Titus Andronicus is a tragic play by William Shakespeare. This play was probably Shakespeare's earliest tragedy, written in approximately 1591. This is supported by the weakness of the play compared to Shakespeare's later works. The play has some notoriety for its portrayal of revenge, violence and gore. Though popular with Elizabethan audiences, the levels of violence were considered so extreme that scholars of the 20th century commonly denied or disputed Shakespeare's authorship. More recently, it is now generally accepted that Shakespeare wrote Titus Andronicus.
The Emperor of Rome has died shortly before the plot takes place. The story begins with his two sons, Saturninus and Bassianus, arguing over who will take his place as ruler. Their squabbling is interrupted by the arrival of General Titus Andronicus, who has just completed a successful military campaign against the Goths. With him are the prisoners; Tamora, Queen of the Goths, her three sons, and her Moor servant, Aaron. Despite claiming victory, the conflict has cost Titus several of his sons. To repay the loss, he orders the sacrifice of Tamora's eldest son. Tamora and her remaining sons vow revenge.
Though the public wish for Titus to take the role as Emperor, Titus refuses the position and allows Saturninus to take over. Saturninus declares his wish to marry Titus' daughter Lavinia, however Lavinia is already betrothed to Bassianus. Titus' sons intervene on Lavinia's behalf, but this only serves to infuriate Titus. He accuses his sons and daughter of treason, and in the ensuing scuffle, murders his own son Mutius. Emperor Saturninus is shocked by the display, and scorns the Andronicus family. He chooses to marry Queen Tamora instead. Queen Tamora convinces Saturninus to pardon his brother and the Andronicus family, thus securing them for her future schemes of revenge.
During a hunt in the woods, Aaron convinces Tamora's two remaining sons to murder Bassianus and rape Lavinia. They do so, cutting off Lavinia's hands and tongue to prevent her from exposing the truth. Aaron uses a forged letter to convince Saturninus that it was Titus's sons who murdered Basssianus. The destitute Saturninus responds by ordering the execution of the sons Martius and Quintus. News of the execution, reaches the Titus family. Titus breaks down in tears on hearing of the planned execution, and on seeing his mutilated daughter. Aaron convinces Titus that if he were to cut away his hand and send it to Saturninus as tribute, the two sons would be spared. Titus obliges, only to receive the two heads of his sons in exchange for his severed hand.
Titus vows revenge and orders his remaining son, Lucius, to return to the Goths to raise an army. Lavinia, inspired by a passage from Ovid, takes a stick between her stumps and writes out the names of her attackers in the dirt. Meanwhile, Tamora gives birth to a mixed race son. Aaron, clearly the father, murders the midwife and flees with the baby (who would inevitably be put to death). He is captured by Lucius' army, and to secure the future of his child, Aaron reveals the entire plot against the Andronicus family.
Titus appears to have gone insane. Hoping to exploit this, Tamora and her two sons adopt disguises and approach Titus. They request Titus to cancel the army's assault on Rome. Titus agrees, and invites everyone to a feast to reconcile. He insists that the two sons remain to help prepare. As soon as Tamora leaves, Titus slits the two son's throats and drains away their blood.
The next day, at the feast, Titus, Tamora and Saturninus eat a fresh baked pie together. Titus asks Saturninus if it is right for a father to murder his raped daughter. When Saturninus says yes, Titus snaps Lavinia's neck at the table. Titus reveals that she was raped. He then reveals that Tamora's sons were baked into the pie they have just ate. Titus murders the shocked Tamora, Saturninus kills Titus, and finally Lucius kills Saturninus. Lucius is declared Emperor of Rome. He arranges for Saturninus to receive a proper burial, for Tamora's body to be thrown to wild beasts, and for Aaron to be left up to his chest in dirt in the wilderness, to slowly die of thirst. Aaron refuses to repent, his only regret being that he can do no further evil in this life.
- Titus Andronicus – renowned Roman general
- Lucius – Titus's eldest son
- Quintus – Titus's son
- Martius – Titus's son
- Mutius – Titus's son
- Young Lucius – Lucius's son
- Lavinia – Titus's daughter
- Marcus Andronicus – Titus's brother and tribune to the people of Rome
- Publius – Marcus's son
- Saturninus – Son of the late Emperor of Rome; declared Emperor
- Bassianus – Saturninus's brother and Lavinia's lover
- Sempronius – Titus's kinsman
- Caius – Titus's kinsman
- Valentine – Titus's kinsman
- Æmilius – Roman noble
- Tamora – Queen of the Goths; later, the Empress of Rome
- Demetrius – Tamora's son
- Chiron – Tamora's son
- Alarbus – Tamora's son; executed early on
- Aaron – a Moor servant; secret sexual partner of Tamora
- Tamora's Midwife
- Various soldiers, servants etc.
Open Source Shakespeare - Titus Andronicus