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.
Revenge Theme Icon

Titus Andronicus is an example of the genre of drama called revenge tragedy (another, very different, example is Shakespeare’s Hamlet), so it is no surprise that revenge is central to the play. The play unfolds as a series of acts of revenge that plunge the characters into a spiral of eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth violence, summed up well by Lucius: “There’s meed for meed, death for a deadly deed.” But, as the play demonstrates, revenge does not annul or cancel out a crime or violent act. Rather, it only continues a cycle of violence. Titus kills Tamora’s oldest son as revenge for the loss of some of his own children, but this only causes her to seek revenge on him. But neither does her revenge solve the matter; it only prompts Titus to seek further vengeance on her. The tragedy concludes not because revenge finally settles any disputes, but because by the end of the play no one is left alive to seek further vengeance. Shakespeare thus takes a common convention of tragic plots—revenge—and explores it to its fullest extent throughout the play, even having Tamora appear disguised as the very personification of Revenge in Act 5. Ultimately, Shakespeare reveals revenge as an alluring and tempting, but ultimately ineffective and harmful, response to personal injury and loss.

Revenge ThemeTracker

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

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

Traitor, if Rome have law or we have power,
Thou and thy faction shall repent this rape.

Related Characters: Saturninus (speaker), Saturninus
Page Number: 1.1.411-412
Explanation and Analysis:

After witnessing much of the family debacle described above, Saturninus decides he does not trust the Andronicus family. He decides not to marry Lavina (who has escaped with Bassanius anyway) and instead elects to wed Tamora, making the "barbarian" prisoner instantly empress of Rome. Tamora immediately accepts, and embraces her incorporation into Rome, demonstrating an easy transition into Roman speech and her newfound power.

Here Saturninus is furious with his brother and with Titus for what he sees as their "treason." He accuses them of "rape," by which he means they have forcefully taken Lavinia from him. This language foreshadows Lavinia's literal rape at the hands of Chiron and Demetrius. Saturninus seeks justice for the slights he perceives as having been perpetrated against him, and suggests he might pursue his vengeance through a legal medium, using the power he has been granted as emperor of Rome. But his new bride is quickly (and slyly) able to convince him otherwise, and he publicly forgives Titus and Bassianus in order to seek private, personal revenge against them through activities that are outside the law.

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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

Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand,
Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.

Related Characters: Aaron the Moor (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Hunt
Page Number: 2.38-39
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene takes place during The Hunt, in which the Andronicus family goes hunting with Bassianus and Saturninus. But here, the hunters become the hunted, and are preyed on by Tamora, Aaron, and Chiron and Demetrius. Aaron begins the scene by entering alone and burying a bag of gold that will be used as a prop in his plan. Soon Tamora arrives and asks why Aaron looks so sad, making a sexual advance.

But Aaron denies Tamora, saying that his melancholy does not symbolize sexual desire. Instead, he delivers the quote shown here, saying that he is overtaken by a desire for revenge. He is captivated by his plot for revenge, and his usual desires are replaced by bloodthirst. His reference to his "hand" and "head" subtly foreshadow the eventual dismemberment and discombobulation that will plague the Andronicus family. His language here illustrates how obsessed he has become by revenge, and his refusal of Tamora shows Aaron as the central villain, conceiving of and driving the violent plans.

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.

Remember, boys, I poured forth tears in vain
To save your brother from the sacrifice,
but fierce Andronicus would not relent.
Therefore away with her, and use her as you will;
The worse to her, the better loved of me.

Related Characters: Tamora (speaker), Titus Andronicus, Demetrius and Chiron, Lavinia
Related Symbols: The Body
Page Number: 2.3.163-157
Explanation and Analysis:

Enraged, Tamora initially wants to kill Lavina, but Chiron and Demetrius stop their mother so that they can rape Lavinia first. Hearing this exchange, Lavinia begs for mercy, but Tamora is merciless. In the quote, she tells her sons to remember that she "poured forth tears" to save Alarbus from sacrifice, "but fierce Andronicus would not relent." Bent on revenge, she determines that Chiron and Demetrius can do whatever they want with Lavinia.

Again, Tamora makes the sickening conversion of motherly love into violence. She says that the worse Chiron and Demetrius treat Lavinia, the better they love their mother. Thus the rape is explicitly configured as an incestuous gesture of filial obligation; Chiron and Demetrius show love to their mother through sexual 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 4, Scene 3 Quotes

Kinsmen, his sorrows are past remedy.
Join with the Goths, and with revengeful war
Take wreak on Rome for this ingratitude,
And vengeance on the traitor Saturnine.

Related Characters: Marcus Andronicus (speaker), Titus Andronicus, Saturninus, Tamora, Demetrius and Chiron
Page Number: 4.3.31-35
Explanation and Analysis:

Titus, Marcus, Young Lucius, and Marcus's son Publius are gathered. They have all prepared arrows with inscriptions on them, which they will shoot into the sky in pleas for divine justice. This practice reveals that they believe their plight for justice and revenge to be entirely (and divinely) justified. When Publius suggests that they try to calm down and find some "careful remedy" to the situation, Marcus responds that Titus's "sorrows are past remedy." There is no hope for solace or a peaceful solution; they only seek revenge.

In the following lines, Marcus shows how far the drive for revenge has taken him and his complete disillusionment with Rome. He cries out that his kinsmen should "Join with the Goths," hoping that they can then wage "revengeful war" against all of Rome. Violence has caused an inversion of what is Roman, what is Gothic, and what is just. The drive for revenge is so great that the Andronicus family, quintessentially Roman at the start of the play, now hopes for revenge and war on Rome itself in order to gain the "justice," or revenge, that they themselves set in motion by killing Alarbus according to the Roman way at the beginning of the play.

Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

There’s meed for meed, death for a deadly deed.

Related Characters: Lucius (speaker), Titus Andronicus, Saturninus
Related Symbols: The Body
Page Number: 5.3.67
Explanation and Analysis:

Titus reveals that Tamora "hath fed / Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred," and he stabs Tamora before she can respond to the fact that she ate the flesh of her own children, which comprises her dying thought. Part of Titus's revenge is this silencing; he didn't seek a reaction, but rather justice. Witnessing Titus slay Tamora, Saturninus curses and kills Titus. At the death of his father, Lucius says, "Can the son's eye behold his father bleed?" and kills Saturninus.

After killing Saturninus, Lucius completes his rhyimg couplet (interrupted by a death) with the line of the quote, which speaks to the cyclical patterns of revenge and violence in the play. Murder and vengeance beget more revenge; opposing families take revenge for revenge killings over and over again, without end, until one family is completely erased. The excess of blood and revenge in the play can be seen as caricatures, ridiculing the popular revenge tragedies of Shakespeare's contemporaries.

Now judge what cause had Titus to revenge
These wrongs unspeakable, past patience,
Or more than any living man could bear.
Now have you heard the truth. What say you, Romans?
Have we done aught amiss?

Related Characters: Marcus Andronicus (speaker), Titus Andronicus
Page Number: 5.3.126-131
Explanation and Analysis:

Addressing the public, Marcus has revealed the extent of Tamora's family's crimes, as well as the nature of her relationship with Aaron. Marcus then asks the public to judge for themselves the causes that Titus had to seek revenge, saying that he dealt with "wrongs unspeakable, past patience, / Or more than any living man could bear." Now that they know the truth, he asks the Romans, can they really say that the Andronicus family has done anything wrong?

This line of thinking is demonstrative of the opinion that Titus and his family have held from the start of the play: the revenge may be personal, but it is divinely justified and morally right. Titus's extreme revenge is, to Marcus, no more than justice. The public seems to agree, as Lucius is selected as emperor.

After the final loose end of revenge is tied up, with Aaron being buried chest deep so that he starves to death and Tamora's body being left for wild beasts to feed on, it appears that the cycle of revenge and violence has been broken, and that Rome will have peace. However, we should note that the conflict with the Goths is entirely unresolved, as their former queen is denied funeral rights, and the child of Aaron and Tamora is left alive, possibly to grow up and seek revenge of his own.