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Definition: Andronicus, Titus from Chambers Dictionary of Literary Characters

Apparently nobler and braver than all other warriors, Titus returns in triumph to Rome after years of war against the Goths. Unwisely, he both sacrifices a son of Queen Tamora and lets the treacherous Saturninus become emperor. When he sees his family being destroyed by Tamora and her lover Aaron, the Moor, he goes mad and raves almost touchingly, before baking his enemies’ heads into a pie and charging headlong into a climactic bloodbath.

Summary Article: Titus Andronicus
from Dictionary of Shakespeare, Peter Collin Publishing

One of Shakespeare's Roman plays and an early tragedy, Titus Andronicus may have been written around 1593, or possibly as early as 1589. It was first published in a quarto edition in 1594 and possibly first performed in the same year (some scholars argue for a first performance as early as 1590) and was a great favourite with Elizabethan audiences. Over the centuries there has been a great deal of dispute among scholars as to whether Shakespeare wrote Titus Andronicus in collaboration with another dramatist. Some are reluctant to believe that Shakespeare could have written such an unremittingly cruel play with its multiple revenge killings, but it is important to remember that in Shakespeare's time the revenge play, which was horrifically violent and bloodthirsty, was enormously popular with audiences. A possible source for the play is a lost play entitled Titus and Vespesian, which was certainly performed in 1592, but the plot seems to have been largely Shakespeare's own invention, although it is evident that he was influenced by the gruesome works of the Seneca. The play, set in Ancient Rome, begins like Shakespeare's history plays with a dispute about a new ruler and ends with a new order in Rome. It explores themes of extreme cruelty, including mutilation and cannibalism.


The hero Titus returns to Rome in triumph after defeating the Goths. He is popular with the people, but he refuses the honour of being made Emperor, in favour of Saturnius, the late emperor's son. Titus has captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, with her three sons, and he insists on the ritual sacrifice of her eldest son, Alarbus, to appease the spirits of his dead sons. Tamora vows to avenge Alarbus' death. She marries Saturnius, and aided and abetted by her lover the wicked Moor Aaron, sets out to destroy Titus. Aaron frames Titus' sons, Quintus and Martius, for murder and although Titus is tricked into cutting off his own hand in order to ransom them, they are beheaded. Titus' daughter Lavinia is seized by Tamora's sons, Chiron and Demetrius. Her husband is killed in front of her, and she is raped and horribly mutilated. They cut off her hands and cut out her tongue so that she cannot write or speak the names of her attackers. Titus, nearly mad with grief, becomes as vengeful as his enemies and orders his son Lucius and his brother Marcus to right the wrongs done to their family. Lucius raises an army of Goths to march on the Emperor Saturnius and depose him. Saturnius panics, but Tamora assures him that she will be able to persuade Titus to call off the attack. Disguised as 'Revenge', an evil spirit from Hell, she urges Titus to invite his enemies to a banquet where they will all be at his mercy. She, meanwhile, plans to kill Titus and Lucius. Titus sees through her disguise and her plan. He kills her sons, cooks them in a pie and serves it up to her at the banquet. When he has told her that she has eaten the flesh of her own sons, Titus kills Tamora and is immediately killed by Saturnius. Lucius kills Saturnius and is hailed as Rome's new emperor.

Dictionary of Shakespeare, Peter Collin Publishing, © Louise McConnell 2000

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