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
Violence and Justice Quotes in Titus Andronicus
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.
Traitor, if Rome have law or we have power,
Thou and thy faction shall repent this rape.
Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand,
Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
There’s meed for meed, death for a deadly deed.
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?