Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus

"Titus Andronicus" may be Shakespeare's earliest tragedy; it is believed to have been written sometime between 1584 and the early 1590s. It depicts a Roman general who is engaged in a cycle of revenge with his enemy Tamora, the Queen of the Goths. The play is by far Shakespeare's bloodiest work. It lost popularity during the Victorian era because of its gore, and has only recently begun to revive its fortunes.

Date and text

" (1614) describes the play as 25 to 30 years old, which would date it to ca. 1584-89. [Bate, "Titus", 70.]

The play was published in three separate quarto editions prior to the First Folio of 1623, which are referred to as Q1, Q2, and Q3 by Shakespeare scholars. The play was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 6 February 1594, by the printer John Danter. Danter sold the rights to the booksellers Thomas Millington and Edward White; they issued the first quarto edition (Q1) later that year, with printing done by Danter. The title page is unusual in that it assigns the play to three different companies of actors—Pembroke's Men, Derby's Men, and Sussex's Men. White published Q2 in 1600 (printed by James Roberts), and Q3 in 1611 (printed by Edward Allde). The First Folio text (1623) was printed from Q3 with an additional scene, III, ii.

Q1 is regarded as a reasonably "good" (complete and reliable) text, and is the basis for most modern editions, although it does not include some material found in the First Folio. Only a single copy is known to exist today. Q2 appears to be based on a damaged copy of Q1, as it is a good reproduction of the Q1 text, but is missing a number of lines. Two copies are known to exist today. Q3 appears to be a further degradation of the Q2 text: it includes a number of corrections to Q2, but introduces even more errors. The First Folio text of 1623 seems to be based on the Q3 text, but also includes material found in none of the quarto editions, including the entirety of Act 3, Scene 2 (in which Titus seems to be losing his sanity). This scene is generally regarded as authentic and included in modern editions of the play.

None of the three quarto editions name the author (as was normal in the publication of playtexts in the early 1590s). However, Francis Meres lists the play as one of Shakespeare's tragedies in a publication of 1598, and the editors of the First Folio included it among his works. Despite this, Shakespeare's full authorship has been doubted. In the introduction to his 1678 adaptation of the play (printed nine years later, in 1687), Edward Ravenscroft states: "I have been told by some anciently conversant with the Stage, that it was not Originally his, but brought by a private Author to be Acted, and he only gave some Master-touches to one or two Principal Parts or Characters". [Quoted in Jonathan Bate, ed. "Titus Andronicus" (Arden Shakespeare, 1996), p. 79] There are problems with Ravenscroft's statement: the old men "conversant with the Stage" could not have been more than children when "Titus" was written, and Ravenscroft may be biased, since he uses the story to justify his alterations of Shakespeare's play. However, the story has been used to bolster arguments that another author was partly responsible.

The principal candidate is the dramatist George Peele, whose linguistic characteristics have been detected in both the first act, and the scene in which Lavinia uses Ovid's "Metamorphoses" to explain that she has been raped. [Brian Vickers, "Shakespeare: Co-Author" (Oxford University Press, 2004) describes the history of this attribution and adds more evidence of his own.] The assertion of Peele's hand in the play remains controversial, however, and those who admire the play tend to argue against it. [For a summary of this debate, see Bate, "Titus", p. 79-83.] It has even been posited that Shakespeare did not write "Titus Andronicus" at all; for example, the 19th century "Globe Illustrated Shakespeare" goes so far as to claim there was a general agreement on the matter due to the un-Shakespearean "barbarity" of the play's action.


Although "Titus Andronicus" is one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, it is hard to say exactly how early it is. The anonymous play "A Knack to Know a Knave," acted in 1592, alludes to Titus and the Goths, which clearly indicates Shakespeare's play, since other versions of the Titus story involve Moors, not Goths. Philip Henslowe's diary records performances of a "Titus and Vespasian" in 1592-93, and some critics have identified this with Shakespeare's play. [F. E. Halliday, "A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964," Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; pp. 496-97.]

In January and February of 1594, Sussex's Men gave three performances of "Titus Andronicus"; two more performances followed in June of the same year, at the Newington Butts theatre, by either the Admiral's Men or the Lord Chamberlain's Men. A private performance occurred in 1596 at Sir John Harington's house in Rutland.

In the Restoration, the play was performed in 1678 at Drury Lane, in an adaptation by Edward Ravenscroft. The eighteenth-century actor James Quin considered Aaron, the villain in "Titus," one of his favourite roles. [Halliday, "Shakespeare Companion," pp. 399, 403-4, 497.]


*Titus Andronicus, "a noble Roman, General against the Goths."
*"Children of " Titus Andronicus:
***Young Lucius, "a Boy, Son to" Lucius.
**Lavinia, "Daughter to" Titus Andronicus.
*Marcus Andronicus, "Tribune of the People, and Brother to" Titus.
**Publius, "Son to" Marcus "the Tribune."
*Tamora, "Queen of the Goths."
*"Sons to" Tamora:
*Saturninus, "Son to the late Emperor of Rome, and afterwards declared Emperor."
*Bassianus, "Brother to" Saturninus, "in love with" Lavinia.
*"A" Nurse, "and a black" Child.
*Ǣmilius, "a noble Roman".
*Aaron, "a Moor beloved by" Tamora.
*"A" Captain, Tribune, Messenger, "and a" Clown: "Romans".


The Emperor of Rome has died, and his sons Saturninus and Bassianus are squabbling over who will succeed him. The Tribune of the People, Marcus Andronicus, announces that the people's choice for new emperor is his brother, Titus Andronicus, a Roman general newly returned from ten years' campaigning against the empire's foes, the Goths. Titus enters Rome to much fanfare, bearing with him Tamora, Queen of the Goths, her sons, and Aaron the Moor. Titus feels a religious duty to sacrifice Tamora’s eldest son Alarbus, in order to avenge his sons, dead from the war, and allow them to rest in peace. Tamora begs for the life of Alarbus, but Titus refuses her pleas. Tamora secretly plans for horrible revenge on Titus and all of his remaining sons.

Titus Andronicus refuses the throne in favour of the late emperor's eldest son Saturninus, much to Saturninus' delight. The two agree that Saturninus will marry Titus' daughter Lavinia. However, Bassianus was previously betrothed to the girl. Titus' surviving sons help them escape the marriage. In the fighting, Titus kills his son Mutius. Titus is at first angry at his sons for bringing what he sees as dishonor upon his name, but his anger is eventually softened by Saturninus. The new emperor, Saturninus, marries Tamora instead.

During a hunting party the next day, Tamora's lover, Aaron the Moor, meets Tamora's sons Chiron and Demetrius. The two are arguing over which should take sexual advantage of the newlywed Lavinia. They are easily persuaded by Aaron to ambush Bassianus and kill him in the presence of Tamora and Lavinia, in order to have their way with her. Lavinia begs Tamora to stop her sons, but Tamora refuses. Chiron and Demetrius take Lavinia away and rape her over her husband's body. To keep her from revealing what she has seen and endured, they cut out her tongue and cut off her hands.

Aaron brings Titus' sons Martius and Quintus to the scene and frames them for the murder of Bassianus with a forged letter outlining their plan to kill him. Angry, the Emperor arrests them. Marcus then discovers Lavinia and takes her to her father. When she and Titus are reunited, he is overcome with grief. He and his remaining son Lucius have begged for the lives of Martius and Quintus, but the two are found guilty and are marched off to execution. Aaron enters, and falsely tells Titus, Lucius, and Marcus that the emperor will spare the prisoners if one of the three sacrifices a hand. Each demands the right to do so, but it is Titus who has Aaron cut off his (Titus') hand and take it to the emperor. In return, a messenger brings Titus the heads of his sons. Desperate for revenge, Titus orders Lucius to flee Rome and raise an army among their former enemy, the Goths.

Later, Titus' grandson (Lucius' son), who has been helping Titus read to Lavinia, complains that she will not leave his book alone. In the book, she indicates to Titus and Marcus the story of Philomela, in which a similarly mute victim "wrote" the name of her wrongdoer. Marcus gives her a stick to hold with her mouth and stumps and she writes the names of her attackers in the dirt. Titus vows revenge. Feigning madness, he ties written prayers for justice to arrows and commands his kinsmen to aim them at the sky. Marcus directs the arrows to land inside the palace of Saturninus, who is enraged by this. He confronts the Andronici and orders the execution of a Clown who had delivered a further supplication from Titus.

Tamora delivers a mixed-race child, and the nurse can tell it must have been fathered by Aaron. Aaron kills the nurse and flees with the baby to save it from the Emperor's inevitable wrath. Later, Lucius, marching on Rome with an army, captures Aaron and threatens to hang the infant. To save the baby, Aaron reveals the entire plot to Lucius, relishing every murder, rape, and dismemberment.

Tamora, convinced of Titus' madness, approaches him along with her two sons, dressed as the spirits of Revenge, Murder, and Rape. She tells Titus that she (as a supernatural spirit) will grant him revenge if he will convince Lucius to stop attacking Rome. Titus agrees, sending Marcus to invite Lucius to a feast. "Revenge" (Tamora) offers to invite the Emperor and Tamora, and is about to leave, but Titus insists that "Rape" and "Murder" (Chiron and Demetrius) stay with him. She agrees. When she is gone Titus' servants bind Chiron and Demetrius, and Titus cuts their throats, while Lavinia holds a basin in her stumps to catch their blood. He plans to cook them into a pie for their mother. This is the same revenge Procne took for the rape of her sister Philomela.

The next day, during the feast at his house, Titus asks Saturninus whether a father should kill his daughter if she has been raped. [Citing the story of Verginia, told in Livy.] When the Emperor agrees, Titus kills Lavinia and tells Saturninus what Tamora's sons had done. He reveals that they were in the pie Tamora has just been enjoying, and then kills Tamora. Saturninus kills Titus just as Lucius arrives, and Lucius kills Saturninus to avenge his father's death.

Lucius tells his family's story to the people and is proclaimed Emperor. He orders that Saturninus be given a proper burial, that Tamora's body be thrown to the wild beasts, and that Aaron be buried chest-deep and left to die of thirst and starvation. Aaron, however, is unrepentant to the end, proclaiming:

"If one good Deed in all my life I did,
I do repent it from my very Soule."


The language of "Titus Andronicus" adds greatly to the grisly action of the play. Jack Reese notes that, as a result of its gruesome nature, the play is often disregarded "as an immature exercise in sensationalism" (78). He says that this is the fault of the readers who are unaware of the literary elements and techniques present throughout the work. Reese suggests that the horrific fates of the characters are not even so horrific because the characters lack any human quality that would lead the readers to identify with them. In the example of Lavinia, he refers to her as "an emblematic figure representing Injured Innocence" (79). There are greater implications to her brutal experience than what is simply written on the page. Reese mentions that the audience is further disconnected from the violence onstage through its various descriptions. The language used in these descriptions serves to "further emphasize the artificiality of the play; in a sense, they suggest to the audience that it is hearing a poem read rather than seeing the events of that poem put into dramatic form" (83). Peter Sacks comments on the imagery conveyed through the play’s language as marked by "an artificial and heavily emblematic style, and above all, a revoltingly grotesque series of horrors which seem to have little function but to ironize man's inadequate expressions of pain and loss" (587). Shakespeare's mastery of language stylizes the brutality seen in "Titus Andronicus". Gillian Kendall follows a similar line of thought, stating that rhetorical devices, such as metaphor, augment the violent imagery, also elevating it. She discusses how the figurative use of certain words complements their literal counterparts. This, however, "disrupts the way the audience perceives imagery" (300). An example of this is seen in the body politic/dead body imagery in the beginning; the two images soon become interchangeable, as do others through the course of the play.

Critic Mary Fawcett looks not only at the language of the play, but also at language as a theme. She comments on the communication methods of Lavinia, post-rape, looking first at the term "scrowl" used by Demetrius in Act 2 Scene 4. Fawcett suggests that this word is a fusion of "scowl" and "scroll"; Demetrius “locates an area of language that is not spoken and not written” (261). She then goes on to address an incident where Titus offers his hand to Lavinia so that she may attempt to use it as a substitute tongue. This scene raises issues of patriarchy since Titus is facilitating his daughter’s speech; the “patriarchal nature of language” is illustrated. The scene also recalls Lavinia’s earlier request for paternal blessing when she asks her father to bless her with his hand in Act 1 Scene 1. Fawcett says that “the frightful literalization of this request reminds us of the etymology of blessing: a bleeding or wounding” (262). When he finally kills Lavinia, Titus is adhering to ideas set forth by his predecessor Livy; to Titus, “words point to a pre-existing text which alone originates and sanctions action” (269). The significance of language to the characters and to the play as a whole is unmistakable.

Dramatic structure

Written between 1589 and 1592, "Titus Andronicus" may be Shakespeare's earliest tragedy and is written in the form of a revenge tragedy. The play has characteristics similar to the work of Seneca, specifically his play "Thyestes", which included horrific scenes of severed hands, cannibalism, and rape. Although violence was not uncommon in Elizabethan plays, "Titus Andronicus" stands out due to the volume and extremity of the violent acts committed. Unlike his other works, the play contains an uncanny number of crude and savage moments, which has sparked debate among critics as to whether or not the play was actually composed by Shakespeare. However this was not Shakespeare's only revenge tragedy, as his work "Hamlet" is considered one of the best examples of Elizabethan revenge tragedies and his works "Julius Caesar" and "Macbeth" have elements of the revenge tragedy. However, neither of these works contains the volume or the vivid descriptions of violence that one finds in "Titus Andronicus".

Critic S. Clark Hulse even went as far as to calculate the number of atrocities occurring in the play and concluded that, “It (the play) has 14 killings, 9 of them on stage, 6 severed members, 1 rape (or 2 or 3 depending on how you count), 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity, and 1 of cannibalism—-an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines.” The vivid descriptions that Shakespeare uses to describe these violent acts certainly stands out to critics. T. S. Eliot claimed that the play was the "worst play ever written" (Bate 27). Shakespearean critic Harold Bloom, in his work "Shakespeare: Invention of the Human", says that Shakespeare must have intended the work as a parody of the violent plays of colleague Christopher Marlowe, who was writing at the same time as Shakespeare.

What stands out about the dramatic structure of the play is that unlike Shakespeare's other works, such as "Romeo and Juliet" which shifts between comedy and tragedy, "Titus Andronicus" continuously remains a revenge tragedy throughout. The play cannot be considered as history play, as it combines various names and events from different points in Roman history, such as the Lucrece story, which Shakespeare likely would have been familiar with from Ovid's work, "Fasti" or Livy's work "The History of Rome". It has been noted by critics that the play contains very few subplots in contrast to other works by Shakespeare such as "Twelfth Night" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream".


This Roman tragedy is based on the mythological story of Procne and Philomela found in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Alan Hughes, a Shakespearean critic, believes that Procne's revenge is a conspicuous theme in this Shakespearean play. Procne avenges the dismemberment of her sister Philomela, whose tongue is cut out after she is raped by Procne's husband Tereus, by killing her son and feeding him to her husband (Ovid 230). Just as Procne is driven by revenge, the characters in "Titus Andronicus" are driven by revenge fueling the rape and carnage that occurs throughout the play. Some of Titus's sons are killed during the war with the Goths, and as a result Titus sacrifices Alarbus, the oldest of Tamora's sons, perpetuating the conflict between the Andronicus family and Tamora. With the intention of revenge, Tamora orders her sons Chiron and Demetrius to rape Lavinia, the daughter of Titus. Not only is Lavinia raped, but she is brutally dismembered as her tongue and hands are cut off. Titus eventually takes revenge on Tamora by killing and then cooking Chiron and Demetrius into a pie and serving it to the Queen (Shakespeare 1070-1096).

Even though the hateful relationship between Tamora and Titus provides the main revenge plot in this tragedy, Bellyse Baildon states that this play is also a conglomeration of two themes which were popular in England before Shakespeare's time. The first theme is known as "the Wicked Moor" theme in which the Moor, Aaron, commits murder and rape out of revenge and pure malice (Baildon 17). For example, Aaron murders the nurse who brings him his illegitimate son out of pure malice as he doesn't want news of the illegitimate relationship between him and Tamora to leak. The second theme may be known as "the White Lady and Moor" theme which focuses on the lustful relationship between the white queen and a black slave (Baildon 17). Aaron works as Tamora's slave, yet they conceive a child together, but he then goes against her wishes as she wants their illegitimate son to be killed while he wants to raise the child (Shakespeare 1087). Along with the previous two critics, Deborah Willis also adds that this play is different from other revenge plays because women, and not just men, are also fueled by revenge. Revenge acts as a leveling agent as men, sons, fathers, women, and slaves all follow the path of revenge to defend honor and their families. To save the honor of the Goths, Tamora wages a personal war with the Andronicus family. While Lavinia represents the view of women as objects, Tamora uses excess cruelty and violence, therefore disturbing the patriarchal system (Willis 22). Also, Titus assumes the feminine role of Procne as he avenges the honor of his daughter. Not only does revenge lead to the eventual destruction and death of most of the main characters, but it also acts as an equalizer between men and women.


As Shakespeare's most gruesome play, "Titus Andronicus" has also been his most derided. Critics from Lewis Theobald and Edmond Malone to J. M. Robertson doubted Shakespeare's authorship because of its lurid violence and generally uninspired verse. However, it was an extremely popular play in its day, on a par with such plays as Marlowe's "Tamburlaine" and Thomas Kyd's "The Spanish Tragedy".

Since the late twentieth century the play has been revived frequently on stage and has been revealed to some as a powerful and moving exploration of violence that presages "King Lear" in its bleakness. Modern audiences may, however, still find the play's graphic cruelty absurd, unused as they are to attending public executions and dismemberment of the kind that were familiar to Shakespeare's audience; Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom has claimed that the play cannot be taken seriously and that the best imaginable production would be one directed by Mel Brooks.

The character of Titus has been played by important actors such as Brian Cox, Anthony Sher, Anthony Hopkins and Laurence Olivier.

Adaptations and cultural references

Literary works

* "Die Schändung" by German author Botho Strauss
* "Greensleeves" (monologue), ("At the Drop of a Hat", 1956) by Flanders and Swann. Michael Flanders, in a reference to drunkenness, refers to someone as being "Titus Andronicus" (a pun on "tight as Andronicus").
* In "Simpson Comics" #76 there is an adaptation with Itchy & Scratchy named "Titus Andronicus", which is made in the typical Itchy and Scratchy manner.
* "Titus Andronicus. Komödie nach Shakespeare" by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt


* "Exorcist III", the Gemini killer, played by Brad Dourif, claims that "Titus Andronicus" was one of his favorite plays.
* "Shakespeare in Love" depicts a young John Webster as saying that "Titus Andronicus" is his favorite Shakespeare play.
* "Titus Andronicus (film)" (1998), directed by Chris Dunne. Stars Bob Reese as Titus, and costars Tom Dennis, Levi-David Tinker, Candy Kane and Lexton Raliegh.
* "Titus" (1999), directed by Julie Taymor. Stars Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange as Titus and Tamora.


* "Scott Tenorman Must Die": an episode of the animated comedy series South Park. The last act is loosely based on "Titus Andronicus", as Eric Cartman exacts revenge on a bully by baking the boys' murdered parents' corpses into a bowl of chili and then tricking the boy into eating it.
* "Theatre of Blood": a motion picture in which Vincent Price's character murders theatre critics using Shakespearean themes. Robert Morley's character is duped into eating a pie into which his "babies"—his pet poodles—have been baked.
* "Titus Andronicus" (1985): a TV movie directed by Jane Howell, last of the BBC Shakespeare series. Stars Trevor Peacock and Eileen Atkins as Titus and Tamora, with Hugh Quarshie as Aaron.


* "Anatomie Titus Fall of Rome. Ein Shakespearekommentar", a 1984 play by (East) German author Heiner Müller
* "Titus Andronicus: The Musical!", written by Brian Colonna, Erik Edborg, Hannah Duggan, Erin Rollman, Matt Petraglia, and Samantha Schmitz, was staged by the Buntport Theater of Denver, Colorado three times between 2005 and 2007.
* The Reduced Shakespeare Company rendered "Titus Andronicus" as a cooking show and referred to the time of its writing as Shakespeare's "Quentin Tarantino phase".
* "Tragedy! (A Musical Comedy)": Another musical adaptation of "Titus Andronicus" written by Mike Johnson of Burlington, NC. "Tragedy!" first premiered at the College of William and Mary as Mike Johnson's Monroe project but was later accepted by the 2007 New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) to perform Off Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. " [http://www.tragedythemusical.com/ Tragedy! (A Musical Comedy)] "



*Bate, Jonathan. "Titus Andronicus". Cengage Learning Publishing. March, 1995. pp. 25–29.
*Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare "The Invention of the Human". New York Publishing Company. New York. 1998
* "BookRags Study Guide on Titus Andronicus." 1 December 2007.
*Bullough, Geoffrey. "Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare." New York, Columbia University Press, 1966.
*Cutts, John P. "The Shattered Glass: A Dramatic Pattern in Shakespeare's Early Plays". Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1968.
*Dowden, Edward. "Shakespeare: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art". New York, Barnes & Noble ING, 1967.
*Fawcett, Mary Laughlin. “Arms/Words/Tears: Language and the Body in Titus Andronicus”. "ELH" 50.2 (1983): 261–277.
*Gray, Henry David. "Titus Andronicus Once More". "Modern Language Notes", Vol. 32, No. 4 (April 1919) pp. 214–220.

* cite book
last = Hughes
first = Derek
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Culture and Sacrifice: Ritual Death in Literature and Opera
publisher = Cambridge University Press
date = 2007
location =
pages = pp. 68–74
url = http://www.cambridge.org/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521867337
doi =
id =
isbn = 978-0-521-86733-7

* Kendall, Gillian Murray. “‘Lend me thy hand’: Metaphor and Mayhem in Titus Andronicus”. "Shakespeare Quarterly" 40.3 (1989): 299–316.

* Ovid. "Metamorphoses". Trans. David Raeburn. London: Penguin Books, 2004.

* Reese, Jack E. “The Formalization of Horror in Titus Andronicus”. "Shakespeare Quarterly" 21.1 (1970): 77–84.

* Sacks, Peter. “Where Words Prevail Not: Grief, Revenge, and Language in Kyd and Shakespeare”. "ELH" 49.3 (1982): 576–601.

* Shakespeare, William. "The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus". Ed. Baildon, Bellyse. London: Methuen and Co, 1904.

* Shakespeare, William. "Titus Andronicus." Ed. Alan Hughes. London: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

* Shakespeare, William. "The Riverside Shakespeare": Second Edition. Ed. Dean Johnson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

* Willis, Deborah. "The gnawing vulture: Revenge, Trauma Theory, and Titus Andronicus". "Shakespeare Quarterly" 53.1 (2002): 21–52.

External links

* [http://www.gutenberg.net/etext/2260 Titus Andronicus] - plain vanilla text from Project Gutenberg.
* [http://xahlee.org/p/titus/titus.html The Tragedy Of Titus Andronicus] Annotated HTML version with links back to Wikipedia articles.
* [http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/connotations/TAYLOR62.HTM Lucius, the Severely Flawed Redeemer of Titus Andronicus by Anthony Brian Taylor] .

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