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 Quotes in Titus Andronicus
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.
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.
I’ll find a day to massacre them all
And raze their faction and their family,
The cruel father and his traitorous sons.
Revenge it as you love your mother’s life,
Or be you not henceforth called my children.
“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.
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.
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?
Die, die, Lavinia, and thy shame with thee,
And with thy shame thy father’s sorrow die.