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.

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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.

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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...

(The entire section contains 852 words.)

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