Act 3, Scenes 1–2 Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 807

Act 3, Scene 1

In Rome, Martius and Quintus are on the way to their execution, attended by senators and tribunes, while Titus Andronicus pleads for their lives. The procession passes by, with Titus still pleading and lamenting, when Lucius enters with drawn sword. He has attempted to rescue his brothers, for which offense he has been exiled from Rome. Titus thinks this is a reward rather than a punishment, as “Rome is but a wilderness of tigers.”

Marcus enters with Lavinia and tells Titus and Lucius that he found her wandering in the woods, with her hands cut off and her tongue cut out. He does not know who mutilated her in this way. She is weeping, but there is no way to interpret her tears to discover who killed Bassianus or who harmed her.

At this point, Aaron the Moor enters and says that the emperor has decided to show mercy. If one of the Andronicus family will chop off his hand and send it to Saturninus, he will allow both Martius and Quintus to live. Marcus and Lucius both offer their hands, but while they are arguing, Titus asks Aaron to cut off his hand and sends him to the emperor with it. Presently, a messenger enters, bringing Titus’s hand back to him, along with the heads of his sons, showing that Aaron had tricked him. Marcus points out that Titus now really does have nothing for which to live: he has lost his hand, twenty-four of his sons are dead, his last surviving son has been banished from Rome, and his daughter has been mutilated. He might as well resign himself to death. Titus, however, pledges to live and have his revenge. He tells Lucius to go and raise an army among the Goths to assist him, which Lucius pledges to do.

Act 3, Scene 2

In Titus’s house, a banquet is set out. Titus says that Marcus and Lavinia should eat no more than will preserve their strength for the revenge they must take. Titus’s mind seems to be wandering. He reprimands Marcus for killing a fly, saying that the creature was harmless and had a mother and father. Marcus, to humor him, says that “it was a black, ill-favored fly” that looked like Aaron the Moor, whereupon Titus insists on stabbing it himself. Marcus believes that the effects of grief have created a permanent change in his brother.


At the beginning of the play, Titus Andronicus is at the peak of success and good fortune: the victorious general who has covered himself with glory and is the popular choice for emperor. This is his position before he appears on stage, and almost as soon as he does so, his fortunes begin to decline. Here, at the midpoint of the play, they have reached their nadir, as Marcus is tactless enough to point out:

Now, farewell, flattery: die, Andronicus;Thou dost not slumber: see, thy two sons' heads,Thy warlike hand, thy mangled daughter here:Thy other banished son, with this dear sightStruck pale and bloodless; and thy brother, I,Even like a stony image, cold and numb.Ah, now no more will I control thy griefs:Rend off thy silver hair, thy other handGnawing with thy teeth; and be this dismal sightThe closing up of our most wretched eyes . . .

Except for the lack of reference to any supernatural agent, this speech recalls those of Job’s comforters in the Bible. Titus, like Job, has had misfortune piled upon misfortune or, perhaps more accurately, malice piled on malice. No god or fate...

(This entire section contains 807 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

has brought destruction on Titus: it is the Goths and Aaron the Moor, backed by Saturninus, who have brought him to this point. His patience in response may bear a superficial response to Job’s, but it is really the beginning of an obsession with revenge that will consume him for the remainder of the play.

Aaron the Moor is the last of Titus’s antagonists to add to his affliction by giving him false hope of mercy for his sons and tricking the old man into cutting off his hand. Although Aaron is Tamora’s lover, he goes out of his way to assure the audience that he is not doing this at her behest, but because he is evil and likes harming people.

Let fools do good, and fair men call for grace.Aaron will have his soul black like his face.

Aaron’s universal malevolence makes him a prototype for later, more complex Shakespearean villains such as King Lear’s Edmund and Othello’s Iago. However, both these characters have more motive for their crimes, as well as more convincing psychology, than Aaron. There is also such a surfeit of brutality and malice in Titus Andronicus that Aaron’s villainy barely stands out against the general darkness.


Act 2, Scenes 1–4 Summary


Act 4, Scenes 1–2 Summary