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Titus Andronicus

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Titus Andronicus

These words are razors to my wounded heart.
Act 1, scene 1, line 320

The birds chant melody on every bush,
The snake lies rollèd in the cheerful sun,
The green leaves quiver with the cooling wind
And make a checkered shadow on the ground.

Act 2, scene 3, lines 12–15

Titus Andronicus is the earliest tragedy and the earliest Roman play attributed to Shakespeare. Titus, a model Roman, has led 21 of his 25 sons to death in Rome's wars; he stabs another son to death for what he views as disloyalty to Rome. Yet Rome has become "a wilderness of tigers." After a death sentence is imposed on two of his three remaining sons, and his daughter is raped and mutilated, Titus turns his loyalty toward his family.

Aaron the Moor, a magnificent villain and the empress's secret lover, makes a similar transition. After the empress bears him a child, Aaron devotes himself to preserving the baby. Retaining his thirst for evil, he shows great tenderness to his little family—a tenderness that also characterizes Titus before the terrifying conclusion.

Titus Andronicus was first published in a 1594 quarto, which survives in a single copy at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Some scholars date the writing of the play to 1591–92; others argue for 1593–94. The play draws on Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Senecan tragedy.

Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 2005 Folger Shakespeare Library


Further reading
Warren Chernaik. The Myth of Rome in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Alan C. Dessen. Titus Andronicus. New York: Manchester University Press, 1989.

Janette Dillon. The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare’s Tragedies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Coppelia Kahn. Roman Shakespeare: Warriors, Wounds, and Women. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Alexander Leggatt. Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Violation and Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

G. Harold Metz. Shakespeare's Earliest Tragedy: Studies in Titus Andronicus. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996.

Mariangela Tempera. Feasting with Centaurs: Titus Andronicus from Stage to Text. Bologna: CLUEB, 1999.

Titus (1999, Clear Blue Sky Productions and Fox Searchlight Pictures). Directed by Julie Taymor. Cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Alan Cumming.
Mr. Ira Aldridge as Aaron in Titus Andronicus. Engraving, between 1852 and 1853. (Detail)

John Massey Wright. Titus Andronicus. Watercolor, ca. 1830.


The Unique Titus Quarto

Shakespeare in American Life: Aldridge's Aaron

Inside the Collection

Folios and Quartos from the Collection: Titus Andronicus

Related Items

Gerald Freedman on His 1967 Titus Andronicus

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