Titus Andronicus

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A tragedy by Shakespeare, dating possibly from 1590, published 1594, and included in the First Folio of 1623. Shakespeare's authorship has been questioned, but it is now generally agreed that he wrote the whole play. Sources for Titus Andronicus that have been put forward include the Hecuba of Euripides, Seneca's Thyestes and Troades, and Ovid's version of ‘the tragic tale of Philomel’ (Metamorphoses, Book XIII); Plutarch also contributed to the plot.

The first half of the play deals with the return of Titus Andronicus to Rome after his sixth victory over the Goths. He brings with him their Queen Tamora and her three sons, the eldest of whom, Alarbus, is sacrificed to avenge his own sons' deaths. Titus is offered the imperial mantle, but gives it instead to the late emperor's son Saturninus, to whose marriage with his daughter, Lavinia, Titus consents. Saturninus' brother Bassianus claims Lavinia as his own and, while taking her off, Titus kills his son Mutius, who has tried to block his way. Saturninus now changes his mind, renounces Lavinia and marries Tamora, who engineers a false reconciliation between the emperor and Titus, whom she plans to destroy. She does this with the help of her lover Aaron, the Moor, who gets Tamora's sons Chiron and Demetrius to murder Bassianus, whose body is thrown into a pit, rape Lavinia, and cut off her tongue and hands. Titus' sons Quintus and Martius are then lured by Aaron to fall into the pit, where they are found and accused of Bassianus' murder. Aaron tells Titus that his sons will not be executed if he sacrifices his hand and sends it to the emperor. Titus does this, but gets it back again with the heads of his two sons.

In the second half of the play, Titus discovers who raped and mutilated his daughter, and with his brother, Marcus, and last remaining son Lucius, vows revenge. Lucius leaves Rome, but returns with an army of Goths, which captures Aaron and his child by Tamora. Tamora and her sons Demetrius and Chiron visit Titus disguised as Revenge, Rapine, and Murder and ask him to have Lucius banquet at his house, where the emperor and the empress and her sons will be brought. Titus recognizes his enemies and with the help of Lavinia slits the throats of Chiron and Demetrius and uses their flesh in a pie, some of which Tamora eats at the banquet before Titus kills her. He also stabs Lavinia, but is killed by Saturninus, who is in turn killed by Lucius. He is elected emperor and sentences Aaron to be buried breast‐deep in the ground and starved to death.

(Andronicus in the play is accentuated thus, on the second syllable; in Latin it is Andronicus.)

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism.

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William Shakespeare (1564—1616) playwright and poet

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