rape, they quickly acquiesce. They kill Bassianus and rape Lavinia, cutting out her tongue and chopping off her hands to prevent her from telling or writing of this outrage. Aaron then arranges for two of Lavinia’s brothers, Martius and Quintus, to be accused of murdering Bassianus. The emperor accepts the flimsy evidence for this and condemns them to death.

As Martius and Quintus are led to their execution, their one surviving brother, Lucius, attempts to rescue them and is banished from Rome for this offense. Titus pleads for their lives in vain, but shortly afterward, Aaron the Moor tells him that the emperor has decided to show mercy and will spare the lives of his sons if Titus cuts off his hand. Titus willingly allows Aaron to chop his hand off and sends him to the emperor with it. However, a messenger presently returns Titus’s severed hand to him with his son’s severed heads, showing that Aaron has tricked him. Titus vows to have his revenge and sends his one remaining son, Lucius, to raise an army among the Goths and march on Rome.

Lavinia manages to tell Titus that Chiron and Demetrius were her assailants by writing their names in the dust with a stick. Titus sends his grandson to the palace with gifts for the two princes, accompanied by a cryptic message, which seems to be warning them against the influence of Aaron the Moor. However, the princes do not understand this. Meanwhile, Tamora has given birth to a child who is dark-skinned, showing clearly that Aaron, not Saturninus, is the father. She is going to have the baby killed before the emperor can discover this, but Aaron takes his newborn son and arranges to hide him outside the palace.

Titus’s behavior becomes more deranged, and he starts shooting arrows into the air with messages for the gods, pleading for justice. Saturninus is complaining of this behavior when he receives news that Lucius is marching on Rome at the head of an army of Goths. Saturninus is immediately frightened and defeatist, believing that the Roman people would rather have Lucius as emperor than himself in any case. Tamora arranges a parley with Lucius and says that she will try to persuade Titus Andronicus to help them.

Tamora disguises herself and her sons, Chiron and Demetrius, and they present themselves at Titus’s house, calling themselves Revenge, Rape, and Murder. Titus recognizes them immediately but pretends to be convinced by Tamora’s subterfuge when she says that she is the spirit of Revenge, come up from hell to assist him in his plans. Titus agrees to arrange a feast for Saturninus and his family to come and parley with Lucius. When Tamora leaves, he insists that Chiron and Demetrius should...

(This entire section contains 852 words.)

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stay behind. Titus’s kinsmen then seize and bind the princes, and Titus tells them his plan. He will kill them, bake them into a pie, and serve the pie to their mother at the feast.

Lucius arrives at his father’s house for the feast, bringing Aaron the Moor and his son. He has taken Aaron prisoner as he ran away from the palace, and Aaron has told him the whole story of Tamora’s crimes against Titus and his own part in them. Aaron is entirely unrepentant and only wishes he could have done more harm in his life. Saturninus and his party arrive, and the feast begins. Titus asks Saturninus if he thinks it was right for Virginius, a legendary figure, to kill his daughter after she was raped. When Saturninus agrees that this was the proper course of action, Titus kills Lavinia, explaining that she was raped by Chiron and Demetrius. Saturninus calls for the princes to be brought before him, but Titus says they are present already, baked into the pie Tamora is eating.

As soon as he has said this, Titus kills Tamora. Saturninus then kills Titus, and Lucius kills Saturninus. Lucius is then proclaimed emperor, and together with Marcus Andronicus, he relates the wrongs done to his family in front of the Goths and the Romans. The new emperor sentences Aaron the Moor to death by starvation and pledges to restore order to Rome.

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