Study Guide

Titus Andronicus Summary

By William Shakespeare

Titus Andronicus Summary

Read the full text of Titus Andronicus with a side-by-side translation HERE.

After ten long years of fighting a war against the "barbarous" Goths, Roman general Titus Andronicus returns home with the bodies of his two dead sons and a crew of important war prisoners, including Tamora (queen of the Goths), her sons (Demetrius and Chiron) and Aaron the Moor. Before he places his slain sons in the Andronicus family tomb, Titus sacrifices Tamora's eldest son, Alarbus, in order to appease the spirits of his dead children. (By the way, Titus had 25 sons before the war started, and now he's down to four.)

As Alarbus's blood and guts burn in a smoky fire that "perfumes" the air, Marcus announces that Titus the war hero has been elected Rome's new emperor, despite the fact that the late emperor's two sons, Saturninus and Bassianus, each want power. Titus is getting old and just wants to retire in peace, so he names Saturninus, the elder son of the last emperor, as Rome's new ruler.

After a very brief (we're talking like under a minute here) engagement to Titus's virtuous daughter Lavinia, Saturninus makes Tamora his empress, and the former Queen of the Goths vows to use her new power to get revenge against Titus. With her secret lover, Aaron the Moor, Tamora proceeds to make Titus's world a living hell.

First, Tamora encourages her sons, Demetrius and Chiron, to kill Bassianus and rape Titus's daughter, Lavinia. After the rape, Demetrius and Chiron cut out Lavinia's tongue and chop off her hands so she can't identify them (verbally or in writing) as her attackers. Then Tamora helps Aaron, a brilliant mastermind, frame Titus's sons, Quintus and Martius, for the murder of Bassianus. When Titus's son Lucius makes a heroic attempt to save his brothers from false imprisonment and certain death, he's banished from Rome.

But the worst isn't over for Titus. Aaron shows up at his house and tricks Titus into believing that he can trade his hand for the lives of his sons. After lopping off his hand and sending it to the emperor, Titus receives a package – the heads of his sons, along with his severed hand.

By gesturing to a classic tale in her nephew's storybook, Lavinia reveals that she has been raped, just like Philomel in Book 6 of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Then Lavinia puts a stick in her mouth and uses it to write out the names "Demetrius" and "Chiron." Seeing this, Titus vows to get revenge.

While pretending to have lost his marbles, Titus tricks Demetrius and Chiron into hanging out with him, then slits their throats so he can make a tasty meat pie out of them just in time for a fancy dinner banquet he's got planned. (We imagine he'll be serving this with "some fava beans and a nice chianti," Hannibal Lecter-style.)

(Note to self: Never accept a dinner invitation from Titus Andronicus.)

Dressed as a chef, Titus hosts a dinner party and serves up the human pie to Tamora, Saturninus, and the rest of his guests. At the dinner table, Titus kills Lavinia and announces that he wants his daughter's "shame" and his "sorrow" to die along with her. Then he reveals the secret ingredient of his pie and stabs Tamora, killing her. Saturninus stabs Titus in return, then Lucius stabs Saturninus, leaving the stage littered with dead bodies.

Titus's only remaining son, Lucius, is named Roman emperor and promises to "heal" Rome after so much violence and bloodshed. Lucius's first act as Rome's new healer/leader? He sentences Aaron to be buried up to his chest and left for dead. Then he has Tamora's corpse left outside for the animals to devour.