Titus Andronicus | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Titus Andronicus | Act 4, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Saturninus and his court find Titus's arrows with prayers attached. Saturninus is irate, thinking Titus is turning the people of Rome against him. He proclaims Titus's apparent madness cannot be excused because the death of his sons was done in accordance with the law. Tamora asks Saturninus to be patient and sympathetic with Titus, even though secretly she and Aaron continue to plot against him.

The country fellow arrives with the message from Titus and is sentenced to death after Saturninus reads it and is angered by Titus's accusations. A messenger, Aemilius, brings the emperor news that Lucius is leading a band of Goths to attack Rome. Lucius has many sympathizers in Rome, which worries Saturninus. Tamora tells him she will go to Titus and persuade him to intervene. She sends Aemilius to request a parley with Lucius at the house of Titus Andronicus.

Analysis

In a grim jest, the misheard "gibbet-maker" of the previous scene proves to have been foreshadowing of the doom Saturninus pronounces on the country fellow: "Go, take him away, and hang him presently."

Once the seemingly insignificant life of the country fellow is over, the play returns to its more serious tone. Saturninus is full of righteous indignation because he feels justice has already been served. After all, Titus's sons killed Bassianus and were executed for the crime, end of story. He cannot believe Titus is asserting those who "died by law for murder of our brother, / Have by my means been butchered wrongfully!" From Saturninus's point of view, this is understandable. He does not know Tamora and her sons are to blame.

It may seem strange that after spending 10 years fighting for Rome against the Goths, Titus's son Lucius now leads the Goths in an attack on Rome—against their own queen. This aligns with Titus's statement that Rome has become a wilderness of tigers—a place of animals. It is not the noble civilization he defended in battle. It has deteriorated, and Romans are now no better than the barbarian, animalistic Goths. In some ways this echoes the historical setting of the play, which is late in the Roman Empire, at the beginning of its gradual decline and weakening.

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