Titus Andronicus | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Titus Andronicus | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Martius and Quintus are on their way to be executed for the murder of Bassianus. Titus follows, pleading with the senators, judges, and tribunes to reverse the decision, but they ignore him and leave him behind. Titus is joined by Lucius, who has been banished after attempting to rescue his brothers. Titus congratulates Lucius for being able to rid himself of the ungrateful people of Rome.

Marcus and Lavinia appear, and together the four despair at the death of Bassianus, the accusations against Martius and Quintus, and the mutilation of Lavinia. Aaron enters and tells Titus the emperor has promised to pardon Martius and Quintus if a member of the Andronicus family cuts off his own hand and sends it to him. After some argument, Titus asks Aaron to help him cut off his hand, and Aaron complies. Aaron takes the hand to give to Saturninus, although the entire "bargain" is his own fabrication. He knows Martius and Quintus will not receive a pardon.

Shortly after a messenger arrives with the heads of Martius and Quintus and Titus's hand, saying Titus's offering was scorned. The four despair again, and Titus vows to take revenge on everyone who has wronged them. Titus instructs Lucius to find the Goths and raise an army against Rome, then he, Marcus, and Lavinia return home, carrying the heads of Martius and Quintus and the hand of Titus.

Analysis

Titus's mood swings propel this scene forward. He begins this scene with pleading, and as his pleas are ignored the pleading turns into lamenting. Lucius correctly points out all these words are simply wasted energy: "You lament in vain." But Titus's grief is so great, he continues to let it pour out, claiming he feels as if the stones on which his tears fall weep along with him. Even when he learns Lucius has been attempting to free his brother, Titus's despair is overwhelming. He claims their efforts are all useless because there is no justice in Rome, only violence: "Rome is but a wilderness of tigers ... Tigers must prey, and Rome affords no prey / But me and mine."

Titus's despair is already at a fever pitch when Lavinia is brought in. In a darkly humorous greeting—given that Titus has been weeping, lamenting, and falling on the ground for several minutes—Marcus tells him, "Prepare thy agèd eyes to weep." But when Titus and Lucius see Lavinia, suddenly it is Titus admonishing Lucius to be strong, not the other way around, calling him "Faint-hearted boy."

It is worthwhile to consider the staging of this scene, and what an audience would see and hear. Once the procession of tribunes and prisoners has passed, the remaining adult members of the Andronicus family are all onstage. Titus weeps and laments, which makes Lavinia weep, and Marcus is also weeping. At one point Marcus offers Titus his handkerchief to dry his eyes, and Titus refuses it, saying it is already soaking wet with Marcus's own tears. Not to be outdone, Lucius is also soaking his own handkerchief with tears. He attempts to dry Lavinia's eyes with it, and Titus notes it is all "bewet" with her brother's tears, and so "can do no service on her sorrowful cheeks." Thus, all four are weeping profusely but only have two wet handkerchiefs between them. It is hard to imagine this as a completely serious scene, despite the content.

Yet while the stage business might be darkly humorous, the expressions of grief are powerful and quite beautiful. As Titus's grief escalates and turns into vows of revenge, he uses wonderful imagery to evoke his despair. He describes it as being like the overflowing Nile, and like a "wilderness of sea" in the midst of which he stands on a rock, alone. With two sons headed to their deaths unjustly, another banished, and Lavinia maimed, Titus is surrounded on all sides by suffering.

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