Titus Andronicus

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Violence and Justice 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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Titus Andronicus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Violence and Justice Theme Icon

In addition to revenge, Shakespeare pushes another common aspect of tragic drama to its limits: violence. Not only do characters die in Titus Andronicus, but children are murdered in front of their parents (Tamora’s oldest son), Lavinia is raped and disfigured horribly, Titus has his hand cut off, and—in the final act of the play—Titus feeds Tamora’s own children to her. In the play, Shakespeare stretches the boundaries of what can be represented on stage and what audiences (and readers) are willing to endure.

The proliferation of violence in the play also prompts us to ask whether any act of violence can be just, as characters carry out their acts of horrid violence in the name of justice. Titus and his sons explicitly pray for the personified goddess of justice to come help them in Act 4, and they see their subsequent actions as bringing such justice about. Titus and Tamora believe in the justice of revenge, but as the play devolves into an endless cycle of bloodshed, this seems like anything but justice. Titus’ sons Martius and Quintus are put on trial, but the trial certainly does not arrive at a just conclusion. And Saturninus believes that he is carrying out justice in opposing Lucius and his army of Goths. Titus even maintains, in the final scene of the play, that killing his own daughter Lavinia, after she has been raped and mutilated, is justified because it returns her honor to her. Titus Andronicus thus asks us to consider whether justice can be attained through violence and whether justice is ever really served in the play.

As the play concludes, Marcus asks the Roman people, “Have we done aught amiss?” but he might as well be asking the audience. While it seems clear that justice has not been served in the tragedy, Shakespeare also asks us to confront our own ideas of justice. If all the characters in the play act in accordance with their own ideas of justice, how can we be confident that our ideas of justice are not also mistaken or merely specific to our own understanding of the world?

Violence and Justice ThemeTracker

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

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

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.

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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.

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 1 Quotes

There serve your lust, shadowed from heaven’s eye,
And revel in Lavinia’s treasury.

Related Characters: Aaron the Moor (speaker), Demetrius and Chiron, Lavinia
Related Symbols: The Body
Page Number: 2.1.138-139
Explanation and Analysis:

Aaron begins this scene with a soliloquy in which he reveals that Tamora and he are lovers, and that the pair is plotting the downfall of Saturninus and of Rome. He relishes in his villainy. As he is soliloquizing, Chiron and Demetrius enter arguing over their desire for Lavinia. They draw their swords, preparing to duel for her, but Aaron intervenes and instigates one of the worst crimes in the play.

In the quote, he suggest that rather than fight over Lavinia, who is already engaged, they should together "serve their lust" in secret, and "revel in Lavinia's treasury." In other words, he encourages them to rape her. The violent rape which they soon commit is the source of a tremendous amount of grief, mourning, and tears, and it instigates further retribution by the Andronicus family.

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.

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 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 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

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.

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.