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Titus Andronicus

by William Shakespeare, George Peele (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,217365,286 (3.69)180
The noble Titus returns victorious to Rome bringing Tamora, Queen of the Goths as his captive. When one of Tamora's sons is condemned to die, she vows revenge, and, aided by the villainous Aaron, she exacts a terrible retribution, inaugurating a grim cycle of rape, murder, and cannibalism. This macabre, often brilliant tragedy comes from the earliest stage of Shakespeare's dramatic career.… (more)

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» See also 180 mentions

English (34)  Swedish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (36)
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
My secret favorite Shakespeare play! You can really see the clear inspiration from "The Spanish Tragedie" as Shakespeare adapted the plays and the ideas into "Hamlet." ( )
  dianahaemer | Apr 27, 2021 |
Harold Bloom wanted to see Titus Andronicus performed as a comedy; it's easy to imagine Shakespeare as a 16th-Century Tarantino with this play, fanboying out with classical tragedy rather than schlock films. ( )
  poirotketchup | Mar 18, 2021 |
The pornography of violence is writ large in this early play by Shakespeare. It was considered too shocking for a Victorian Audience, but was a success in 1592 when it hit the Elizabethan stage. Recent modern revivals have also succeeded which may say more about the 21st century than Shakespeare and the Elizabethans. The amount of violence in the play is listed in the wikipedia article. I lost count of the incidents way before the end:

The play is saturated with violence from its opening scene, and violence touches virtually every character; Alarbus is burned alive and has his arms chopped off; Titus stabs his own son to death; Bassianus is murdered and thrown into a pit; Lavinia is brutally raped and has her hands cut off and her tongue cut out; Martius and Quintus are decapitated; a nurse and a midwife are stabbed to death by Aaron; an innocent clown is executed for no apparent reason; Titus kills Chiron and Demetrius and cooks them in a pie, which he then feeds to their mother. Then, in the final scene, in the space of a few lines, Titus kills in succession Lavinia and Tamora, and is then immediately killed by Saturninus, who is in turn immediately killed by Lucius. Aaron is then buried up to his neck and left to starve to death in the open air and Tamora's body is thrown to the wild beasts outside the city. As S. Clark Hulse points out, "it has 14 killings, 9 of them on stage, 6 severed members, 1 rape (or 2 or 3 depending on how you count), 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity, and 1 of cannibalism – an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines

This run down does not reveal the whole picture however, because it is Shakespeare's depiction of his characters seeming to revel in the violence that is most shocking for audiences and readers of the play. This is Marcus coming across his sister Lavinia in a forest who has just been raped by two Goths and has had her hands cut off and her tongue cut out:

Why dost not speak to me?
Alas, a crimson river of warm blood,
Like to a bubbling fountain stirr'd with wind,
Doth rise and fall between thy rosed lips,
Coming and going with thy honey breath.
But sure some Tereus hath deflowered thee,
And, lest thou shouldst detect him, cut thy tongue.
Ah, now thou turn'st away thy face for shame!
And notwithstanding all this loss of blood-
As from a conduit with three issuing spouts-
Yet do thy cheeks look red as Titan's face
Blushing to be encount'red with a cloud.

This is what happens to Aaron at the end of the play:

Set him breast-deep in earth, and famish him;
There let him stand and rave and cry for food.
If any one relieves or pities him,
For the offence he dies. This is our doom.
Some stay to see him fast'ned in the earth.

We only have to wait until line 130 for the first violent act: Lucius has demanded that one of the prisoners be sacrificed to appease the Roman dead and selects the eldest son of the conquered queen Tamora. She pleads with Titus Andronicus for mercy; the first of the characters kneeling in supplication. Her plea is dismissed out of hand and Lucius gives the order:

Away with him, and make a fire straight;
And with our swords, upon a pile of wood,
Let's hew his limbs till they be clean consum'd.

This is the murder that starts the chain of the murder and revenge cycle.

The play is set in Roman times where it could be argued that there was violence and spectacle enough to warrant this graphic rendition. With the amount of action that takes place it is a wonder that Shakespeare can tell a coherent story, but he does and significantly his character have no time to develop, the only soliloquy's are by the arch villain Aaron. It is a story of power and vengeance. Titus Andronicus has returned to Rome from a ten year campaign against the barbarian goths. His return coincides with the election of a new Roman emperor. Saturninus claims the throne as the eldest son of the dead emperor, but his brother Bassianus also lays claim: the people favour Titus, but he declines saying he is too old and too weary and supports Saturninus. Lavinia is chosen by Saturninus as empress to unite the two families, but Bassianus seizes her claiming they are already married. Saturninus therefore turns to Tamora who has already sworn vengeance against Titus and his family. Aaron the Moor and lover of Tamora plots to destabilise the regime and instigates two of Tamora's sons to rape and disfigure Lavinia and kill Bassianus. War breaks out between the families as each murder leads to more bloodshed. It can only end when most of the principal characters are dead, but their is no moral to this story, the violence continues to the end of the play and the audience is left with the impression that violence is endemic.

Shakespeare was following a tradition of earlier successes in the theatre: Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy and Christopher Marlowe's the Jew of Malta were both revenge tragedy's, but Shakespeare took this theme and ran with it further into the darkness and darkness is the overall impression that I got from this play. The BBC production starring Trevor Peacock as Titus stays true to the text and there is no light at all in the 2 and a half hours playing time. It does show how well the play can be made to work. An evening in the theatre with this play cannot fail to depress the viewer. No thoughts of better times ahead, no optimism, just blackness piled on blackness. Perhaps it was a play of its time with the theatres on the verge of being closed due to the plague. It does not make for cheerful viewing during the covid 19 epidemic. It is a powerful unrelenting play and I can understand why it might be well thought of by some, but for me at this moment in time I could quite cheerfully pass it by 4 stars, but 5 stars for the BBC film. ( )
1 vote baswood | Dec 15, 2020 |
Oh my goodness, I am *traumatised* ( )
  RivkaC | Aug 28, 2020 |
My favorite of the lesser-known works, this has got more outright horror than most contemporary slasher novels. Sure, the rhetoric is a bit stilted and Shakespeare borrows heavily from Ovid, but it's a fascinating study of the bottomless pit that people can find themselves in once they succumb to the lure of violence. ( )
1 vote MichaelBarsa | Dec 17, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (69 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shakespeare, Williamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Peele, GeorgeAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bate, JonathanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Berthoud, JacquesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brissaud, PierreIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Farjeon, HerbertEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Massai, SoniaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ridley, M. R.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waith, Eugene M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, John DoverEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Witherspoon, A. M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
Noble patricians, patrons of my right,
Defend the justice of my cause with arms,
And, countrymen, my loving followers,
Plead my successive title with your swords:
I am his first-born son, that was the last
That wore the imperial diadem of Rome;
Then let my father's honours live in me,
Nor wrong mine age with this indignity.
Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This work is for the complete Titus Andronicus only. Do not combine this work with abridgements, adaptations or simplifications (such as "Shakespeare Made Easy"), Cliffs Notes or similar study guides, or anything else that does not contain the full text. Do not include any video recordings. Additionally, do not combine this with other plays.

George Peele has been demonstrated to have been Shakespeare's collaborator in this play. Peele wrote Act 1 and probably a bit of Act 4.
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Wikipedia in English


The noble Titus returns victorious to Rome bringing Tamora, Queen of the Goths as his captive. When one of Tamora's sons is condemned to die, she vows revenge, and, aided by the villainous Aaron, she exacts a terrible retribution, inaugurating a grim cycle of rape, murder, and cannibalism. This macabre, often brilliant tragedy comes from the earliest stage of Shakespeare's dramatic career.

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Average: (3.69)
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1 15
1.5 1
2 43
2.5 9
3 94
3.5 35
4 138
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5 112

Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 014071491X, 0141019662


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