Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

'Titus Andronicus' is one of William Shakespeare's less popular plays. It differs from many of Shakespeare's popular stories and is filled with violence and corruption. Learn more about 'Titus Andronicus' and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Introduction

Carrying out a lengthy feud with another person can be emotionally and physically draining. It requires all of your attention and can lead you to behave in destructive ways. Titus Andronicus is a play written by William Shakespeare. It is a story about violence, murder, and revenge following a lengthy war. The protagonist, Titus, is an army general who has just returned from a ten-year war, bringing with him several people he captured. A battle for revenge between his captives and Titus continues throughout the play.

Summary

After the death of their father, Saturninus and Bassianus, two brothers, both demand to be made emperor. Saturninus feels that he should be emperor because he is the first-born son; Bassianus feels he should be made emperor because he is favored by the public. Before an election can take place, Marcus Andronicus arrives with Caesar's crown and states the public has decided his brother, Titus should decide who becomes emperor, because he has just returned home after a victorious battle. Both brothers agree to this arrangement and Bassianus expresses love for Titus and his family.

When Titus and his family return to Rome, two of them, Martius and Mutius, carry the coffin of their brother who was lost in battle. Two of Titus' other sons, Lucius and Quintus, follow the coffin. Titus arrives with the people he has captured, Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and her three sons, Alarbus, Chiron, and Demetrius, as well as Aaron, a fierce and evil Moor (person of African descent).

In war, Titus has lost several of his sons, and his son, Lucius, demands that a human sacrifice follow the death of his brother according to Roman law, which his father agrees with. They choose Tamora's oldest son, Alarbus, to sacrifice, against Tamora's wishes. Tamora develops hatred for Titus Andronicus and vows to seek revenge on him.

When Titus chooses a new emperor, he chooses Saturninus. To show appreciation, Saturninus agrees to take Titus' daughter Lavinia as his wife. Titus then turns his captives over to Saturninus, who has developed an attraction to Tamora and tells her he wants to honor her. His future wife Lavinia says she is not upset by Saturninus' feelings for Tamora. Bassianus is upset by these occurrences and kidnaps Lavinia, since she had previously been promised to him as wife. Lavinia's brothers, Lucius and Marcus, support and defend Bassianus because they know Lavinia has been promised to him by their father. Their father, Titus, sees this action as treason and labels them traitors to Rome. In outrage, he pursues them and kills his son Mutius, who tries to help Bassianus as well.

Lucius is upset by his father's behavior and Titus is only concerned with returning his daughter to Saturninus. Even though Titus is loyal to Saturninus, Saturninus is not loyal to him. He says that Titus kidnapped Lavinia and announces Tamora as his new wife. Tamora defends Titus from punishment and says that she holds no grudge against him because of her happiness. Tamora has decided to pretend to forgive Titus until order is restored in Rome and then betray him; Saturninus agrees and allows Bassianus to marry Lavinia.

Meanwhile, Aaron, the Moor, is in love with Tamora and feels that her new title as empress is good for him as her lover. Tamora's sons, Chiron and Demetrius, both desire Lavinia. Aaron suggests that both boys rape Lavinia during a hunt on the following day. When they are finished, they cut her tongue and her hands so that she cannot communicate what happened. Aaron and Tamora stab Bassianus and frame Titus' sons Martius and Quintus for it. Without proof, Saturninus orders the deaths of Titus' sons for killing his brother.

Lucius tries to help his brothers and is banned from Rome. Titus then starts to hate the Rome he once loved. Aaron tells Titus that the emperor has decided his severed hand will serve as payment for his son's crimes and prevent their deaths. Without hesitation, Titus agrees and his hand is severed shortly before the heads of his sons are revealed. Titus realizes that Aaron has tricked him. His sorrow over his great losses turns into uncontrollable rage and he is determined to seek revenge on Saturninus and Tamora by sending Lucius to work with the Goths.

Titus struggles to accept all that has happened to his family. He grows weary and begins to behave in odd ways. When Marcus kills a fly, Titus cries out. Everyone thinks he has gone crazy. Tamora then tries to bargain with Titus, by pretending to be the figure of revenge, and suggests that he convince his son Lucius to stop helping the Goths so that he can gain justice for the wrongs that had been done to him and his family.

Titus has his family shoot arrows into the sky for help from the gods. During a day with her family, Lavinia is able to communicate the names of her attackers in the sand and Marcus and Titus vow revenge on Tamora's sons. Meanwhile, Tamora has a baby boy with Aaron, who is to be killed, but Aaron decides to trade the dark child for a white one so that the emperor was not aware of Tamora's affair with him. When captured by the Goths, Aaron tells Lucius the truth about all that happened in Rome in exchange for the sparing of his son's life.

In Rome, Titus was only pretending to be crazy and traps and kills Tamora's sons for raping his daughter. Titus makes pies out of Tamora's sons and holds a feast for the emperor and his wife where he plans to serve the meat pie. Titus kills Lavinia to end her shame and suffering over her rape. After Titus reveals what is in the pie, he stabs Tamora. In retaliation, Saturninus kills Titus and Lucius kills Saturninus. The noblemen of the banquet then declare Lucius the new emperor and Titus' name is cleared. He orders that Tamora does not have a funeral and has her body thrown to the birds of prey. Lucius also decides that Aaron will be buried and starved to death for punishment.

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