The first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s Titus
Andronicus was at the Rose on 24 January 1594. The play was
repeated on 29 January and 4 February. Titus Andronicus
was given again, by the Admiral’s
Men and the Lord
Chamberlain’s Men, at Newington Butts in June 1594. On
1 January 1596, it was performed (probably by the Lord Chamberlain’s
Men) in the household of Sir John Harington at Burley-on-the-Hill
Titus Andronicus is the only one of Shakespeare’s
plays for which there is a contemporary illustration, a drawing
apparently made by Henry Peacham (the author of a drawing manual)
now in the collection of the Marquess of Bath.
Publication in quarto and folio
Titus Andronicus appeared in five editions before 1642.
- First quarto, 1594. Believed to have been printed from Shakespeare’s
foul papers. (Copy from the Folger Shakespeare Library.)
- Second quarto, 1600. Printed from the first quarto. (Copy from
Edinburgh University Library.)
- Third quarto, 1611. Printed from the second quarto.
- First folio, 1623. Printed from the third quarto. The folio
text adds more extensive stage directions, as well as a scene
(act 3, scene 2) which is not found in the quartos. The extra
scene is accepted as Shakespeare’s. It is believed that
the printer had access (either directly, or indirectly through
an annotated third quarto) to a promptbook.
- Second folio, 1632. Printed from the first folio.
Titus Andronicus was entered on the Stationers’
Register on 6 February 1594 by the printer John Danter. The first
quarto appeared in 1594, printed by Danter and sold by Edward White
and Thomas Millington. Danter was raided by the Stationers’
Company and his presses destroyed in February or March 1597, for
printing books without their authority. The second quarto of Titus
Andronicus was printed by James Roberts for Edward White and
appeared in 1600. On 19 April 1602 Thomas Millington transferred
the copyright of Titus Andronicus to Thomas Pavier. However,
the third quarto of 1611 was printed by Edward Allde for Edward
Library copies of Titus Andronicus contains detailed
bibliographic descriptions of all the quarto copies of the play.
There are three versions of the story of Titus Andronicus:
Shakespeare’s play; a ballad, also entered on the Stationers’
Register in 1594; a prose narrative, which survives only in a mid
18th-century chapbook. The ballad, entitled ‘Titus Andronicus’
Complaint’ was included in Richard Johnson’s The
Golden Garland of 1620. The chapbook, entitled The History
of Titus Andronicus, also reprinted the ballad. It is usually
agreed that the prose narrative preceded Shakespeare’s Titus
Andronicus, which was followed by the ballad. However, it has
recently been suggested that Shakespeare’s play came first,
the ballad was based on the play, and the chapbook was a prose expansion
of the ballad. Although Shakespeare used no one source specifically
for Titus Andronicus, he did draw on several works.
Titus Andronicus' Complaint.
Richard Johnson, The Golden Garland of Princely Pleasures and
Delicate Delights, 1620. British Library, C.39.b.36, sig. E8v.
- Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy (1592). This play probably
gave Shakespeare a model for Titus Andronicus’s revenge.
- Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta (first performed
about 1589 but not published until 1633). Marlowe’s play
influenced the villains in Titus Andronicus, particularly Aaron.
- George Peele, The Battell of Alcazar (popular on stage
in the early 1590s, published 1594). The character of Muly Mahamet
in Peele’s play also influenced the character of Aaron.
- The First Part of the Tragicall Raigne of Selimus,
sometime Emperour of the Turkes (perhaps performed in
1592, published 1594). This play provided Shakespeare with a precedent
for the scene in which Titus’s hand is chopped off (act
3, scene 1).
- Ovid, translated by Arthur Golding, The .XV. Bookes of P.
Ouidius Naso, Entytuled Metamorphosis (1567). The story of
Philomel in Ovid’s poem gave Shakespeare a pattern for the
rape and mutilation of Lavinia.
Story of the play
Note: the links below will take you to the page in the quarto where
each act begins, according to standard modern editions. (The quartos
themselves have no act divisions.) The quarto shown for each play
is always the earliest in the Library's collection - unless it is
a 'bad' quarto in which case it is the earliest 'good' quarto.
Titus Andronicus is set in Rome during the Empire.
1) Saturninus and Bassianus, sons of the deceased Emperor of
Rome, both claim the throne. Marcus Andronicus declares that the
people of Rome have elected his brother Titus Andronicus as the
new Emperor. Titus enters with captives from his successful war
against the Goths, Tamora their Queen, her sons, and her servant
the Moor Aaron. Titus refuses the crown. He supports Saturninus,
who is made Emperor. Saturninus immediately frees the captive Goths.
Bassianus seizes Lavinia, Titus’s daughter, and carries her
off to marry her. Titus tries to stop Bassianus, but kills one of
his own sons who stands in his way. Saturninus chooses Tamora as
2) Aaron, alone, declares that he will share in Tamora’s
good fortune. Her sons, Chiron and Demetrius, enter quarrelling
over Lavinia. Aaron plots with them to rape her. Titus and his family,
and Saturninus, Tamora and their followers, all go hunting. Aaron
and Tamora, alone together, reveal that they are lovers. Bassianus
and Lavinia meet Tamora, Chiron, and Demetrius. Tamora’s sons
kill Bassianus and drag Lavinia away. Martius and Quintus, Titus’s
sons, discover the body of Bassianus. When Saturninus arrives, he
suspects they have murdered his brother. Lavinia is brought in by
Chiron and Demetrius. She has been raped, her hands cut off, and
her tongue cut out to keep her silent. With horror, Marcus discovers
3) Titus pleads for his sons as they are taken away to execution
for murdering Bassianus. Marcus brings in Lavinia. Titus, seeing
her, is overcome with grief. Aaron enters to tell Titus that his
sons will be spared if he will cut off his own hand and send it
to the Emperor. Titus agrees. Aaron cuts off the hand and takes
it away. A messenger arrives, bringing Titus’s hand and the
heads of his sons. Titus swears revenge. Lucius, Titus’s only
surviving son, vows to revenge both Titus and Lavinia. He leaves
to join the Goths against Saturninus. Titus, Marcus, and Lavinia
sit together at a banquet. Marcus kills a fly, and Titus reproves
him. When Marcus compares the fly to Aaron, Titus strikes at it.
4) Lavinia shows Titus and Marcus the tale of Philomel within
a book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, to explain what happened to
her. She takes a staff in her mouth and, guiding it with her stumps,
writes out the names of her attackers, Chiron and Demetrius. Titus
plots his revenge. A nurse brings in Tamora’s new-born baby,
Aaron’s son. He kills the nurse, to keep the birth secret.
A messenger brings news that Lucius is marching on Rome, at the
head of an army of Goths. Tamora decides to persuade Titus to betray
5) Lucius arrives with his army. Aaron, captured by a Goth,
is brought before him with his baby son. Lucius agrees to spare
the child if Aaron will betray Tamora, Chiron, and Demetrius. Aaron
tells him of their evil deeds. Tamora and her sons, disguised, visit
Titus to offer help. He pretends not to recognise them, and agrees
to invite Lucius to a banquet with the Emperor and Empress. When
Tamora leaves, Titus seizes Chiron and Demetrius and cuts their
throats. At the banquet, Titus (dressed as a cook) places the dishes
before Saturninus and Tamora. He kills Lavinia, and tells Saturninus
who was guilty of her rape and mutilation. He announces that Chiron
and Demetrius were baked in the pie served to Saturninus and Tamora.
Titus stabs Tamora to death, and Saturninus kills Titus. Lucius
kills Saturninus. He and Marcus are protected by the Goths, as they
announce the wicked deeds of Tamora and her sons to the assembled
Romans. Lucius is declared Emperor. He sentences Aaron to death
by starvation. Lucius orders burial rites for all the dead, except
Tamora whose body is to be thrown to beasts and birds of prey.