Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus Summary and Analysis of Act Three


As the Roman elites walk toward the site of Martius and Quintus' imminent execution, Titus kneels before them and pleads with them to reconsider their rash judgment. They pass him by without a word. Lucius reveals that he has been banished, and Titus tells him that he should be happy to be banished from a cursed place like Rome. Just then, at the highest pitch of Titus' misery, Marcus enters with Lavinia, revealing the extent of her mutilation. Titus and Marcus weep over the girl and contemplate how to avenge her.

Aaron enters and tells Titus that the emperor has decided to spare his sons after all if he, Lucius, or Marcus chops off a hand and presents it to him. All three Andronici leap at the chance to perform the sacrifice. Marcus and Lucius rush off to get an ax, but while they are gone Titus has Aaron cut off his hand, thus preempting his son and brother. Soon afterwards, however, a messenger returns with Titus' sons disembodied heads and Titus' severed hand. The Andronici collapse in grief, and Lavinia kisses her brothers' heads. Titus begins to laugh ghoulishly, swearing that he will seek out Revenge's cave. He then orders his daughter to take his hand between her teeth; he and his brother each pick up a head. Lucius, meanwhile, declares that he will raise an army against Rome during his banishment.

Some time later, Titus and his family sit down to a meal. Titus declares that he will interpret Lavinia despite her infirmity. When Marcus kills a fly Titus reprimands him, insisting that any killing is unjust, but after Marcus compares the fly to Aaron the Moor Titus swats the creature himself. Thus the Act comes to a close with the Andronici in a state of deepest despair.


Act Three is largely a series of tableaux, each of which underscores the powerlessness of the Andronici clan. In many ways, these stagings are quite obvious. Titus' sacrifice of his hand, for instance, represents the surrendering of his agency to the Roman state. Although he initially surrendered his agency in Act One when he made Saturninus emperor, here he does so quite literally, but just as his sacrifice was scorned then, so it is scorned here. Now two of the Andronici have lost their hands, though Lavinia's were taken, not freely given. Indeed, Titus is obsessed with hands. The words "hand" or "hands" appear almost eighty times throughout the play, more than they do in any other Shakespearean work. They represent action, duty, work, agency - all values that come to naught for Titus and his family.

The counterpoint to hands - and the other body part Lavinia has lost - is the tongue. Like the sacrifice of his hand, Titus' speeches in Act Three are ineffectual. He "tells his sorrows to the stones" of Rome, as he says in a particularly moving speech, because his words are meaningless to the Roman elites he might have ruled over. In Act Three, Titus' language borders on madness. It is full of repetitions and gruesome puns, and he constantly reminds the audience of Lavinia's mutilation ("Let us that have our tongues / Plot some device of further misery"; "What accursed hand / Hath made thee handless in thy father's sight"). These distasteful lines, like his laughter at the end of scene one, reveal a Titus who is unhinged by his misery, who sees the unspeakable injustice of his family's treatment as darkly humorous - almost like a macabre play.

Though Lavinia is commented upon, wept over, poeticized, and lamented, she remains mute. The men who presume to weep for her victimization continue to put words into her mouth, thus rendering her doubly powerless. Titus insists that he can read her "martyred signs" - though he obviously cannot, as he comes no closer to figuring out who mutilated her than Marcus did. He even has his daughter carry his severed hand between her teeth, an image that simultaneously evokes her central position in his desire for revenge and belittles her, mocking her deformity. Lavinia wields very little power even over those who claim to love her. Indeed, Titus never cared for Lavinia's agency - recall his immediate willingness to hand her over to Saturninus in Act One. Shakespeare is perhaps suggesting that despite the obvious depravity of Chiron and Demetrius' behavior, Titus' is not that much different. He too takes Lavinia's agency for granted, sulking over her injury as an affront to himself, as a "spurn" to his own "soul". Lavinia is trapped between the men who raped her and the men who would avenge her.