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.
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.
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.)