Titus Andronicus

Presumed to have been written from 1587-92 and entered at the Stationer’s Office on the 6th of February 1594 (Q1), subsequent editions were 1600 (Q2), and 1611 (Q3). The literary sources include 1623 (F1) A chapbook of “Titus Andronicus” sold by chapmen published anonymously in 1584. Certainly inspired by Ovid (43 BC- AD18) form his “Metamorphoses” (that is Arthur Golding‘s English translation in 1567). Lucius Annaeus Seneca, (4. BC-AD65), his “Thyestes” (English translation in 1560). Charlton Ogburn suggests a play entitled “The Historie of Titus & Gisippus” was performed at court in February 1577 and written by the Earl of Oxford. Titus Andronicus was first performed in 1592, along with Henry VIth (parts I, II, III), Romeo & Juliet and Richard III and the entire texts of these early plays were printed for the public up to the period until 1598, all without William Shakespeare’s name on them. This is the same year of the Witchcraft Trials and the first time Shakespeare’s name appears in print because a certain Cuthbert Burby (?-1607), a member of the Stationer’s Office, took it upon himself to publish two other books; “Palladis Tamia-A Wit’s Treasury”, an anthology of quotations and maxims edited or compiled by Francis Meres (1565-1647). Francis was a graduate of Oxford who worked as a bookseller in London, then later became rector of Wing, Rutland, while the second occasion was the text of a play entitled: “A Pleasant and Conceited Comedie entitled Love’s Labours Lost“, where the author’s name is mentioned simply as W. Shakespeare. The name contains no hyphen, if that is in any sense significant, but the hyphenated version appeared much later, perhaps to affirm that it was a pseudonym, to emphasise its symbolic meaning or define its deeper cryptic associations with the goddess, Pallas Athena“the spear-shaker”? The question that needs to be answered is why would an aspiring actor from the provinces, not wish to have his name on his first dramatic works? Apparently there are three quarto editions of Titus Andronicus each one with variations due to corruptions, omissions and additions. The first printed on 23rd of January, 1594 and recorded by Phillip Henslowe as performed by the Earl of Sussex’s Men on the 28th January and 6th of February. We know that John Danter entered a copy of the play at the Stationer’s Office on the 6th of February, 1594 with the title “The Most Lamentable RomaineTragedie of Titus Andronicus” including the ballad; “Titus Andronicus’s Complaint”. This was offered for sale by Edward White and Thomas Millington at their bookstore in St. Paul’s. Henslowe also recorded a performance on the 5th and 12th June in the same year by the Admiral’s and Lord Chamberlain’s Men at the Newington Butts Theatre. However, there is also a record of a private performance by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men on the 1st of January 1596 at the Rutland Manor of Sir John Harrington of Exton, the translator of Ariosto, (1591) and for some time close friend and confidant of Queen Elizabeth. Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso influenced the first ever recorded revenge tragedy play by Thomas Kyd (1558-94) written in 1589, first performed in 1592 with the illustrious and popular part of Hieronimo.

The Lord Of Probity

The play opens with Saturninus and Bassianus, the two sons of the late Emperor of Rome contesting as to who would succeed to the throne, while the tribune, Marcus Andronicus advancing the claim of his brother Titus. The latter, Titus has just completed a successful ten year campaign against the Goths and enters with his four sons, the coffin of a fifth and Tamora, Queen of the Goths, her two sons and Aaron a moor and favourite of the Queen. One of Titus’ sons then asks for the execution of one of her sons as a sacrifice. Titus then rejects the throne and aligns himself with Saturninus who declares that he will make Titus’ daughter, Lavinia his queen. However, she is abducted by Bassianus who claims her as his consort and then Titus’ kills his son in the dispute. Saturninus, then accedes to the Roman throne intending to make Tamora his queen while Titus’ brother and sons plead for a burial of his son. He is reluctant to afford a burial to someone involved in a brawl and Saturninus then swears vengeance against Titus and Bassianus but is persuaded not to marry Tamora. However, in act II Tamora’s sons Chiron and Demetrius begin quarrelling over Lavinia and are persuaded by Aaron that they will fulfil their lust of her if they lie in wait during the forthcoming royal hunt. On that day Tamora awaits her paramour Aaron but he declines her because of the plot they have hatched to kill Bassianus and rape his wife. Bassianus and Lavinia then rebuke Tamora for her “black lover”, and she then informs the assassins that Bassianus intends to torture and kill her. This only adds fuel to their plan, so that they kill Bassianus and entice Lavinia away to rape her. Meanwhile, Aaron persuades the Emperor that Bassianus has been killed by the sons of Titus Andronicus and they are promptly arrested. Lavinia is found by Marcus Andronicus raped, her hands and tongue cut off. In act III Titus is found pleading for his sons, and then we hear that Saturninus will free them if one of Titus’ family will agree to having their hand ritually severed. Lucius and Marcus both agree to sacrifice a limb, and go off to fetch an axe. Titus has his hand cut off and sent to the Emperor, but very soon it is returned with the decapitated heads of his two sons. Scenes of grief and anguish follow this unfortunate and despicable event. In act IV the mutilated Lavinia, unable to speak attempts to scrawl in the sand what transpired and Titus then swears revenge. Titus’ grandson is sent with gifts of weapons to Chiron and Demetrius accompanied with a Latin inscription which indirectly accuses them of murder and rape. We then hear that Tamora has given birth to a half-caste child from Aaron, which Chiron and Demetrius plot to kill and substitute with another. Whilst Titus is outraged to the point of madness, a clown enters to take a message to the Emperor. We then discover that Lucius has become Emperor to the Goths and is marching against Rome with a large army of men. Tamora plots to entice the old Titus Andronicus while Rome is besieged with Goths led by Lucius. Aaron arrives with his child and at first Lucius orders them to be killed, but is then persuaded otherwise. Aaron then relates the intricacies of his murderous plot, the rape of Lavinia and the assassination of Bassianus. An emissary arrives to speak to Titus, then Tamora arrives, with her own two sons (disguised as Murder & Rape) to hatch her own devious plan against Titus. Knowing her to be the “Queen of Hell” he plays along with her and suggests a feast be arranged where they will invite the Emperor and his retinue. Titus has her sons bound and decapitated. At the feast Titus appears as the chef, he then out of mercy slays his daughter Lavinia, and calls upon the Emperor to eat the pie he has prepared out of the flesh of Tamora’s sons. He then stabs Tamora, but is himself immediately killed by Saturninus. Then Lucius steps in and murders Saturninus and the play ends with the announcement of Lucius now hailed as Emperor. Aaron is condemned to death by starvation and the pieces of Tamora’s body are tossed to beasts and birds of prey.

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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,