Titus Andronicus

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Themes and Colors
Revenge Theme Icon
Violence and Justice Theme Icon
Children Theme Icon
Rome, Romans, and Barbarians Theme Icon
Grief and Mourning Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Titus Andronicus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Children Theme Icon

Children and lineage (the importance of, on the one hand, begetting children to be heirs and, on the other hand, being able to trace one’s descent from a family line), especially sons and male lineage, are extremely important in the cultural world of ancient Rome that Shakespeare constructs in Titus Andronicus. In the first scene of the play, lineage determines who will be the next emperor of Rome (Saturninus). By contrast, Aaron’s child by Tamora does not have a suitable lineage (with its Moorish heritage made plain by its dark skin) for the Roman throne and threatens to expose Aaron as Tamora’s lover. The special importance of one’s children is why Titus is so greatly upset by the deaths of his sons in war and is why he decides to inflict the same pain on Tamora, by killing her oldest son.

But if children are extremely precious and valuable in the world of Titus Andronicus, they are also oddly disposable. Titus is quick to kill his own son Mutius when he tries to prevent Saturninus from marrying Lavinia (whom Titus is also quick to give away in marriage), and Titus also kills Lavinia in the final scene of the play as a way to protect the Andronicus family’s honor. At times, Titus appears to value his children more as reflections of his own virtue and honor than as persons in their own right. And while Titus and Tamora value their relationships with their own children, each is unable to respect the other’s attachment to his or her children, as they mercilessly kill each other’s sons. In the balancing act of revenge, children are used like bartering chips to settle disputes between rivals. Thus, despite how much characters like Titus and Tamora appear to value their children, they may also be doomed by how little they value them.

Children ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Children appears in each scene of Titus Andronicus. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Children Quotes in Titus Andronicus

Below you will find the important quotes in Titus Andronicus related to the theme of Children.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Victorious Titus, rue the tears I shed,
A mother’s tears in passion for her son.
And if thy sons were ever dear to thee,
O think my son to be as dear to me.

Related Characters: Tamora (speaker), Titus Andronicus
Page Number: 1.1.105-108
Explanation and Analysis:

While Saturninus and Bassianus's argue over who should be the next emperor of Rome, Marcus Andronicus says that the people have chosen his cousin, Titus, for the heroic deeds Titus has done as a general. Marcus announces that Titus and his train are approaching, and that Titus has lost 21 out of 25 of his sons in the recent battle against the Gauls. Titus then enters with the bodies of his deceased sons and with five living "barbarian" prisoners: Tamora, her three children, and Aaron the Moor. After Titus buries his dead sons in the family tomb, his living son Lucius requests that one of Tamora's sons be killed for sacrifice retribution; Titus consents to the killing, offering up Tamora's eldest son, Alarbus.

Here, Tamora pleads with "Victorious Titus" for the life of her son. Note that in his first line of the play, Titus called Rome "victorious." Tamora is appealing to Titus's sense of pride and victory, and she is immediately adopting Roman rhetoric and speech patterns. She proceeds to appeal to Titus's fatherhood and sense of empathy, crying "tears in passion for her son." She tries to use Titus's own sons to be persuasive, saying that if his sons are dear to him, he'll understand exactly how dear her own sons are. We can also note the added rhyme of thee and me for emphasis. But this line of reasoning is futile; though Titus has lost 21 of his children in the war, he will kill another one in anger within this very scene.

Alarbus is still sacrificed, despite Tamora's pleas. This revenge slaying begins a cycle of vengeance that will continue throughout the play, each family attempting to get revenge for the latest death.

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Suffer thy brother Marcus to inter
His noble nephew here in virtue’s nest,
That died in honor and Lavinia’s cause.
Thou art a Roman; be not barbarous.

Related Characters: Lucius (speaker), Marcus Andronicus, Lavinia
Page Number: 1.1.382-385
Explanation and Analysis:

Grateful to have been appointed emperor, Saturninus offers to marry Lavinia and make her empress. Titus, who has chosen Saturninus, is pleased and accepts the offer, creating a problem since Bassianus and Lavinia are already betrothed. Marcus and Lucius support Bassianus's claim to Lavina, but Titus becomes enraged and calls them traitors. Lucius and Marcus and some more of Titus's children help Lavina to escape with Bassianus, and when Titus tries to follow, Mutius (another son) will not let his father pass. Furious, Titus kills Mutius. He values his children's lives, but not as much as he values Rome and his duty as a Roman.

In these lines, Lucius and Marcus have returned and seek to bury Mutius in the family tomb. Titus refuses at first, saying that Mutius was no son of his. Here Lucius appeals to Titus's sense of honor and civility. Lucius pleads with his father to allow Marcus to bury Mutius with the family in "virtue's nest," since Mutius "died in honor" trying to protect his sister. The final line in the quote is particularly convincing and powerful: he reminds his father, you are a Roman, don't be a barbarian. Even though he has just murdered his son, Titus values his Roman-ness above all else, and, like everyone in the play, he seeks to believe that he is civilized and that everyone else is the barbarian. Ultimately, he concedes and allows Mutius his place in the family tomb.

I’ll find a day to massacre them all
And raze their faction and their family,
The cruel father and his traitorous sons.

Related Characters: Tamora (speaker), Titus Andronicus, Lavinia, Lucius, Quintus and Martius
Page Number: 1.1.458-461
Explanation and Analysis:

After Saturninus's claim of "rape" earlier, Titus and Bassianus make their cases. Tamora outwardly encourages Saturninus to forgive them, saying that Titus is only acting out because of his grief. These lines come as an aside spoken only to Saturninus during Tamora's speech. She tells him to be patient and appear forgiving, since he is so newly in power; Tamora doesn't want the people to dethrone him in the event that they pity Titus. Instead, she says: leave it to me to get revenge. She claims she'll "find a day to massacre them all / And raze their faction and their family." The seeds of revenge are planted. Already Tamora is planning to eliminate Titus and his entire family as revenge for his murder of her son.

Note also that raze is a loose pun on race, which will come into play when Aaron's character develops. Aaron, a Moor and a driving factor behind much of Tamora's revenge, does not speak during the first act, but is given the second most lines in the play.

Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

Revenge it as you love your mother’s life,
Or be you not henceforth called my children.

Related Characters: Tamora (speaker), Bassianus, Demetrius and Chiron
Related Symbols: The Hunt, The Body
Page Number: 2.3.114-115
Explanation and Analysis:

Aaron has left Tamora alone, but not before the pair has been spotted by Bassianus and Lavinia. Bassianus and Lavina each make fun of Tamora for cuckolding Saturninus and for sleeping with a Moor (revealing their own racist views of darker-skinned people). When Chiron and Demetrius enter, Tamora delivers a long speech in which she accuses Bassianus and Lavinia of tricking her and threatening to kill her. Tamora tells her sons to avenge her, inciting them to murder Bassianus, throw him in the pit, and commit the rape that Aaron planned.

These lines are particularly violent and twisted: Tamora asks her children to transmute love for their mother into violent revenge, and threatens to disown her if they don't. Love and violence are intermingled, and the acts of murder and rape are framed as familial love. The speech is also interesting as a counterpoint to Titus's fury earlier when he disowns Mutius for stopping him from forcing Lavinia to marry Saturninus. In each case a parent's love is predicated on their children's obedience. At the same time, the cycle (like all cycles of violence) keeps amping up to higher levels, and Titus's desire to make his daughter marry the Emperor is not at the same level as Tamora's demand that they murder Bassianus and rape Lavinia.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

“But”? How if that fly had a father and mother?
How would he hang his slender gilded wings
And buzz lamenting doings in the air!
Poor harmless fly,
That, with his pretty buzzing melody,
Came here to make us merry! And thou hast killed him.

Related Characters: Titus Andronicus (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.60-66
Explanation and Analysis:

Despite his claim to have wept all of his tears, Titus begins this scene by lamenting that he and Lavinia have lost their hands. Titus says he will learn to interpret her sign language, at once pitying her and objectifying her, since she is voiceless and he must speak for her. In a sense, Lavinia is just an object for Titus's own grief.

After Marcus kills a fly, Titus offers the lines in the quote, which demonstrate some of the empathy and logic that could have prevented much of the revenge and violence of the play. Titus wonders if the fly had parents, imagining their grief at the death of their son. This type of thinking might have prevented him from killing Alarbus at the start of the play.

But Marcus points out that the fly was black, like Aaron, and Titus quickly turns his thoughts back to his revenge. The fly and Aaron are identified as barbaric outsiders, ceasing Titus's empathy and making way for more violence.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

And swear with me—as, with the woeful fere
And father of that chaste dishonored dame,
Lord Junius Brutus swore for Lucrece’ rape—
That we will prosecute by good advice
Mortal revenge upon these traitorous Goths,
And see their blood or die with this reproach.

Related Characters: Marcus Andronicus (speaker), Titus Andronicus, Tamora, Demetrius and Chiron, Lavinia
Page Number: 4.1.90-95
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Lavinia is brilliantly able to communicate the extent of her attack and the names of her attackers. She points to a book, in particular Ovid's Metamorphosis, a huge source text for Shakespeare. In the book, she points to the story of Philomela, who was raped in the woods. Philomela's attacker cut out her tongue, but did not take Chiron and Demetrius's extra step of cutting off the victims hands.

Upon learning this information, Titus takes a staff and, with his mouth, uses it to write in the dirt. He instructs Lavinia to do the same, allowing her to indicate that Chiron and Demetrius are the rapists. At this revelation the Andronicus family is furious. In the quote, they all swear to pursue "Mortal revenge upon these traitorous Goths." They will spill the blood of Tamora, Aaron, Chiron, and Demetrius, or die trying. Before they spoke of revenge, but now that they know the true extent of the crimes of the Goths, the Andronicus family swears to seek the revenge that they will soon achieve. Note that by this point the family does not even consider a legal, judicial means of getting "justice." Their revenge must be taken outside of the laws of Rome, which has been characterized as wild, lawless, and barbarous.

Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

My lord the Emperor, resolve me this:
Was it well done of rash Virginius
To slay his daughter with his own right hand
Because she was enforced, stained, and deflowered?

Related Characters: Titus Andronicus (speaker), Saturninus
Related Symbols: The Body
Page Number: 5.3.35-38
Explanation and Analysis:

The Andronicus revenge plot is underway. Titus has tricked Tamora into leaving Chiron and Demetrius behind, and he has killed them and baked them into pies he is now serving to Saturninus and Tamora (who are visiting in hopes of dissuading Lucius and his Goths from attacking Rome). 

As Tamora and Saturninus unknowingly begin to eat the pies, Titus asks Saturninus for his opinion as emperor. Titus asks about a Roman legend concerning Virginius, who killed his daughter after she had been raped to preserve his family's honor. Titus uses this line of questioning to introduce to Saturninus the fact that Lavinia was raped, but the result is a shocking one.

There is a darkly humorous cast to this scene, as Titus asks Saturninus about the proper way to respond to familial "stains" even as he "stains" his guests by having them eat Tamora's children. The story further establishes the strange values of Rome, in which honor was placed above the lives of children, in which being a citizen of Roman civilization required the killing of one's daughter who was innocent of any crime other than being raped. The story also helps place Titus Andronicus into the tradition of bloodthirsty Senecan revenge tragedies (a genre named after a Roman writer named Seneca, and which was still popular among authors of Shakespeare's time). There is, further, a sense that, even as Shakespeare fits his own story into this tradition, he is gleefully showing other playwrights who's the boss through the incredible bloodthirsty madness of his plot. 

Die, die, Lavinia, and thy shame with thee,
And with thy shame thy father’s sorrow die.

Related Characters: Titus Andronicus (speaker), Lavinia
Related Symbols: The Body
Page Number: 5.3.46-47
Explanation and Analysis:

When Saturninus tells Titus that "the girl should not survive her shame / And by her presence still renew his sorrows" in reference to the legend of Virginius, Titus immediately accepts this line of reasoning as precedent and kills Lavinia. The quote here are his final lines before he strikes her down.

He says that her shame will die with her, and with that shame, his own sorrow will die. This shocking murder is the means by which Titus reveals to Saturninus that Chiron and Demetrius raped Lavinia. Her death might briefly rid Titus of shame, but he does not live long enough to exhibit any relief from sorrow; Lavinia's death pushes the revenge plot to its climax and is followed by the deaths of Tamora, Titus, and Saturninus in quick-fire succession.

Note that when Saturninus asks for the rapists to be brought before him, Titus reveals that they are baked into the pies, resulting in possibly the most twisted, gruesome revenge of the play. After all of Tamora's strange inversions and perversions of filial love into rape and violence, the play ends with the mother ingesting (we can read un-birthing) her sons in another cruel reversal.