Study Guide

Titus Andronicus Act 1, Scene 1

By William Shakespeare

Act 1, Scene 1

Read the full text of Titus Andronicus Act 1 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

  • In front of the crowded Senate in Rome (which is conveniently located next to the Andronicus family tomb), two brothers, Saturninus and Bassianus, and their respective armies are ready to throw down over who should be named emperor.
  • Saturninus states his case first – since he's the elder son of the late emperor, the senators should name him emperor of Rome.
  • Bassianus chimes in that the title should go to the guy who deserves it the most (him, naturally).
  • Marcus steps in and is all: Not so fast, boys. Everyone knows the people have already elected Titus Andronicus.
  • Marcus provides a laundry list of reasons Titus has been elected. He's the noblest and bravest guy in all the land, he's spent the last ten years fighting Rome's greatest enemy (the Goths), he's lost a bunch of sons in battle, and he's just returned to Rome with some very important captives.
  • Saturninus and Bassianus agree to send their soldiers home and to give up their campaigns.
  • Titus arrives amid a lot of pomp and circumstance. We're talking marching bands, Titus's sons (three are alive and two are in coffins), and a bunch of Titus's captives (including Tamora, queen of the Goths, her three sons, and Aaron "the Moor").
  • Titus gets up on stage announces that he's returned to Rome victorious (just in case it wasn't obvious) and that he's now going to place two more of his slain sons in the Andronicus family tomb.
  • Lucius, one of Titus's living sons, stands up and asks Titus to give up one of his Goth war prisoners so the Romans can hack up his limbs and make a sacrifice to the ghosts of his dead brothers.
  • Titus thinks this is a great idea and offers up Tamora's eldest son, Alarbus.
  • Tamora asks Titus to be merciful and begs him not to kill Alarbus, pointing out that her warrior sons are just as honorable as Titus's – the only difference is that they fought on opposite side of the war.
  • Titus isn't hearing any of it and says Tamora's kid must die.
  • Alarbus is led away by Titus's sons.
  • Tamora and her other two sons (Demetrius and Chiron) declare that Rome is more "barbarous" than Scythia and swear they'll get revenge.
  • Titus's sons come back on stage with bloody swords, and Lucius announces that they have chopped up Alarbus and thrown his guts in the "sacrificing fire," which, thanks to Alarbus, now smells like "incense [that] doth perfume the sky."
  • Now that the ritual sacrifice is complete, the Andronicus clan can place the dead bodies of Titus's sons in the family tomb.
  • The lovely Lavinia enters and welcomes her father home from the long, bloody war and asks Titus to "bless" her with his "victorious hand."
  • Titus declares his love for his daughter and says he hopes the virtuous Lavinia will outlive him. (Yep, that's foreshadowing alright.)
  • Marcus, a Roman tribune (a government official) and brother of Titus, welcomes Titus and his sons home and announces that Titus has been elected emperor, which means Titus gets to wear a snazzy, white emperor robe.
  • Titus says he's flattered but he's way too old and tired to rule Rome. After ten long years of military service, Titus just wants to retire in peace.
  • Saturninus, who has been growing more and more aggravated, insults Titus and declares that he still wants to be emperor. The Roman people should draw their swords and defend his right to rule.
  • Now that it's obvious that Titus doesn't want to rule Rome, Bassianus throws his hat back into the ring and asks Titus for his support.
  • Titus asks the people and the tribunes to let him choose the next emperor and they agree.
  • Titus names Saturninus (the guy who just tried to rally the people and their swords against him!).
  • Saturninus accepts the title and offers to marry Lavinia as a thank you to Titus.
  • In a big show of loyalty to Rome's new leader, Titus hands over his daughter and all his prisoners to Saturninus.
  • Saturninus takes one look at the luscious Tamora and immediately regrets his engagement to Lavinia, who is a sweet girl but apparently not as hot as the queen of the Goths.
  • Saturninus then proceeds to hit on Tamora and tells Lavinia she shouldn't be jealous.
  • Bassianus declares that he's already engaged to Lavinia so, by rights, she belongs to him.
  • Bassianus grabs Lavinia and runs off with her. Titus's sons (Lucius, Quintus, and Martius) help him get away while Mutius guards the door, blocking Titus from chasing after them.
  • Titus kills him for getting in the way and demands that Lavinia be returned. (Apparently, the Andronicus boys think of Lavinia as a piece of property that belongs to her future husband. Meanwhile, Lavinia is silent.)
  • Saturninus says something like "don't bother – I don't want anything to do with you and your traitor family, Titus."
  • Titus is crushed and feels completely disgraced.
  • Saturninus turns to Tamora and announces he wants to marry her.
  • Tamora promises that if Saturninus marries her, she'll be a "handmaid" to his "desires."
  • Since there's a priest nearby (how convenient!) the happy couple runs off to get hitched, leaving Titus alone onstage to boo-hoo about how awful his life is.
  • Marcus and Titus's sons show up and yell at Titus for killing his own flesh and blood.
  • Titus refuses to repent and says that Mutius (a name that sounds a lot like "mutiny"), doesn't get to be placed in the family tomb.
  • After some bickering, Marcus tells Titus not to be "barbarous" and Titus finally agrees to allow Mutius's body to be interred in the family vault. (Good thing this doesn't drag out. If we wanted to read a play about someone banned from burying a brother, we'd read Sophocles' Antigone.)
  • The newlyweds return, and Saturninus declares that Titus's family and Bassianus are going to pay for what they've done.
  • Bassianus sticks ups for his future father-in-law, pointing out that Titus killed his own son out of loyalty to Saturninus, so he shouldn't be punished.
  • Tamora takes Saturninus aside and says the Roman people might revolt if their beloved Titus is punished by a new emperor. She's all "don't worry, dear, I'll make sure Titus and his family pay for what they've done." Then Tamora makes a big show of reuniting Saturninus and Titus.
  • Saturninus pretends to make up with Titus and, since he's already paid the caterer and the Elvis impersonator, he invites Lavinia and Bassianus to have a double wedding feast.
  • Things seem hunky dory, so Titus says it would be fun to go panther hunting tomorrow and invites everyone along.