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Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus overflows with death and violence. Twenty-one sons of the Roman general Titus Andronicus have died in battle, leaving four alive. After defeating the Goths, Titus permits the sacrifice of the oldest son of their queen, Tamora.

Titus helps Saturninus become emperor. Saturninus plans to marry Titus's daughter, Lavinia. Instead, she marries Bassianus, aided by Titus's sons, one of whom Titus kills. Saturninus then marries Tamora. The stage is set for multiple revenge plots.

Tamora's lover, Aaron the Moor, instructs her two sons to kill Bassianus, then falsely implicates two of Titus's sons. Tamora’s sons also rape Lavinia, cutting off her tongue and hands. To save two of his sons from execution, Titus cuts off his own hand, but Aaron sends him their heads.

Lucius, Titus’s last son, leads an army of Goths against Rome. Titus kills Tamora's sons and serves them to her in a pie. In the ensuing events, Lavinia, Tamora, Titus, and Saturninus all die. Lucius becomes emperor and sentences Aaron to death.

Early printed texts

Titus Andronicus was first printed in 1594 as a quarto (Q1); this edition survives in only one copy that was not discovered until the early 20th century and is now held at the Folger. The play was republished in 1600 (Q2) and in 1611 (Q3). With the discovery of Q1, scholars realized that there were lines in Q2 (and Q3) that had been supplied by the printer, rather than the playwright, on the last leaves of the play; the text found in Q1 is now recognized as being closer to the original text than the later quartos. The play was included in the 1623 First Folio (F1) in a slightly different version that included the new "fly-killing" scene (3.1). Most modern editions follow Q1, with the Folger edition including F1's fly-killing scene marked off in pointed brackets.

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Item Title: 
[Titus Andronicus] The most lamentable Romaine tragedie of Titus Andronicus As it was plaide by the right honourable the Earle of Darbie, Earle of Pembrooke, and Earle of Sussex their seruants.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22328
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1594

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Item Title: 
[Titus Andronicus] The most lamentable tragedie of Titus Andronicus. As it hath sundry times beene plaide by the Kings Maiesties Seruants.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22330 copy 1
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1611

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Item Title: 
Works. 1623] Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1623

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Item Title: 
Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, and tragedies. : Published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1632

Picturing Titus Andronicus

As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Titus Andronicus is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.

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Martinus with the corpse of Lord Bassiamus (Act 2, scene 3; 1804)

Item Title: 
Titus Andronicus, act II, sc. IV [i.e. scene 3] Martinus: Lord Bassiamus lies embrewed here ... [graphic] / [Henry] Fuseli, del. ; [J.] Dadley, sculp.
Item Call Number: 
ART File S528t4 no.13 copy 2 (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Dadley, J., printmaker.
Item Date: 
London [England] : publish'd by F. & C. Rivington, 1804.

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Lavinia (19th century)

Item Title: 
[Heroines of Shakespeare] [graphic] / [John W. Wright].
Item Call Number: 
ART Box W951.5 no.5 (size S)
Item Creator: 
Wright, John William, 1802-1848, artist.
Item Date: 
[early to mid-19th century]

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Tamora orders her sons to carry off Lavinia (Act 2, scene 3; late 18th or 19th century)

Item Title: 
Titus Andronicus, act II, scene III, Farewell, my sons, see, that you make her sure [graphic] / R. Cook R.A. pinx ; J. Thompson sc.
Item Call Number: 
ART File S528t4 no.7 (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Thompson, John, 1785-1866, printmaker.
Item Date: 
[S.l. : s.n., late 18th cent. or 19th cent.]

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Aaron protects his infant son (Act 4, scene 2; 1900)

Item Title: 
Titus Andronicus, a set of seven original drawings [graphic] / [Byam Shaw].
Item Call Number: 
ART Box S534 no.33 part 5 (size S)
Item Creator: 
Shaw, Byam, 1872-1919, artist.
Item Date: 
[ca. 1900]

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Ira Aldridge as Aaron (mid 18th century)

Item Title: 
Mr. Ira Aldridge as Aaron [character in Shakespeare's] Titus Andronicus [graphic].
Item Call Number: 
ART File A365.5 no.1 copy 2
Item Date: 
[London, England] : The London Printing and Publishing Company, [between 1852 and 1853]

More images of Titus Andronicus can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)