Study Guide

Titus Andronicus Act 3, Scene 1

By William Shakespeare

Act 3, Scene 1

Read the full text of Titus Andronicus Act 3 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

  • On a street in Rome, a group of judges, tribunes, and senators troop along with the prisoners, Martius and Quintus, who have been framed for Bassianus's murder.
  • Titus confronts them and plays the "I'm a war hero" card, pleading for mercy on behalf of his sons.
  • Titus lies down on the ground in protest of his sons' imprisonment, but the judges just walk past him.
  • With nobody left to plead to, Titus begs the "earth" not to drink his sons' blood and promises to cry enough tears to "staunch" the "earth's appetite."
  • (Psst. Check out director Julie Taymor's portrayal of this dramatic scene in her film Titus.)
  • Lucius shows up with his sword drawn and tells his dad to quit with the begging and crying since nobody's around to hear it.
  • Lucius announces that he just attempted a dramatic rescue of his falsely accused brothers. As punishment, the judges pronounced an "everlasting doom of banishment."
  • Titus laments that Rome is "a wilderness of tigers," and the Andronicus family is its "prey."
  • Enter Marcus and Lavinia.
  • Marcus approaches and warns Titus to brace himself because he's about to reveal something awful.
  • Lucius takes one look at his sister and says the sight of Lavinia "kills" him.
  • Titus orders Lucius not to be a wimp and asks Lavinia to reveal who chopped off her hands. (He hasn't figured out that Lavinia is now mute.)
  • Titus declares that this is the worst thing that has ever happened to him.
  • Marcus explains that he found Lavinia wandering around the forest like a wounded deer, and Titus repeats that Lavinia's assault is the worst thing that could possibly happen to him.
  • As Lavinia stands crying before her family, Titus states the obvious: Lavinia has no tongue to tell them what happened to her.
  • Marcus speculates that Lavinia is crying because 1) she thinks her brothers killed her husband, or 2) Lavinia knows her brothers didn't kill Bassianus and she can't do anything about it.
  • Titus wonders aloud what he, Lucius, and Marcus should do next. Should they cut off their hands or bite off their tongues to commiserate with Lavinia? Nah, he decides. Marcus and Titus should use their tongues to talk about how they're going to get revenge for what happened to Lavinia.
  • As if on cue, Aaron enters and announces that Saturninus is willing to make a deal with the Andronicus family. If one of them will cut off his hand and send it to the emperor, then Saturninus will let Quintus and Martius go free.
  • Titus immediately asks Aaron if he'll help him chop off his hand.
  • Before Aaron can agree, Lucius and Marcus both offer to cut off one of theirs and proceed to bicker over who gets to mutilate himself to save Quintus and Martius.
  • While Lucius and Marcus run off to fetch the ax, Aaron lends Titus a hand (get it?) and chops off Titus's, promising to deliver it as ransom for Titus's sons.
  • As Aaron runs off with Titus's hand, he gleefully announces that he loves being a villain. "Let fools do good, and fair men call for grace," he says. "Aaron will have his soul black like his face." (Check out "Quotes: Race" if you want to know what we think about this statement.)
  • As Titus laments his suffering, a messenger arrives with a bag containing – you guessed it – the heads of Martius and Quintus, along with Titus's hand.
  • We interrupt this program for a brain snack: in Elizabethan England, criminals were often punished by getting their hands lopped off. Just saying.
  • The Messenger declares that Titus is being mocked for his loyalty to Rome.
  • Marcus announces that things just couldn't be any worse than they are now (we have to agree), and Titus begins to laugh like a madman.
  • Titus vows to get revenge and starts ordering his family around like a general. Lucius should go to the Goths and raise an army against Saturninus and Tamora. Everyone else is to head home. Marcus will carry one head while Titus carries the other. Lavinia will carry Titus's hand in her teeth, since she doesn't have any hands of her own. (We're not kidding.)