Titus Andronicus | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Titus Andronicus | Act 5, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

It is the evening of the banquet. Lucius, his Goths, and Marcus arrive at Titus's house, with Aaron as prisoner. Lucius turns Aaron over to Marcus and warns the Goths to beware Saturninus in case he breaks his promise of safety. Saturninus, Tamora, and members of their court arrive. Everyone is greeted by Titus, who is dressed as a cook because, he says, he has been helping prepare the feast. The party begins to eat.

Titus asks Saturninus if he is familiar with the story of Virginius, who killed his daughter after she was raped, and whether the emperor agrees with Virginius's decision. Saturninus says he does, and it was necessary to kill his grief. Titus concurs and immediately kills Lavinia. He tells Saturninus his daughter was raped by Demetrius and Chiron and informs Tamora she has now eaten their corpses. He then kills Tamora. Saturninus kills Titus, then Lucius kills Saturninus.

Together, Marcus and Lucius speak to the remaining guests and explain it was Chiron and Demetrius who murdered Bassianus and were responsible—along with Aaron and Tamora—for the injustices against the Andronicus family. Marcus asks the people of Rome to judge their family, promising he and Lucius will kill themselves if it is found they did anything unacceptable. Aemilius speaks for the court and proclaims Lucius the new emperor of Rome.

Aaron is brought in, and Lucius sentences him to be buried up to the neck and starved to death. Aaron again says he regrets nothing. Lucius orders the bodies be taken to the tombs of their respective families, except for Tamora. She will be fed to beasts and birds of prey. Lucius ends with a promise to bring order to Rome so these events are never repeated.

Analysis

In his atrocious act of revenge, Titus has made Tamora's body, which gave life to her children, into a grave for those same children: "Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred." Her role is that of the pit in Act 2, Scene 3: a "devouring receptacle" and a "swallowing womb." This turns the parental role on its head—rather than protect or even avenge her children, Tamora eats them. Titus's parental role is not much better. He kills his daughter Lavinia for being the victim of rape, even after she has helped him take revenge on her rapists.

The use of Virginius's story Titus uses to justify Lavinia's killing is found, along with the story of Philomel, in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In this story, Appius rapes Virginia, and her father, Virginius, kills her as a result. This is a final example of a violent story being used as a template for a new act of violence. Like the story of Philomel, someone in the present sees a parallel in some old myth or story, and then acts out the story. This is one of the ways violence is perpetuated—and in this case, justified—through learning. These stories of violence, like acts of revenge, contribute to a cycle of violent acts with no apparent end—except for the deaths of those involved. To end the cycle of violence, Lucius makes the following promise: "May I govern so / To heal Rome's harms and wipe away her woe!" But more importantly, he begins to tell a new kind of story, telling Young Lucius "Thy grandsire loved thee well ... And bid thee bear his pretty tales in mind / And talk of them when he was dead and gone." The message is clear: the stories passed on to children influence them for good or ill.

Lucius calls Tamora a "ravenous tiger," recalling both her act of consuming and her role as wild beast and predator. Then he gives her a fitting end: to be consumed by other wild beasts. He calls Aaron a "breeder of these dire events," implying Aaron somehow gave birth or life to the violence. Aaron's punishment also evokes the "devouring" pit of Act 2, Scene 3, as he is to be buried "breast-deep" in a hole in the ground. And it also involves eating—or the lack of it—as Aaron will be starved to death.

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