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Titus Andronicus

A scene from Titus Andronicus

Introduction to the play

Titus Andronicus is the earliest tragedy and the earliest Roman play attributed to Shakespeare. Titus, a model Roman, has led twenty-one of his twenty-five 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.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Titus Andronicus

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

These words are razors to my wounded heart.

Act 1, scene 1, line 320

The birds chant melody on every bush,
The snakes 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 in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Titus Andronicus. Find more in our digital image collection

Mr. Ira Aldridge as Aaron
Act 2, scene 3: "Farewell, my sons: see, that you make her sure." By R. Cook R.A. pinx ; J. Thompson sc.
Aaron, from Titus Andronicus, a set of seven original drawings. By Byam Shaw.
From Heroines of Shakespeare. By John W. Wright.

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

Titus Andronicus

Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Titus Andronicus

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.