Titus Andronicus

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Rome, Romans, and Barbarians Theme Analysis

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
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Rome, Romans, and Barbarians Theme Icon

The dissolution of the Andronicus family and the dismemberment of various bodies (Lavinia’s, Titus’, Demetrius’, and Chiron’s) takes place against the background of a Rome that is itself falling apart. When encouraging Titus to become emperor, Marcus tells him to “set a head on headless Rome” and, near the end of the play, compares Rome to “broken limbs” that must be reformed “into one body.” The disfigurement of individual bodies and the strife between the individual characters of the play can thus be seen as mirroring, and even standing in for, the more general turmoil of a crumbling Rome. Once the great capital of an enormous empire, Rome is in a precarious position in Titus Andronicus. After the death of the emperor that directly precedes the play, it is unclear who should take the throne. Titus allows Saturninus to become emperor, but in Act 4 Saturninus admits that “the citizens favor Lucius” as a leader. Rome is at war with the Goths, but Saturninus takes Tamora as his wife instead of the virtuous Roman maiden Lavinia. At the end of the play, Rome seems to return to stability, as Marcus and Lucius address the Roman public itself and assure them that the horrible deeds of Saturninus and Tamora are behind them. However, it is unclear whether Rome can emerge unscathed from all its recent bloodshed (and if Lucius’ ordered execution of Aaron at the end of the play is any indication, more bloodshed is in its future).

Not only is the city of Rome important in the play, but also a more general sense of Roman identity. Ancient Romans defined themselves as civilized in contrast to the savage barbarians against whom they waged wars. But, over the course of Shakespeare’s play, this distinction between Roman and barbarian blurs. Marcus denounces Tamora and her children as “barbarous Goths” in the first scene of the play, but as Romans alike begin to act cruelly, the Romans seem just as barbarous as the barbarians. Furthermore, Lucius himself ends up leading an army of Goths to march against the Roman emperor. (As another complication, the Englishmen acting in Shakespeare’s play would have been seen as barbarians by the ancient Romans they were portraying.) The play thus calls into question a simple distinction between cruel, savage barbarians and civilized, honorable Romans. However, as this distinction between Romans and Goths blurs, one character is even further singled out as fundamentally different because of his ethnic identity: Aaron. As a Moor (someone of African descent), he is insulted by numerous characters and is barred from joining Roman society as easily as Tamora does.

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Rome, Romans, and Barbarians ThemeTracker

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

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

Be candidatus, then, and put [the white robe] on /
And help to set a head on headless Rome.

Related Characters: Marcus Andronicus (speaker), Titus Andronicus
Related Symbols: The White Robe, The Body
Page Number: 1.1.185-186
Explanation and Analysis:

Alarbus has been sacrificed, and Tamora and Chiron (one of her sons) have cried out that the Romans are barbarous (note that the play will continue to ask the question of who is civilized and who is barbaric). But Demetrius, Tamora's other son, quietly tells his mother and brother to calm down and seek revenge on the Andronicus family. Titus then speaks for his dead sons and reunites with his daughter Lavinia, before Marcus enters with the White Robe, which symbolizes the citizens' choice to make Titus emperor.

This robe also symbolizes purity, morality, and political power. The whiteness of the robe contrasts with the blood that has been and will continue to be spilled during the course of the play. The choice to kill Alarbus might be framed as just by association with the White Robe, but ultimately Titus refuses the robe and the power that it carries. However, he still must select the next emperor of Rome, which is currently "headless." This characterization of Rome relates to the body politic, in which the state is analogous with the body of its ruler. Without a leader, the body is literally headless. Such a gruesome image also foreshadows the countless cases of dismemberment that occur during the play. 

Titus chooses Saturninus for emperor, since he is older than his brother Bassianus, but this choice and the drama over whom Lavinia will marry set in motion the eventual crowning of Tamora as empress of Rome and much of the chaos that will (literally) tear the Andronicus family apart.


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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.

Titus, I am incorporate in Rome,
A Roman now adopted happily.

Related Characters: Tamora (speaker), Titus Andronicus
Related Symbols: The Body
Page Number: 1.1.472-473
Explanation and Analysis:

Tamora successfully convinces Saturninus to make a show of forgiveness while inwardly pursuing revenge. Publicly forgiven, Titus thanks the emperor and the empress. This quote is the beginning of Tamora's response to Titus. She says that she is "incorporate in Rome," meaning that she has been immediately adopted into the physical body of Rome (and suggests that her own goals now align with Rome's goals). Note that as empress, Tamora, too, can evoke the body politic, evidenced by the presence of 'corporeal' (meaning of the body) in the word incorporate. She is careful to repeat that she is "A Roman," continuing to assert her status with perfect Roman speech.

Note also that Titus has lost his moral high ground over Tamora. His rationale for murdering Alarbus was rooted in his Roman honor, which because it was used as a basis for murder established devotedness to Rome as a questionable moral standpoint. But now Tamora herself is part of Rome, and so the purity of Titus's moral stand point has been diluted. At the same time, as the audience, we know that Tamora even as she has been made Empress of Rome, and says that she is a happy Roman, is plotting vengeance on Titus – and so the very idea of Rome as being noble and honorably has been made murky by Titus's own actions, and now by Tamora's.

Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

Ay, come, Semiramis, nay, barbarous Tamora,
For no name fits thy nature but thy own.

Related Characters: Lavinia (speaker), Tamora
Page Number: 2.3.119-119
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are spoken immediately following Bassianus's death. Lavinia first calls Tamora "Semiramis," the name of an Assyrian queen, but Lavina corrects herself, saying that she instead must use "barbarous Tamora," since "no name fits thy nature but thy own." The claim is essentially that Tamora is an evil so great that only her own name can be used to describe her. Lavinia also emphasizes Tamora's status as outsider and barbarian; despite Tamora's claim to be incorporate in Rome and her perfect Roman speech, she is still characterized as barbaric because of her violent, hateful deeds. Lavina's line also speaks to the source of Tamora's evil: it is in her nature as a Goth.

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

Why, foolish Lucius, dost thou not perceive
That Rome is but a wilderness of tigers?

Related Characters: Titus Andronicus (speaker), Lucius
Page Number: 3.1.54-55
Explanation and Analysis:

Lamenting the impending deaths of Martius and Quintus and frustrated by his powerlessness in the face of inevitability, Titus claims that his sons are better off dead, since "Rome is but a wilderness of tigers." Titus is disillusioned about the Rome he idealized and placed at the center of his moral compass.

In the very first scene, he murdered a son whom he considered a traitor. Now, Rome itself has become barbaric. The incorporation of Tamora into the body of Rome has rendered the city a chaotic wilderness, the antithesis of civilization (though one might argue that Titus's own killing of Alarbus suggested that Rome had no more than a veneer of civilization to begin with). His grief at this moment is already extreme, but moments later it will border on absurdity when Marcus introduces the mutilated Lavinia.

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 1 Quotes

But I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.

Related Characters: Aaron the Moor (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.143-146
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene begins with Lucius preparing an army of Goths to attack Rome, following through on Marcus's cry to "join with the Goths" above. Meanwhile, Lucius has captured Aaron as well as Aaron and Tamora's child; Lucius wants to kill the child and then Aaron, but Aaron asks Lucius to spare the baby in exchange for information. Aaron then explains that the baby is Tamora's, that Chiron and Demetrius killed Bassianus and raped Lavinia, and that he, Aaron, was responsible for all of the murders and the revenge plot. 

Aaron speaks the lines in this quote when Lucius asks if he feels regret for all of the horrible things he has just outlined. Aaron's response is that he has "done a thousand dreadful things" as easily as if he was killing a fly. His only regret is that he cannot do "ten thousand more" evil deeds. Thus we see how purely evil Aaron's character is. He is motiveless, and relishes in his evil; it is pure delight rather than personal interest that propels his villainy.

(It is worth thinking about the fact that Aaron is the only Moorish, or black, character in the play, and that he is also the only character who performs evil for evil's sake. While the play never clearly makes this connection, some critics argue that Aaron is in fact not without motive at all, and that he acts out of a desire to destroy all of the Romans and Goths as a reaction to societal racism; other critics argue that the play itself is racist because it makes a black man purely evil in a way none of the other characters are.)

Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

O, let me teach you how to knit again
This scattered corn into one mutual sheaf,
These broken limbs again into one body.

Related Characters: Marcus Andronicus (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Body
Page Number: 5.3.71-73
Explanation and Analysis:

Marcus speaks this line to the Roman public in the aftermath of the play's climax. After the conclusion of the family conflict, Marcus addresses the conflict in Rome itself, as all three of the men considered for the position of emperor at the start of the play are now dead.

Beginning with an analogy about knitting "scattered corn into one mutual sheaf," Marcus speaks of healing Rome and restoring it to his former glory. He then refers back to the body politic, hoping to heal "these broken limbs again into one body." This language shows how the dismemberment and bodily violence done on Titus and the leaders of Rome is reflected in the state itself. Headless, handless, torn limb from limb, Rome must be pieced together by the remaining members of the Andronicus family.