Period written: 1593-1594
First known performance: January 24, 1594 (Rose Theatre)
Saturninus and Bassianus are in contention for the title of emperor, but dismiss their followers on the arrival of Titus, returning victorious with his sons from war with the Goths. His prisoner Tamora pleads for the life of one of her sons, Alarbus, but Titus has him killed. Titus is offered the emperorship on behalf of the people by his brother Marcus, but he confers the title on Saturninus, who then asks for Titus’ daughter Lavinia to be his wife. Already betrothed to Bassianus, Titus’ sons stop Saturninus taking her. Titus calls them traitors, and kills his son Mutius in the struggle.
Saturninus then claims Tamora as his bride, and she vows revenge on Titus. Aaron persuades her sons Chiron and Demetrius to ravish Lavinia. Bassianus and Lavinia discover Tamora with her Moorish lover Aaron, but before Bassianus can tell Saturninus, he is killed by Chiron and Demetrius, and his body thrown in a pit. They then rape Lavinia, removing her tongue and hands so that she cannot tell anyone what has happened to her.
Aaron leads Titus’ sons Martius and Quintus to the pit where Bassianus’ body lies, and traps them there. They are accused of the murder, and sentenced to death. Aaron persuades Titus that if someone removes their hand and sends it to Saturninus it will save his sons’ lives, but after Titus sends his own hand it is immediately returned along with the heads of his two sons. Lucius vows revenge, and leaves to raise an army from among the Goths.
Titus, apparently beginning to go mad, argues with Marcus for killing a fly. With the help of Young Lucius and Marcus, Lavinia informs them who attacked her. Planning revenge, Titus sends weapons to Tamora’s sons, fires arrows with letters attached to them at Saturninus’ court, then sends a Clown to Saturninus with a knife wrapped up in a letter.
Aaron is given his newborn baby by Tamora. Tamora wants the Moorish-looking child killed, to avoid Saturninus finding out about their affair. Aaron takes the baby away, replacing it with a white baby. The Goths capture Aaron and the baby, and Lucius (now their leader) threatens the child with death. Aaron agrees to tell Lucius the truth about events, if he spares the baby’s life.
Tamora, Demetrius and Chiron disguise themselves as Revenge, Murder, and Rape, respectively, to trick Titus, whom they believe to be mad, into sending for Lucius. They think they have succeeded in fooling him, but, when Tamora leaves, Titus kills Chiron and Demetrius with Lavinia’s help. He then invites Saturninus and Tamora to a parley with Lucius at a dinner, having cooked Chiron and Demetrius in a pie. He kills Lavinia, then reveals to Tamora that she has been eating her own sons, and stabs her. Saturninus kills Titus, and is then killed by Lucius.
Marcus and Lucius relate to the people what has happened, and Lucius is proclaimed emperor. An unrepentant Aaron is sentenced to death, the Andronici are given proper burial, and Tamora’s body is thrown to the animals.
Discuss this play in our forums.