By S. Clarke Hulse's count, Titus Andronicus is a play with "14 killings, 9 of them on stage, 6 severed members, 1 rape (or 2 or 3, depending on how you count), 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity and 1 of cannibalism--an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines." Reviewer Mike Gene Wallace adds, "This is a great play. We're talking fourteen dead bodies, kung-fu, sword-fu, spear-fu, dagger-fu, arrow-fu, pie-fu, animal screams on the soundtrack, heads roll, hands roll, tongues roll, nine and a half quarts of blood, and a record-breaking 94 on the vomit meter." Really, there's not much more to say; that is the essence of the play. Titus Andronicus is a non-stop potboiler catalog of abominations (with the poetry itself counted as a crime by many critics).
Titus Andronicus, Roman general, returns from ten years of war with only four out of twenty-five sons left. He has captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, her three sons, and Aaron the Moor. In obedience to Roman rituals, he sacrifices her eldest son to his own dead sons, which earns him Tamora's unending hatred and her promise of revenge.
Tamora is made empress by the new emperor Saturninus. To get back at Titus, she schemes with her lover Aaron to have Titus's two sons framed for the murder of Bassianus, the emperor's brother. Titus's sons are beheaded. Unappeased, she urges her sons Chiron and Demetrius to rape Titus's daughter Lavinia, after which they cut off her hands and tongue so she cannot give their crime away. Finally, even Titus's last surviving son Lucius is banished from Rome; he subsequently seeks alliance with the enemy Goths in order to attack Rome. Each new misfortune hits the aged, tired Titus with heavier impact. Eventually, he begins to act oddly and everyone assumes that he is crazy.
Tamora tries to capitalize on his seeming madness by pretending to be the figure of Revenge, come to offer him justice if Titus will only convince Lucius to cease attacking Rome. Titus, having feigned his madness all along, tricks her, captures her sons, kills them, and makes pie out of them. He feeds this pie to their mother in the final scene, after which he kills both Tamora and Lavinia, his own daughter. A rash of killings ensue; the only people left alive are Marcus, Lucius, Young Lucius, and Aaron. Lucius has the unrepentant Aaron buried alive, and Tamora's corpse thrown to the beasts. He becomes the new emperor of Rome.
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