Judges, Senators, and Tribunes bring Titus' two bound sons to the place
of execution. Lying down before the officials, Titus tries to stop them
with reminders of his service to Rome, but they pass by. He begs the
earth not to drink the blood of his sons.
O earth, I will befriend thee more with rain,The latter two lines echo Chaucer again. Lucius arrives and tells Titus that no one is listening to him: "The tribunes hear you not, no man is by, / And you recount your sorrow to a stone" (III.i.28-29). Titus justifies his pleading with stones: "A stone is silent, and offendeth not, / And tribunes with their tongues doom men to death" (III.i.46-47). Lucius reports that he has been banished because of an attempt to save his brothers, which Titus thinks fortunate since the "wilderness of tigers" (III.i.54) is preying on the Andronicus family: "How happy art thou then, / From these devourers to be banished" (III.i.56-57).
That Titus is unheard serves as an interesting precursor to the next development: Marcus bringing in Lavinia. "Elsewhere in Shakespeare we will encounter the phenomenon of speechlessness as a sign of loss -- or abdication -- of full human capacity" (Garber 79). Lucius is stricken with woe: "Ay me, this object kills me" (III.i.64). "Robbed of the means either to speak or to write, Lavinia becomes an object rather than a subject" (Garber 79). Titus rages; his impulse is to chop off his own hands, "For they have fought for Rome, and all in vain" (III.i.73). They can tell by her weeping that it wasn't the Andronicus brothers who killed Bassianus, although Titus' emotional caving just makes Lavinia more sorrowful, as Lucius notes. Something about this scene makes the elder Ogburns think of Titus as Oxford and Marcus as his court mentor, the Earl of Sussex (Ogburn and Ogburn 354). They mention the symbolic nature of the "violation" of Anne Cecil, at least her reputation (Ogburn and Ogburn 354).
Aaron comes along and delivers to the Andronici the Emperor's decree: that if any one of them will send his severed hand to Saturninus, the emperor will reverse his decision about the condemned sons. Titus, Lucius, and Marcus vie for the privilege of rendering forth the bloody ransom, but when the latter two go off to find an axe, Titus has Aaron chop off his hand. Aaron's side-comments indicate this is a hoax and only the severed heads of the sons will be returned.
Indeed, a messenger brings the two heads of his sons to Titus, along with his own severed hand and a report that the hand sacrifice was mocked. Oddly and extraneously, this messenger adds, "woe is me to think upon thy woes, / More than remembrance of my father's death" (III.i.239-240). Lavinia kisses Titus, who wonders when the nightmare will end. Marcus now is no longer stoical. Titus can only laugh, and he turns entirely to revenge. He has Marcus carry off one head, he carries another, and Lavinia brings the hand in her teeth. [This is the Folio reading; the first quarto edition has Titus telling Lavinia to carry the severed hand "between thine arms," which may strike one as less animalistic (Garber 83).]
In Titus's tending of Lavinia there has been both genuine affection and a certain invasiveness as he tries to read her thoughts and speak for her. Now that invasiveness is externalized in an image that, like the sight of Marcus's staff in her mouth, reenacts the original atrocity, just as the original rape in Rome anticipated it. (Leggatt 246-247)The banished Lucius is to raise an army of Goths. He goes off vowing to avenge the wrongs done his family, "And make proud Saturninus and his emperess / Beg at the gates, like Tarquin and his queen" (III.i.297-298).
Titus, Marcus, Lavinia, and Lucius' son (young Lucius) sit down to a meal. Titus speaks of their limited abilities to express their woe. He seems to be able to interpret Lavinia's insistence that she'll drink only her own tears, and he vows to find a way to communicate further with Lavinia. From her signs, "I, of these, will wrest an alphabet, / And by still practice learn to know thy meaning" (III.ii.44-45). Marcus expresses concern that the boy is worried about his grandfather Titus' sorrow. Marcus stabs a fly, and Titus is angry: it is an act of murder and tyranny; the fly had a family. But Marcus compares the fly to Aaron and Titus begs pardon, borrowing a knife to smash the insect further. Some think this scene of "harming a fly" was a later addition to the play, prompted by a small remark occurring later into a literalization here (V.i.140).
Marcus thinks the grief is making Titus insane. Titus says he'll read "Sad stories chanced in the time of old" (III.ii.83) to Lavinia until he grows too weary; then the boy will take over:
Come, boy, and go with me, thy sight is young,
And thou shalt read when mine begin to dazzle.