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This article is about the play by William Shakespeare. For the band of the same name, see Titus Andronicus (band).

Titus Andronicus is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, and possibly George Peele, believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593. It is thought to be Shakespeare's first tragedy, and is often seen as his attempt to emulate the violent and bloody revenge plays of his contemporaries, which were extremely popular with audiences throughout the sixteenth century.

The play is set during the latter days of the Roman Empire and tells the fictional story of Titus, a general in the Roman army, who is engaged in a cycle of revenge with Tamora, Queen of the Goths. It is Shakespeare's bloodiest and most violent work and traditionally was one of his least respected plays. Although it was extremely popular in its day, it fell out of favour during the Victorian era, primarily because of what was considered to be a distasteful use of graphic violence, but from around the middle of the twentieth century its reputation began to improve.


  • Titus Andronicus – renowned Roman general
  • Lucius – Titus's eldest son
  • Quintus – Titus's son
  • Martius – Titus's son
  • Mutius – Titus's son
  • Young Lucius – Lucius's son and Titus' grandson
  • Lavinia – Titus's daughter
  • Marcus Andronicus – Titus's brother and tribune to the people of Rome
  • Publius – Marcus's son
  • Saturninus – Son of the late Emperor of Rome; afterwards declared Emperor
  • Bassianus – Saturninus's brother; in love with Lavinia
  • Sempronius, Caius and Valentine – Titus's kinsman
  • Æmilius – Roman noble
  • Tamora – Queen of the Goths; afterwards Empress of Rome
  • Demetrius – Tamora's son
  • Chiron – Tamora's son
  • Alarbus – Tamora's son (non-speaking role)
  • Aaron – a Moor; involved in a sexual relationship with Tamora
  • Nurse
  • Clown
  • Messenger
  • Roman Captain
  • First Goth
  • Second Goth
  • Senators, Tribunes, Soldiers, Plebians, Goths etc.


The play begins shortly after the death of the Roman Emperor, with his two sons, Saturninus and Bassianus, squabbling over who will succeed him. Their conflict seems set to boil over into violence until a tribune, Marcus Andronicus, announces that the people's choice for the new emperor is his brother, Titus, who will shortly return to Rome from a victorious ten-year campaign against the Goths. Titus subsequently arrives to much fanfare, bearing with him as prisoners the Queen of the Goths (Tamora), her three sons, and Aaron the Moor (her secret lover). Despite the desperate pleas of Tamora, Titus sacrifices her eldest son, Alarbus, in order to avenge the deaths of his own sons during the war. Distraught, Tamora and her two surviving sons, Demetrius and Chiron, vow revenge on Titus and his family.

Meanwhile, Titus refuses the offer of the throne, arguing that he is not fit to rule, and instead supporting Saturninus' claim, who is duly elected. Saturninus tells Titus that for his first act as Emperor, he will marry Titus's daughter Lavinia. Titus agrees, although Lavinia is already betrothed to Bassianus, who refuses to give her up. Titus's sons tell Titus that Bassianus is in the right under Roman law, but Titus refuses to listen, accusing them all of treason. A scuffle breaks out, during which Titus kills his own son, Mutius. Saturninus then denounces the Andronicus family for their effrontery and shocks Titus by marrying Tamora. However, putting into motion her plan for revenge, Tamora advises Saturninus to pardon Bassianus and the Andronicus family, which he reluctantly does.

During a royal hunt the following day, Aaron persuades Demetrius and Chiron to kill Bassianus, so they may rape Lavinia. They do so, throwing Bassianus' body into a pit, and dragging Lavinia deep into the forest before violently raping her. To keep her from revealing what has happened, they cut out her tongue and cut off her hands. Meanwhile, Aaron frames Titus's sons Martius and Quintus for the murder of Bassianus with a forged letter. Horrified at the death of his brother, Saturninus arrests Martius and Quintus and sentences them to death.

Some time later, Marcus discovers the mutilated Lavinia and takes her to her father, who is still shocked at the accusations levelled at his sons, and upon seeing Lavinia, is overcome with grief. Aaron then visits Titus, falsely telling him that Saturninus will spare Martius and Quintus if either Titus, Marcus or, Titus's remaining son, Lucius, cuts off one of their hands and sends it to him. Titus has Aaron cut off his hand and send it to the emperor, but in return, a messenger brings Titus Martius and Quintus' severed heads, along with Titus's severed left hand. Desperate for revenge, Titus orders Lucius to flee Rome and raise an army among their former enemy, the Goths.

Later, Lavinia 'writes' the names of her attackers in the dirt, using a stick held with her mouth and between her stumps. Meanwhile, Tamora secretly gives birth to a mixed-race child, fathered by Aaron. Aaron kills the midwife and nurse and flees with the baby to save it from Saturninus' inevitable wrath. Thereafter, Lucius, marching on Rome with an army, captures Aaron and threatens to hang the infant. To save the baby, Aaron reveals the entire revenge plot to Lucius.

Back in Rome, Titus's behaviour suggests he may have gone insane. Convinced of his madness, Tamora, Chiron and Demetrius approach him, dressed as the spirits of Revenge, Murder, and Rape. Tamora (as Revenge) tells Titus that she will grant him revenge on all of his enemies if he can convince Lucius to postpone the imminent attack on Rome. Titus agrees and sends Marcus to invite Lucius to a reconciliatory feast. Revenge then offers to invite the Emperor and Tamora as well, and is about to leave when Titus insists that Rape and Murder (Chiron and Demetrius) stay with him. When Tamora is gone, Titus cuts their throats and drains their blood into a basin held by Lavinia. Titus morbidly tells Lavinia that he plans to "play the cook" and grind the bones of Demetrius and Chiron into powder and bake their heads.

The next day, during the feast at his house, Titus asks Saturninus if a father should kill his daughter when she has been raped. When Saturninus answers that he should, Titus kills Lavinia, telling Saturninus of the rape. When the Emperor calls for Chiron and Demetrius, Titus reveals that they have been baked in the pie Tamora has just been eating. Titus then kills Tamora, and is immediately killed by Saturninus, who is subsequently killed by Lucius to avenge his father's death. Lucius is then proclaimed Emperor. He orders that Saturninus be given a state burial, that Tamora's body be thrown to the wild beasts outside the city, and that Aaron be buried chest-deep and left to die of thirst and starvation. Aaron, however, is unrepentant to the end, regretting only that he had not done more evil in his life.


The story of Titus Andronicus is fictional, not historical, unlike Shakespeare's other Roman plays, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, all of which are based on real historical events and people. Even the time in which Titus is set may not be based on a real historical period. According to the prose version of the play (see below), the events are "set in the time of Theodosius", who ruled from 379 to 395. On the other hand, the general setting appears to be what Clifford Huffman describes as "late-Imperial Christian Rome," possibly during the reign of Justinian I (527–565). Also favouring a later date, Grace Starry West argues, "the Rome of Titus Andronicus is Rome after Brutus, after Caesar, and after Ovid. We know it is a later Rome because the emperor is routinely called Caesar; because the characters are constantly alluding to Tarquin, Lucretia, and Brutus, suggesting that they learned about Brutus' new founding of Rome from the same literary sources we do, Livy and Plutarch." Others are less certain of a specific setting however. For example, Jonathan Bate has pointed out that the play begins with Titus returning from a successful ten-year campaign against the Goths, as if at the height of the Roman Empire, but ends with Goths invading Rome, as if at its death. Similarly, T.J.B. Spencer argues that "the play does not assume a political situation known to Roman history; it is, rather a summary of Roman politics. It is not so much that any particular set of political institutions is assumed in Titus, but rather that it includes all the political institutions that Rome ever had."

In his efforts to fashion general history into a specific fictional story, Shakespeare may have consulted the Gesta Romanorum, a well known thirteenth-century collection of tales, legends, myths and anecdotes in Latin, which took figures and events from history and spun fictional tales around them. In Shakespeare's own lifetime, a writer known for doing likewise was Matteo Bandello, who based his work on that of writers such as Giovanni Boccaccio and Geoffrey Chaucer, and who could have served as an indirect source for Shakespeare. So too could the first major English author to write in this style, William Painter, who borrowed from, amongst others, Herodotus, Plutarch, Aulus Gellius, Claudius Aelianus, Livy, Tacitus, Giovanni Battista Giraldi, and Bandello himself. The possibility that Shakespeare may have used the Gesta, Bandello and/or Painter is strengthened by the fact that he definitely consulted all three sources later in his career; the Gesta provided some of the details for King Lear, Bandello was the primary source for Twelfth Night, and Painter was used during the composition of All's Well That Ends Well.

However, it is also possible to determine more specific sources for the play. The primary source for the rape and mutilation of Lavinia, as well as Titus' subsequent revenge, is Ovid's Metamorphoses (c.AD 8), which is featured in the play itself when Lavinia uses it to help explain to Titus and Marcus what happened to her during the attack. In the sixth book of Metamorphoses, Ovid tells the story of the rape of Philomela, daughter of Pandion I, King of Athens. Despite ill omens, Philomela's sister, Procne, marries Tereus of Thrace and has a son for him, Itys. After five years in Thrace, Procne yearns to see her sister again, so she persuades Tereus to travel to Athens and accompany Philomela back to Thrace. Tereus does so, but he soon begins to lust after Philomela. When she refuses his advances, he drags her into a forest and rapes her. He then cuts out her tongue to prevent her telling anyone of the incident and returns to Procne, telling her that Philomela is dead. However, Philomela weaves a tapestry in which she names Tereus as her assailant, and has it sent to Procne. The sisters meet in the forest and together they plot their revenge. They kill Itys and cook his body in a pie, which Procne then serves to Tereus. During the meal, Philomela reveals herself, showing Itys' head to Tereus and telling him what they have done.

For the scene where Lavinia reveals her rapists by writing in the sand, Shakespeare may have used a story from the first book of Metamorphoses; the tale of the rape of Io by Zeus, where, to prevent her divulging the story, he turns her into a cow. Upon encountering her father, she attempts to tell him who she is, but is unable to do so until she thinks to scratch her name in the dirt using her hoof.

Titus' revenge may also have been influenced by Seneca's play Thyestes, written in the first century AD. In the mythology of Thyestes, which is the basis for Seneca's play, Thyestes, son of Pelops, King of Pisa, who, along with his brother Atreus, was exiled by Pelops for the murder of their half-brother, Chrysippus. They take up refuge in Mycenae, and soon ascend to co-inhabit the throne. However, each becomes jealous of the other, and Thyestes tricks Atreus into electing him as the sole king. Determined to re-attain the throne, Atreus enlists the aid of Zeus and Hermes, and has Thyestes banished from Mycenae. Atreus subsequently discovers that his wife, Aerope, had been having an affair with Thyestes, and he vows revenge. He asks Thyestes to return to Mycenae with his family, telling him that all past animosities are forgotten. However, when Thyestes returns, Atreus secretly kills Thyestes' sons, Pelopia and Aegisthus. He cuts off their hands and heads and cooks the rest of their bodies in a pie. At a reconciliatory feast, Atreus serves Thyestes the pie in which his sons have been baked. As Thyestes finishes his meal, Atreus produces the hands and heads, revealing to the horrified Thyestes what he has done.

Another specific source for the final scene is discernible when Titus asks Saturninus if a father should kill his daughter when she has been raped. This is a reference to the story of Verginia from Livy's Ab urbe condita (c.26 B.C.). Around 451 B.C., a decemvir of the Roman Republic, Appius Claudius Crassus begins to lust after Verginia, a plebeian girl betrothed to a former tribune, Lucius Icilius. She rejects Claudius' advances, enraging him, and he has her abducted. However, both Icilius and Verginia's father, famed centurion Lucius Verginius, are respected figures and Claudius is forced to legally defend his right to hold Verginia. At the Forum, Claudius threatens the assembly with violence and Verginius' supporters flee. Seeing that defeat is immanent, Verginius asks Claudius if he may speak to his daughter alone, to which Claudius agrees. However, Verginius stabs Verginia, determining that her death is the only way he can secure her freedom.

For the scene where Aaron tricks Titus into cutting off one of his hands, the primary source was probably an unnamed popular tale about a Moor's vengeance, published in various languages throughout the sixteenth century (an English version entered into the Stationers' Register in 1569 has not survived). In the story, a married noble man with two children chastises his Moorish servant, who vows revenge. The servant goes to the moated tower where the man's wife and children live, and rapes the wife. Her screams bring her husband, but the Moor pulls up the drawbridge before he can gain entry. The Moor then kills both children on the battlements in full view of the man. He pleads with the Moor that he will do anything to save his wife, and the Moor demands he cut off his nose. The man does so, but the Moor kills the wife anyway and the man dies of shock. The Moor then flings himself from the battlements to avoid punishment.

Shakespeare also drew on various sources for the names of many of his characters. For example, Titus could have been named after the Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus, who ruled Rome from 79 to 81. Jonathan Bate speculates that the name Andronicus could have come from Andronicus V Palaeologus, co-emperor of Byzantium from 1403 to 1407, but, since there is no reason to suppose that Shakespeare might have come across these emperors, it is more likely that he took the name from the story "Andronicus and the lion" in Antonio de Guevara's Epistolas familiares. That story involves a sadistic emperor named Titus who amused himself by throwing slaves to wild animals and watching them be slaughtered. However, when a slave called Andronicus is thrown to a lion, the lion lies down and embraces the man. The emperor demands to know what has happened, and Andronicus explains that he had once helped the lion by removing a thorn from its foot. Bate speculates that this story, with one character called Titus and another called Andronicus, could be why several contemporary references to the play are in the form Titus & ondronicus.

Geoffrey Bullough argues that Lucius' character arc (estrangement from his father followed by banishment followed by a glorious return to avenge his family honour) was probably based on Plutarch's Life of Coriolanus. As for Lucius' name, Frances Yates speculates that he may be named after Saint Lucius, who introduced Christianity into Britain. On the other hand, Jonathan Bate hypothesises that Lucius could be named after Lucius Junius Brutus, founder of the Roman Republic, arguing that "the man who led the people in their uprising was Lucius Junius Brutus. This is the role that Lucius fulfils in the play."

The name of Lavinia was probably taken from the mythological figure of Lavinia, daughter of Latinus, King of Latium, who, in Virgil's Aeneid, courts Aeneas as he attempts to settle his people in Latium. A.C. Hamilton speculates that the name of Tamora could have been based upon the historical figure of Tomyris, a violent and uncompromising Massagetae queen. Eugene M. Waith suggests that the name of Tamora's son, Alarbus, could have come from George Puttenham's The Arte of English Poesie (1589), which contains the line "the Roman prince did daunt/Wild Africans and the lawless Alarbes." G.K. Hunter has suggested Shakespeare may have taken Saturninus' name from Herodian's History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus, which features a jealous and violent tribune named Saturninus. On the other hand, Waith speculates that Shakespeare may have been thinking of an astrological theory which he could have seen in Guy Marchant's The Kalendayr of the shyppars (1503), which states that Saturnine men (i.e. men born under the influence of Saturn) are "false, envious and malicious."

Shakespeare most likely took the names of Bassianus, Marcus, Martius, Quintus, Cauis, Æmilius, Demetrius and Sempronius from Plutarch's Life of Scipio Africanus. Bassianus' name probably came from Lucius Septimius Bassianus, better known as Caracalla, a major figure in Africanus, who, like Bassianus in the play, fights with his brother over succession, one appealing to primogeniture and the other to popularity.

The ballad and the prose history

Any discussion of the sources of Titus Andronicus is complicated by the existence of two other versions of the story; a and a (both of which are anonymous and undated).

The first definite reference to the ballad, Titus Andronicus' Complaint, is an entry in the Stationers' Register by the printer John Danter on 6 February 1594, where the entry "A booke intitled a Noble Roman Historye of Tytus Andronicus" is immediately followed by "Entred also vnto him, the ballad thereof". The earliest surviving copy of the ballad is in Richard Johnson's The Golden Garland of Princely Pleasures and Delicate Delights (1620). However, the date of composition is unknown.

The prose was first published in chapbook form some time between 1736 and 1764 by Cluer Dicey under the title The History of Titus Andronicus, the Renowned Roman General (the ballad was also included in the chapbook), however it is believed to be much older than that. The copyright records from the Stationers' Register in Shakespeare's own lifetime provide some tenuous evidence regarding the dating of the prose. On 19 April 1602, the publisher Thomas Millington sold his share in the copyright of "A booke intitled a Noble Roman Historye of Tytus Andronicus" (which Danter had initially entered into the Register in 1594) to Thomas Pavier. The orthodox belief is that this entry refers to the play. However, the next version of the play to be published was for Edward White, in 1611, printed by Edward Allde, thus prompting the question of why Pavier never published the play despite owning the copyright for nine years. Joseph Quincy Adams, Jr. believes that the original Danter entry in 1594 is not a reference to the play but to the prose, and the subsequent transferrals of copyright relate to the prose, not the play, thus explaining why Pavier never published the play. Similarly, W.W. Greg believes that all copyright to the play lapsed upon Danter's death in 1600, hence the 1602 transferral from Millington to Pavier was illegitimate unless it refers to something other than the play; i.e. the prose. Both scholars conclude that the evidence seems to imply the prose existed by early 1594 at the latest.

However, even if the prose was in existence by 1594, there is no solid evidence to suggest the order in which the play, ballad and prose were written and which served as source for which. Traditionally, the prose has been seen as the original, with the play derived from it, and the ballad derived from both play and prose. Adams Jr., for example, firmly believed in this order (prose-play-ballad) as did John Dover Wilson and Geoffrey Bullough. This theory is by no means universally accepted however. For example, Ralph M. Sargent agrees with Adams and Bullough that the prose was the source of the play, but he argues that the poem was also a source of the play (prose-ballad-play). On the other hand, Marco Mincoff rejects both theories, arguing instead that the play came first, and served as a source for both the ballad and the prose (play-ballad-prose). G. Harold Metz felt that Mincoff was incorrect and reasserted the primacy of the prose-play-ballad sequence. G.K. Hunter however, believes that Adams, Dover Wilson, Bullough, Sargent, Mincoff and Metz were all wrong, and the play was the source for the prose, with both serving as sources for the ballad (play-prose-ballad). In his 1984 edition of the play for The Oxford Shakespeare, Eugene M. Waith rejects Hunter's theory and supports the original prose-play-ballad sequence. On the other hand, in his 1995 edition for the Arden Shakespeare 3rd Series, Jonathan Bate favours Mincoff's theory of play-ballad-prose. In the introduction to the 2001 edition of the play for the Penguin Shakespeare (edited by Sonia Massai), Jacques Berthoud agrees with Waith and settles on the initial prose-play-ballad sequence. In his 2006 revised edition for the New Cambridge Shakespeare, Alan Hughes also argues for the original prose-play-ballad theory, but hypothesises that the source for the ballad was exclusively the prose, not the play.

Ultimately, there is no overriding critical consensus on the issue of the order in which the play, prose and ballad were written, with the only tentative agreement being that all three were probably in existence by 1594 at the latest.

Date and text


The earliest known record of Titus Andronicus is found in Philip Henslowe's diary on 24 January 1594, where Henslowe recorded a performance by Sussex's Men of "Titus & ondronicus", probably at The Rose. Henslowe marked the play as "ne", which most critics take to mean "new". There were subsequent performances on 29 January and 6 February. Also on 6 February, the printer John Danter entered into the Stationers' Register "A booke intitled a Noble Roman Historye of Tytus Andronicus". Later in 1594, Danter published the play in quarto under the title The Most Lamentable Romaine Tragedie of Titus Andronicus (referred to by scholars as Q1) for the booksellers Edward White and Thomas Millington, making it the first of Shakespeare's plays to be printed. This evidence establishes that the latest possible date of composition is late 1593.

There is evidence, however, that the play may have been written some years earlier than this. Perhaps the most famous such evidence relates to a comment made in 1614 by Ben Jonson in Bartholomew Fair. In the preface, Jonson wrote "He that will swear, Jeronimo or Andronicus are the best plays, yet shall pass unexcepted at, here, as a man whose judgement shows it is constant, and hath stood still these five and twenty, or thirty years." The success and popularity of Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, to which Jonson alludes, is attested by many contemporary documents, so by placing Titus alongside it, Jonson is saying that Titus too must have been extremely popular in its day, but by 1614, both plays had come to be seen as old fashioned. If Jonson is taken literally, for the play to have been between 25 and 30 years old in 1614, it must have been written between 1584 and 1589, a theory which not all scholars reject out of hand. For example, in his 1953 edition of the play for the Arden Shakespeare 2nd Series, J.C. Maxwell argues for a date of late 1589. Similarly, E.A.J. Honigmann, in his 'early start' theory of 1982, suggests that Shakespeare wrote the play several years before coming to London c. 1590, and that Titus was actually his first play, written c. 1586. In his Cambridge Shakespeare edition of 1994 and again in 2006, Alan Hughes makes a similar argument, believing the play was written very early in Shakespeare's career, before he came to London, possibly c. 1588.

However, the majority of scholars tend to favour a post-1590 date, and one of the primary arguments for this is that the title page of Q1 assigns the play to three different playing companies; Derby's Men, Pembroke's Men and Sussex's Men ("As it was Plaide by the Right Honourable the Earle of Darbie, Earle of Pembrooke, and Earle of Suffox their Seruants"). This is highly unusual in copies of Elizabethan plays, which usually refer to one company only, if any. If the order of the listing is chronological, as Eugene M. Waith and Jacques Berthoud, for example, believe it is, it means that Sussex's Men were the last to perform the play, suggesting it had been on stage quite some time prior to 24 January 1594. Waith hypothesises that the play originally belonged to Derby's Men, but after the closure of the London theatres on 23 June 1592 due to an outbreak of plague, Derby's Men sold the play to Pembroke's Men, who were going on a regional tour to Bath and Ludlow. The tour was a financial failure, and the company returned to London on 28 September, financially ruined. At that point, they sold the play to Sussex's Men, who would go on to perform it on 24 January 1594 at The Rose. If one accepts this theory, it suggests a date of composition as some time in early to mid-1592. However, Jonathan Bate and Alan Hughes have argued that there is no evidence that the listing is chronological, and no precedent on other title pages for making that assumption. Additionally, a later edition of the play gives a different order of acting companies – Pembroke's Men, Derby's Men, Sussex' Men and Lord Chamberlain's Men, suggesting the order is random and cannot be used to help date the play.

As such, even amongst scholars who favour a post-1590 date, 1592 is by no means universally accepted. Jacques Berthoud, for example, argues that Shakespeare had close associations with Derby's Men and "it would seem that Titus Andronicus must already have entered the repertoire of Derby's Men by the end of 1591 or the start of 1592 at the latest." Berthoud believes this places the date of composition some time in 1591. Another theory is provided by Jonathan Bate, who finds it significant that Q1 lacks the "sundry times" comment found on virtually every sixteenth-century play; the claim on a title page that a play had been performed "sundry times" was an attempt by publishers to emphasise its popularity, and its absence on Q1 indicates that the play was so new, it hadn't been performed anywhere. Bate also finds significance in the fact that prior to the rape of Lavinia, Chiron and Demetrius vow to use Bassianus' body as a pillow. Bate believes this connects the play to Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller, which was completed on 27 June 1593. Verbal similarities between Titus and George Peele's poem The Honour of the Garter are also important for Bate. The poem was written to celebrate the installation of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland as a Knight of the Garter on 26 June 1593. Bate takes these three pieces of evidence to suggest a timeline which sees Shakespeare complete his Henry VI trilogy prior to the closing of the theatres in June 1592. At this time, he turns to classical antiquity to aid him in his poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. Then, towards the end of 1593, with the prospect of the theatres being reopened, and with the classical material still fresh in his mind, he wrote Titus as his first tragedy, shortly after seeing or reading Nash's play and Peele's poem, all of which suggests a date of composition of late 1593.

Other critics have attempted to use more scientific methods to determine the date of the play. For example, Gary Taylor has employed stylometry, particularly the study of contractions, colloquialisms, rare words and function words. Taylor concludes that the entire play except Act 3, Scene 2 was written just after Henry VI, Part 2 and Henry VI, Part 3, which he assigns to late 1591 or early 1592. As such, Taylor settles on a date of mid-1592 for Titus. He also argues that 3.2, which is only found in the 1623 Folio text, was written contemporaneously with Romeo and Juliet, in late 1593.

However, if the play was written and performed by 1588 (Hughes), 1589 (Maxwell), 1591 (Berthoud), 1592 (Waith and Taylor), or 1593 (Bate), why did Henslowe refer to it as "ne" in 1594? R.A. Foakes and R.T. Rickert, modern editors of Henslowe's Diary, argue that "ne" could refer to a newly licensed play, which would make sense if one accepts Waith's argument that Pembroke's Men had sold the rights to Sussex's Men upon returning from their failed tour of the provinces. Foakes and Rickert also point out that "ne" could refer to a newly revised play, suggesting editing on Shakespeare's part some time in late-1593. Waith sees this suggestion as especially important insofar as John Dover Wilson and Gary Taylor have shown that the text as it exists in Q1 does seem to indicate editing. However, that "ne" does actually stand for "new" is not fully accepted; in 1991, Winifred Frazer argued that "ne" is actually an abbreviation for "Newington Butts". Brian Vickers, amongst others, finds Frazer's arguments convincing, which renders interpretation of Henslow's entry even more complex.


The 1594 quarto text of the play, with the same title, was reprinted by James Roberts for Edward White in 1600 (Q2). On 19 April 1602, Millington sold his share in the copyright to Thomas Pavier. However, the next version of the play was published again for White, in 1611, under the slightly altered title The Most Lamentable Tragedie of Titus Andronicus, printed by Edward Allde (Q3).

Q1 is considered a 'good text' (i.e. not a bad quarto or a reported text), and it forms the basis for most modern editions of the play. Q2 appears to be based on a damaged copy of Q1, as it is missing a number of lines which are replaced by what appear to be guess work on the part of the compositor. This is especially noticeable at the end of the play where four lines of dialogue have been added to Lucius' closing speech; "See justice done on Aaron, that damned Moor,/By whom our heavy haps had their beginning;/Then afterwards to order well the state,/That like events may ne'er it ruinate." Scholars tend to assume that when the compositor got to the last page and saw the damage, he presumed some lines were missing, when in fact none were. Q2 was considered the control text until 1904, when a copy of Q1 was discovered in the home of a postal clerk in Sweden. Q2 also corrects a number of minor errors in Q1. Q3 is a further degradation of Q2, and includes a number of corrections to the Q2 text, but introduces many more errors.

The First Folio text of 1623 (F1), under the title The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus, is based primarily on the Q3 text (which is why modern editors use Q1 as the control rather than the usual practice in Shakespeare of using the Folio text). However, the Folio text includes material found in none of the quarto editions, primarily Act 3, Scene 2. It is believed that while Q3 was probably the main source for the Folio, an annotated prompter's copy was also used, particularly in relation to stage directions, which differ significantly from all of the quarto texts.

As such, the text of the play that is today known as Titus Andronicus involves a combination of material from Q1 and F1, the vast majority of which is taken from Q1.

The Peacham drawing

Main article: The Peacham drawing

An important piece of evidence relating to both the dating and text of Titus is the so-called 'Peacham drawing' or 'Longleat manuscript'; the only surviving contemporary Shakespearean illustration, now residing in the library of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat. The drawing appears to depict a performance of Titus, under which is quoted some dialogue. Eugene M. Waith argues of the illustration that "the gestures and costumes give us a more vivid impression of the visual impact of Elizabethan acting than we get from any other source."

Far from being an acknowledged source of evidence however, the document has provoked varying interpretations, with its date in particular often called into question. The fact that the text reproduced in the drawing seems to borrow from Q1, Q2, Q3 and F1, whilst also inventing some of its own readings, further complicates matters. Additionally, a possible association with Shakespearean forger John Payne Collier has served to undermine its authenticity, whilst some scholars believe it depicts a play other than Titus Andronicus, and is therefore of limited use to Shakespeareans.

Analysis and Criticism

Critical history

Although Titus was extremely popular in its day, over the course of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it became perhaps Shakespeare's most maligned play, and it is only in the later half of the twentieth century that this pattern of denigration has shown any signs of subsiding.

One of the earliest, and one of the most famous critical disparagements of the play occurred in 1678, in the introduction to Edward Ravenscroft's theatrical adaptation, Titus Andronicus, or the Rape of Lavinia. A Tragedy, Alter'd from Mr. Shakespeare's Works. Speaking of the original play, Ravenscroft wrote, "'tis the most incorrect and indigested piece in all his works. It seems rather a heap of rubbish than a structure." In 1765, Samuel Johnson questioned the possibility of even staging the play, pointing out that "the barbarity of the spectacles, and the general massacre which are here exhibited, can scarcely be conceived tolerable to any audience." In 1879, August Wilhelm Schlegel wrote that the play was "framed according to a false idea of the tragic, which by an accumulation of cruelties and enormities, degenerated into the horrible and yet leaves no deep impression behind." In 1927, T.S. Eliot famously argued that it was "one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written, a play in which it is incredible that Shakespeare had any hand at all, a play in which the best passages would be too highly honoured by the signature of Peele." In 1948, John Dover Wilson wrote that the play "seems to jolt and bump along like some broken-down cart, laden with bleeding corpses from an Elizabethan scaffold, and driven by an executioner from Bedlam dressed in cap and bells." he goes on to say that if the play had been by anyone other than Shakespeare, it would have been lost and forgotten; it is only because tradition holds that Shakespeare wrote it (which Dover Wilson highly suspects) that it is remembered, not for any intrinsic qualities of its own.

In his 1998 book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom attacked the play on numerous occasions, calling it "a howler", "a poetic atrocity", "an exploitative parody, with the inner purpose of destroying the ghost of Christopher Marlowe" and "a blowup, an explosion of rancid irony." Bloom summates his views by declaring "I can concede no intrinsic value to Titus Andronicus." Citing the 1955 Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production, directed by Peter Brook and starring Laurence Olivier, which is generally agreed to have provided the impetus for the twentieth century revaluation of the play, Bloom said that the audience laughed several times in scenes which were supposed to be tragic, and he sees this as evidence for its failure as Tragedy. He particularly focuses his criticism on the line when Lavinia is told to carry Titus' severed hand in her mouth (3.1.281), arguing that no play which contains such a scene could possibly be serious. He thus concludes the best director to tackle the play would be Mel Brooks.

However, although the play continued to have its detractors, it began to acquire its champions as well. In 2001, Jacques Berthoud pointed out that until shortly after World War II, "Titus Andronicus was taken seriously only by a handful of textual and bibliographic scholars. Readers, when they could be found, mostly regarded it as a contemptible farrago of violence and bombast, while theatrical managers treated it as either a script in need of radical rewriting, or as a show-biz opportunity for a star actor." By 2001 however, this was no longer the case, as many prominent scholars had come out in defence of the play.

One such scholar was Jan Kott. Speaking of its apparent gratuitous violence, Kott argued that

Titus Andronicus is by no means the most brutal of Shakespeare's plays. More people die in Richard III. King Lear is a much more cruel play. In the whole Shakespearean repertory I can find no scene so revolting as Cordelia's death. In reading, the cruelties of Titus can seem ridiculous. But I have seen it on the stage and found it a moving experience. Why? In watching Titus Andronicus we come to understand – perhaps more than by looking at any other Shakespeare play – the nature of his genius: he gave an inner awareness to passions; cruelty ceased to be merely physical. Shakespeare discovered the moral hell. He discovered heaven as well. But he remained on earth.

In his 1987 edition of the play for the Contemporary Shakespeare series, A.L. Rowse speculates as to why the fortunes of the play have begun to change during the twentieth century; "in the civilised Victorian age the play could not be performed because it could not be believed. Such is the horror of our own age, with the appalling barbarities of prison camps and resistance movements paralleling the torture and mutilation and feeding on human flesh of the play, that it has ceased to be improbable."

Director Julie Taymor, who staged a production Off-Broadway in 1994 and directed a film version in 1999, says she was drawn to the play because she found it to be the most "relevant of Shakespeare's plays for the modern era." As she believes we live in the most violent period in history, Taymor feels that the play has acquired more relevance for us than it had for the Victorians; "it seems like a play written for today, it reeks of now." Similarly, when reviewing Taymor's film for The New York Post, Jonathan Forman argues that "it is the Shakespeare play for our time, a work of art that speaks directly to the age of Rwanda and Bosnia."


Main article: Authorship of Titus Andronicus

Perhaps the most frequently discussed topic in the play's critical history is that of authorship. None of the three quarto editions of Titus name the author, which was normal for Elizabethan plays. However, Francis Meres does list the play as one of Shakespeare's tragedies in Palladis Tamia in 1598. Additionally, John Heminges and Henry Condell felt sure enough of Shakespeare's authorship to include it in the First Folio in 1623. As such, with what little available solid evidence suggesting that Shakespeare did indeed write the play, questions of authorship tend to focus on the perceived lack of quality in the writing, and often the play's resemblance to the work of contemporaneous dramatists.

The first to question Shakespeare's authorship is thought to have been Edward Ravenscroft in 1678, and over the course of the eighteenth century, numerous renowned Shakespeareans followed suit; Nicholas Rowe, Alexander Pope, Lewis Theobald, Samuel Johnson, George Steevens, Edmond Malone, William Guthrie, John Upton, Benjamin Heath, Richard Farmer, John Pinkerton, and John Monck Mason, and in the nineteenth century, William Hazlitt and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. All doubted Shakespeare's authorship. So strong had the anti-Shakespearean movement become during the eighteenth century that in 1794, Thomas Percy wrote in the introduction to Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, "Shakespeare's memory has been fully vindicated from the charge of writing the play by the best critics." Similarly, in 1832, the Globe Illustrated Shakespeare claimed there was universal agreement on the matter due to the un-Shakespearean "barbarity" of the play.

However, despite the fact that the vast majority of Shakespearean scholars believed the play to have been written by someone other than Shakespeare, there were those throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century who argued against this theory. One such scholar was Edward Capell, who, in 1768, acknowledged that the play was badly written but asserted that Shakespeare did write it. Another major scholar to support Shakespeare's authorship was Charles Knight in 1843. Several years later, a number of prominent German Shakespeareans also voiced their belief that Shakespeare wrote the play, including A.W. Schlegel and Hermann Ulrici.

Twentieth century criticism has moved away from trying to prove or disprove that Shakespeare wrote the play, with most scholars now accepting that he was definitely involved in the composition in some manner, and has instead come to focus on the issue of co-authorship. Ravenscroft had hinted at this in 1678, but the first modern scholar to look at the theory was John Mackinnon Robertson in 1905, who concluded that "much of the play is written by George Peele, and it is hardly less certain that much of the rest was written by Robert Greene or Kyd, with some by Marlow." In 1919, T.M. Parrott reached the conclusion that Peele wrote Act 1, 2.1 and 4.1, and in 1931, Philip Timberlake corroborated Parrott's findings.

The first major critic to challenge Robertson, Parrott and Timberlake was E.K. Chambers, who successfully exposed inherent flaws in Robertson's methodology. In 1933, Arthur M. Sampley employed the techniques of Parrott to argue against Peele as co-author, and in 1943, Hereward Thimbleby Price also argued that Shakespeare wrote alone.

Beginning in 1948, with John Dover Wilson, the majority of scholars have tended to favour the theory that Shakespeare and Peele collaborated in some way. Dover Wilson, for his part, believed that Shakespeare edited a play originally written by Peele. In 1957, R.F. Hill approached the issue by analysing the distribution of rhetorical devices in the play. Like Parrott in 1919 and Timberlake in 1931, he ultimately concluded that Peele wrote Act 1, 2.1 and 4.1, whilst Shakespeare wrote everything else. In 1979, Macdonald Jackson employed a rare word test, and ultimately came to an identical conclusion as Parrott, Timberlake and Hill. In 1987, Marina Tarlinskaja used a quantitative analysis of the occurrence of stresses in the iambic pentameter line, and she too concluded that Peele wrote Act 1, 2.1 and 4.1. In 1996, Macdonald Jackson returned to the authorship question with a new metrical analysis of the function words "and" and "with". His findings also suggested that Peele wrote Act 1, 2.1 and 4.1.

However, there have always been scholars who believe that Shakespeare worked on the play alone. Many of the editors of the various twentieth century scholarly editions of the play for example, have argued against the co-authorship theory; Eugene M. Waith in his Oxford Shakespeare edition of 1985, Alan Hughes in his Cambridge Shakespeare edition of 1994 and again in 2006, and Jonathan Bate in his Arden Shakespeare edition of 1995. In the case of Bate however, in 2002, he came out in support of Brian Vickers' book Shakespeare, Co-Author which restates the case for Peele as the author of Act 1, 2.1 and 4.1.

Vickers' analysis of the issue is the most extensive yet undertaken. As well as analysing the distribution of a large number of rhetorical devices throughout the play, he also devised three new authorship tests; an analysis of polysyllabic words, an analysis of the distribution of alliteration and an analysis of vocatives. His findings led him to assert, with complete confidence, that Peele wrote Act 1, 2.1 and 4.1. Vickers' findings have yet to be challenged.


The language of Titus has always had a central role in criticism of the play insofar as those who doubt Shakespeare's authorship have often pointed to the apparent deficiencies in the language as evidence of that claim. However, the quality of the language has had its defenders over the years, critics who argue that the play is more linguistically complex than is often thought, and features a more accomplished use of certain linguistic motifs than has hitherto been allowed for.

One of the most basic such motifs is repetition. Several words and topics occur time and again, serving to connect and contrast characters and scenes, and to foreground certain themes. Perhaps the most obvious recurring motifs are those of honour, virtue and nobility, all of which are mentioned multiple times throughout the play, especially during the first act; the play's opening line is Saturninus' address to "Noble patricians, patrons of my right" (l.1). In the second speech of the play, Bassianus states "And suffer not dishonour to approach/The imperial seat, to virtue consecrate,/To justice, continence and nobility;/But let desert in pure election shine" (ll.13–16). From this point onwards, the concept of nobility is at the heart of everything that happens. H.B. Charlton argues of this opening Act that "the standard of moral currency most in use is honour."

When Marcus announces Titus' imminent arrival, he emphasises Titus' renowned honour and integrity; "And now at last, laden with honour's spoils,/Returns the good Andronicus to Rome,/Renowned Titus, flourishing in arms./Let us entreat by honour of his name/Whom worthily you would have now succeed" (ll.36–40). Marcus' reference to Titus' name is even itself an allusion to his nobility insofar as Titus' full title (Titus Pius) is an honorary epitaph which "refers to his devotion to patriotic duty."

Bassianus then cites his own admiration for all of the Andronici; "Marcus Andronicus, so I do affy/In thy uprightness and integrity,/And so I love and honour thee and thine,/Thy noble brother Titus, and his sons" (ll.47–50). Upon Titus' arrival, an announcement is made; "Patron of virtue, Rome's best champion,/Successful in the battles that he fights,/With honour and with fortune is returned" (ll.65–68). Once Titus has arrived on-stage, it is not long before he too is speaking of honour, virtue and integrity, referring to the family tomb as a "sweet cell of virtue and nobility" (l.93). After Titus chooses Saturninus as Empire, they praise one another's honour, with Saturninus referring to Titus' "honourable family" (ll.239) and Titus claiming "I hold me highly honoured of your grace" (ll.245). Titus then says to Tamora, "Now, madam, are you prisoner to an Emperor –/To him that for your honour and your state/Will use you nobly and your followers" (ll.258–260).

Even when things begin to go awry for the Andronici, each one maintains a firm grasp of his own interpretation of honour. The death of Mutius comes about because Titus and his sons have different concepts of honour; Titus feels the Emperor's desires should have precedence, his sons that Roman law should govern all, including the Emperor. As such, when Lucius reprimands Titus for slaying one of his own sons, Titus responds "Nor thou, nor he, are any sons of mine;/My sons would never so dishonour me" (l.296). Moments later, Saturninus declares to Titus "I'll trust by leisure him that mocks me once,/Thee never, nor thy traitorous haughty sons,/Confederates all to dishonour me" (ll.301–303). Subsequently, Titus cannot quite believe that Saturninus has chosen Tamora as his empress and again sees himself dishonoured; "Titus, when wert thou wont to walk alone,/Dishonoured thus and challeng'd of wrongs" (ll.340–341). When Marcus is pleading with Titus that Mutius should be allowed to be buried in the family tomb, he implores, "Suffer thy brother Marcus to inter/His noble nephew here in virtue's nest,/That died in honour and Lavinia's cause." (ll.375–377). Having reluctantly agreed to allow Mutius a royal burial, Titus then returns to the issue of how he feels his sons have turned on him and dishonoured him; "The dismall'st day is this that e'er I saw,/To be dishonoured by my sons in Rome" (ll.384–385). At this point, Marcus, Martius, Quintus and Lucius declare of the slain Mutius, "He lives in fame, that died in virtue's cause" (ll.390).

Other characters also become involved in the affray resulting from the disagreement among the Andronici, and they too are equally concerned with honour. After Saturninus has condemned Titus, Bassianus appeals to him, "This noble gentleman, Lord Titus here,/Is in opinion and in honour wronged" (ll.415–416). Then, in a surprising move, Tamora suggests to Saturninus that he should forgive Titus and his family. Saturninus is at first aghast, believing that Tamora is now dishonouring him as well; "What madam, be dishonoured openly,/And basely put it up without revenge?" (ll.442–443), to which Tamora replies,

Not so, my lord; the gods of Rome forefend
I should be author to dishonour you.
But on mine honour dare I undertake
For good Lord Titus' innocence in all,
Whose fury not dissembled speaks his griefs.
Then at my suit look graciously on him;
Lose not so noble a friend on vain suppose.


The irony here of course, is that her false appeal to honour is what begins the bloody cycle of revenge which dominates the rest of the play.

Although not all subsequent scenes are as heavily saturated with references to honour, nobility and virtue as is the opening, they are continually alluded to throughout the play. Other notable examples include Aaron's description of Tamora; "Upon her wit doth earthly honour wait,/And virtue stoops and trembles at her frown" (2.1.10–11). An ironic and sarcastic reference to honour occurs when Bassianus and Lavinia encounter Aaron and Tamora in the forest and Bassianus tells Tamora "your swarthy Cimmerian/Doth make your honour of his body's hue,/Spotted, detested, and abominable" (2.3.72–74). Later, after the Clown has delivered Titus' letter to Saturninus, Saturninus declares "Go, drag the villain hither by the hair./Nor age nor honour shall shape privilege" (4.4.55–56). Another example is seen outside Rome, when a Goth refers to Lucius "Whose high exploits and honourable deeds/Ingrateful Rome requites with foul contempt" (5.1.11–12).

No discussion of the language of Titus is complete without reference to Marcus's speech upon finding Lavinia after her rape;

Who is this? My niece that flies away so fast?
Cousin, a word: where is your husband?
If I do dream, would all my wealth would wake me!
If I do wake, some Planet strike me down,
That I may slumber in eternal sleep!
Speak, gentle niece, what stern ungentle hands
Hath lopped, and hewed and made thy body bare
Of her two branches, those sweet ornaments,
Whose circling shadows, Kings have sought to sleep in,
And might not gain so great a happiness
As half thy love? Why dost not speak to me?
Alas, a crimson river of warm blood,
Like to a bubbling fountain stirred with wind,
Doth rise and fall between thy ros'd lips,
Coming and going with thy honey breath.
But sure some Tereus hath deflowered thee,
And, lest thou should'st detect him, cut thy tongue.
Ah, now thou turn'st away thy face for shame;
And notwithstanding all this loss of blood,
As from a conduit with three issuing spouts,
Yet do thy cheeks look red as Titan's face,
Blushing to be encountered with a cloud.
Shall I speak for thee? Shall I say 'tis so?
O, that I knew thy heart, and knew the beast,
That I might rail at him to ease my mind!
Sorrow conceal'd, like an oven stopped.
Doth burn the heart to cinders where it is.
Fair Philomela, why she but lost her tongue,
And in a tedious sampler sowed her mind;
But, lovely niece, that mean is cut from thee.
A craftier Tereus, cousin, hast thou met,
And he hath cut those pretty fingers off,
That could have better sowed then Philomel.
O, had the monster seen those lily hands
Tremble, like aspen leaves, upon a lute,
And make the silken strings delight to kiss them,
He would not then have touched them for his life.
Or, had he heard the heavenly harmony
Which that sweet tongue hath made,
He would have dropped his knife and fell asleep,
As Cerberus at the Thracian poet's feet.
Come, let us go, and make thy father blind,
For such a sight will blind a father's eye.
One hour's storm will drown the fragrant meads;
What will whole months of tears thy father's eyes?
Do not draw back, for we will mourn with thee;
O, could our mourning ease thy misery!


In this much discussed speech, the discrepancy between the beautiful imagery and the horrific sight before us has been noted by many critics as jarring, and the speech is often severely edited or completely removed for performance; in the 1955 RSC production, for example, director Peter Brook cut the speech entirely. There is also a great deal of disagreement amongst critics as to the essential meaning of the speech. John Dover Wilson, for example, sees it as nothing more than a parody, Shakespeare mocking the work of his contemporaries by writing something so bad. He finds no other tonally analogous speech in all of Shakespeare, concluding it is "a bundle of ill-matched conceits held together by sticky sentimentalism." Similarly, Eugene M. Waith determines that the speech is an aesthetic failure that may have looked good on the page but which is incongruous in performance.

However, defenders of the play have posited several theories which seek to illustrate the thematic relevance of the speech. For example, Nicholas Brooke argues that it "stands in the place of a choric commentary on the crime, establishing its significance to the play by making an emblem of the mutilated woman." Actress Eve Myles, who played Lavinia in the 2003 RSC production suggests that Marcus "tries to bandage her wounds with language," thus the speech has a calming effect and is Marcus' attempt to soothe Lavinia.

Another theory is suggested by Anthony Brian Taylor, who argues simply that Marcus is babbling; "beginning with references to "dream" and "slumber" and ending with one to sleep, the speech is an old man's reverie; shaken by the horrible and totally unexpected spectacle before him, he has succumbed to the senile tendency to drift away and become absorbed in his own thoughts rather than confront the harshness of reality." Jonathan Bate however, sees the speech as more complex, arguing that it attempts to give voice to the indescribable. Bate thus sees it as an illustration of language's ability to "bring back that which has been lost," i.e. Lavinia's beauty and innocence is figuratively returned in the beauty of the language. Similarly, for Brian Vickers, "these sensual pictorial images are appropriate to Lavinia's beauty now forever destroyed. That is, they serve one of the constant functions of tragedy, to document the metabolé, that tragic contrast between what people once were and what they have become." Jacques Berthoud provides another theory, arguing that the speech "exhibits two qualities seldom found together: an unevasive emotional recognition of the horrors of her injuries, and the knowledge that, despite her transformation into a living grave of herself, she remains the person he knows and loves." Thus the speech evokes Marcus' "protective identification" with her. D.J. Palmer feels that the speech is an attempt to rationalise in Marcus' own mind the sheer horror of what he is seeing;

Marcus' lament is an effort to realise a sight that taxes to the utmost the powers of understanding and utterance. The vivid conceits in which he pictures his hapless niece do not transform or depersonalise her: she is already transformed and depersonalised […] Far from being a retreat from the awful reality into some aesthetic distance, then, Marcus' conceits dwell upon this figure that is to him both familiar and strange, fair and hideous, living body and object: this is, and is not, Lavinia. Lavinia's plight is literally unutterable […] Marcus' formal lament articulates unspeakable woes. Here and throughout the play the response to the intolerable is ritualised, in language and action, because ritual is the ultimate means by which man seeks to order and control his precarious and unstable world.

In contradistinction to Dover Wilson and Waith, several scholars have argued that whilst the speech may not work on the page, it can work in performance. Discussing the Deborah Warner RSC production at The Swan in 1987, which used an unedited text, Stanley Wells argues that Donald Sumpter's delivery of the speech "became a deeply moving attempt to master the facts and thus to overcome the emotional shock of a previously unimagined horror. We had the sense of a suspension of time, as if the speech represented an articulation, necessarily extended in expression, of a sequence of thoughts and emotions, that might have taken no more than a second or two to flash through the character's mind, like a bad dream." Also speaking of the Warner production and Sumpter's performance, Alan C. Dessen writes "we observe Marcus, step-by-step, use his logic and Lavinia's reactions to work out what has happened, so that the spectators both see Lavinia directly and see through his eyes and images. In the process the horror of the situation is filtered through a human consciousness in a way difficult to describe but powerful to experience."

Looking at the language of the play in a more general sense has also produced a range of critical theories. For example, Jacques Berthoud argues that the rhetoric of the play is explicitly bound up with its theme; "the entire dramatic script, soliloquies included, functions as a network of responses and reactions. [The language's] primary and consistent function is interlocutory." An entirely different interpretation is that of Jack Reese, who argues that Shakespeare's use of language functions to remove the audience from the effects and implications of violence; it has an almost Brechtian verfremdungseffekt. Using the example of Marcus' speech, Reese argues that the audience is disconnected from the violence through the seemingly incongruent descriptions of that violence. Such language serves to "further emphasise the artificiality of the play; in a sense, they suggest to the audience that it is hearing a poem read rather than seeing the events of that poem put into dramatic form." Gillian Kendall, however, reaches the opposite conclusion, arguing that rhetorical devices such as metaphor augment the violent imagery, not diminish it, because the figurative use of certain words complements their literal counterparts. This, however, "disrupts the way the audience perceives imagery." An example of this is seen in the body politic/dead body imagery early in the play, as the two images soon become interchangeable. Another theory is provided by Peter M. Sacks, who argues that the language of the play is marked by "an artificial and heavily emblematic style, and above all a revoltingly grotesque series of horrors which seem to have little function but to ironise man's inadequate expressions of pain and loss".


Main article: Themes in Titus Andronicus


The earliest definite recorded performance of Titus was on 24 January 1594, when Philip Henslowe noted a performance by Sussex's Men of Titus & ondronicus. Although Henslowe doesn't specify a theatre, it was most likely The Rose. Repeated performances were staged on 28 January and 6 February. On 5 and 12 June, Henslowe recorded two further performances of the play, at the Newington Butts Theatre by the combined Admiral's Men and Lord Chamberlain's Men. The 24 January show earned three pounds eight shillings, and the performances on 29 January and 6 February earned two pounds each, making it the most profitable play of the season. The next recorded performance was on 1 January 1596, when a troupe of London actors, possibly Chamberlain's Men, performed the play during the Christmas festivities at Burley-on-the-Hill in the manor of Sir John Harington, Baron of Exton.

Some scholars, however, have suggested that the January 1594 performance may not be the first recorded performance of the play. On 11 April 1592, Henslowe recorded ten performances by Derby's Men of a play called Titus and Vespasian, which some, such as E.K. Chambers, have identified with Shakespeare's play. Most scholars, however, believe that Titus and Vespasian is more likely a different play about the two real life Roman Emperors, Vespasian, who ruled from 69 to 79, and his son Titus, who ruled from 79 to 81. The two were subjects of many narratives at the time, and a play about them would not have been unusual. Dover Wilson further argues that the theory that Titus and Vespasian is Titus Andronicus probably originated in an 1865 English translation of a 1620 German translation of Titus, in which Lucius had been renamed Vespasian.

Although it is known that the play was definitely popular in its day, there is no other recorded performance for many years. In January 1668, it was listed by the Lord Chamberlain as one of twenty-one plays owned by the King's Company which had, at some stage previously, been acted at Blackfriars Theatre; "A Catalogue of part of his Mates Servants Playes as they were formally acted at the Blackfryers & now allowed of to his Mates Servants at ye New Theatre." However, no other information is provided. During the late seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, adaptations of the play came to dominate the stage, and after the Burley performance in 1596 and the possible Blackfriars performance some time prior to 1667, there is no definite recorded performance of the Shakespearean text in England until the early twentieth century.