Review: The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus – Written February 9, 2001

The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus is a tale of epic proportions. It is a classic tale of violence, lust, revenge, and evil. Although an amazing story, it is considered by many to be one of William Shakespeare’s worst plays. Poetically, the play is not a masterpiece, however the story and characters make up for any literary faults.

Set in the later years of the Roman Empire, the play opens on Titus Andronicus, Rome’s finest and most noble general, and his four sons returning to Rome after a victory over the Goths. When they reach the dungeon, Titus calls for Tamora, the queen of the Goths, and her three sons. Titus ritually sacrifices her eldest son despite Tamora’s pleas for his life.

The next day there is a large crowd gathered representing the recently dead emperor’s two sons, Saturnius and Bassianus, who are competing for the crown. The Senate tells the crowd that neither Saturnius nor Bassianus have been elected, but it is Titus who shall become the new emperor of Rome. Titus then tells the crowd that, “A better head her [Rome’s] glorious body fits / Than his that shakes for age and feebleness.” He then asks the Senate to elect Saturnius as Rome’s new emperor, and they accept.

Saturnius becomes emperor and then asks Lavinia, Titus’ daughter, to be his bride. Titus accepts Saturnius’ offer on behalf of her even though she is engaged to Bassianus. Bassianus then takes Lavinia and flees the Senate building along with Titus’ four sons. Titus pledges to bring Lavinia back. Titus chases his daughter and kills his son Mutius. Just as Titus is about to chase them again, the emperor tells him that he is dishonored and that Saturnius chose Tamora to be his new bride. Titus, disgraced and saddened, leaves to his home.

Tamora convinces Saturnius to forgive all of the Andronicus family telling him that the true revenge will come later. Tamora then instructs her Moorish lover, Aaron, to take her two remaining sons, Chiron and Demetrius, and kill Bassianus and frame Titus’ two sons Quintus and Martius. Chiron and Demetrius then kidnap Lavinia, take her to the woods, rape her, cut off her hands and tongue, and leave her to die. Titus’ brother finds her and takes her back to Titus although he says that the sight of her will blind him. Just as Lavinia returns home, Titus is delivered news through Aaron that his son Lucius is banished from Rome and that Quintus and Martius are to be beheaded. Aaron also tells Titus that if he sacrifices his hand to Saturnius, the emperor will be merciful and grant Quintus and Martius their lives. Titus cuts off his hand and sends it to the emperor only to have it brought back along with his son’s severed heads. Titus begins to laugh claiming, “…tears I can no longer shed…” This leads everyone to believe he is insane. Titus instructs Lucius to leave Rome and join the Goths and become general of their army and prepare to march on Rome.

As Lucius leaves, Lavinia reveals her rapists by writing their names in the sand with her arms and Titus vows revenge of Chiron and Demetrius. Back at the palace, Aaron discovers he has a son born of the new empress Tamora. Tamora urges him to kill his new son as not to disgrace them both, but Aaron declines and flees back to the Goth army.

Titus then takes his kinsmen to the palace and sets arrows with petitions to the gods for justice and shoots them into the palace. Saturnius sees copies of these letters and is furious, and then hears word of Lucius’ new army marching on Rome. Tamora then sends for Lucius and invites him to a gathering to take place at Titus’ house.

When Lucius is about to leave, Aaron is discovered and Lucius prepares to have Lucius and his son hanged. Aaron pleas with Lucius for his son’s life telling him he will reveal all the evil that has happened. Aaron revels everything saying finally, “And what not done, that thou hast cast to rue, / Wherein I has no stroke of mischief in it?” showing how every act of villainy has been orchestrated by Aaron, and Aaron is gagged. Back in Rome, Tamora appears to Titus with Chiron and Demetrius in disguise as Revenge, Rape, and Murder, respectively. She offers to help Titus with his revenge if he will gather Saturnius, Tamora, Lucius, and Lavinia at the Andronicus residence. Titus agrees, knowing full well that Revenge, Rape, and Murder are truly Tamora and her sons, and asks that Rape and Murder keep him company. Tamora, believing Titus to be crazy, agrees.

Tamora leaves, Titus ties up Chiron and Demetrius, slits their throats, and gathers their blood. He then grinds their bones and combines it with the blood to make a paste that he uses to make a pie to serve to Tamora at the gathering.

The next day all are gathered at the Andronicus household along with other Senators and noblemen. Titus asks Saturnius if he believes that a woman should be allowed to live if she was raped and the emperor responds saying, “She should not be allowed to survive her shame.” Upon hearing this, Titus kills Lavinia. Saturnius is mortified, and asks Titus why he killed his daughter. Titus tells Saturnius that her true killers and rapists are Chiron and Demetrius. Saturnius orders they be brought to him at once, and Titus reveals they are already there in the pie that they have been eating, and then stabs Tamora. Saturnius kills Titus, and then Lucius kills Saturnius. Lucius is brought to trial before the people of Rome where he defends his actions by telling the crowd what wrongs have been done against the Andronicus family. The people then ask for Lucius to assume the role as their new emperor. Lucius agrees and then sentences Aaron to be buried alive breast deep and left to starve and Tamora’s body to be fed to wild beasts.

Titus Andronicus has such a complex plot that it could easily take a reader multiple readings just to understand the plot line. It took me approximately six months to completely understand exactly what happened. The main plots were Titus seeking revenge with Tamora, Tamora seeking revenge on Titus, and Aaron causing mischief. Three main plots make for a difficult story, but there are also sub-plots. For example, Titus needs to avenge Lavinia and Lucius needs to become emperor and restore order to Rome. All of these different plot lines made the play interesting but overcomplicated.

The characters in this play were some of the most memorable that Shakespeare has ever written. Two that stick out are Titus and Aaron. Titus is the typical protagonist that tries to live a good, peaceful life and just can not seem to do it. Every time he gets a chance, something bad happens to him. Aaron is a well-developed character and makes him one of the best villains in literature. By far, the most amazing thing about the two characters is that, although they are the protagonist and antagonist, they have very little direct contact.

The setting, although in Rome, was not necessary. The play could have taken place anywhere where there was a war and a king. Shakespeare had a special fondness for Rome and Italy, so he created this play here. Though the setting fits, it is not needed.

Theme is very difficult to determine. One theme is to not do evil, or bad things will happen, as was proven with Tamora and Aaron. However, another theme is that good does not always win, as was shown with Titus’ death. Though this play is considered a tragedy due to the death of Titus, it is truly a fine ending because evil is vanquished and peace is restored to a troubled nation.

I loved this story. Although this was one of Shakespeare’s more disliked works, and one of the harder ones to read, the plot was fantastic. It was very easy to understand Titus’ quest for peace, and also yearn for him to finally get his revenge so his world could be restored. Also very universal was the character of Aaron. Although he did not appear much in the story, he was my favorite. He was a person you loved to hate. The whole play I wanted him to get caught for all that he had done, but he did everything so well, I was afraid he might get away with it. He held my attention to the story and made me want to read on just to find out what treachery he would do next. In Acts IV and V the plot dragged and bored me to death. By the end of the play, all I wanted was for Titus to die so he would be out of his pain and so I would be out of mine.

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