Lucius inspires the Goth troops to avenge their tribe against the Roman Emperor. We learn that Rome itself hates the Emperor and looks forward to the Goth invasion. Aaron is brought in with his son, captured as he was hoping to place the infant in the care of a Goth "Who, when he knows thou art the Empress' babe, / Will hold thee dearly for thy mother's sake" (V.i.35-36). Lucius wants Aaron to climb a ladder and see the infant hanged first, but Aaron is protective: "Touch not the boy, he is of royal blood" (V.i.49). In exchange for the baby's life Aaron promises to show "wondrous things" (V.i.55) -- information on all the crimes inflicted on the Andronicus family. Lucius swears the baby shall live if he is satisfied by what he hears.
'Twill vex thy soul to hear what I will speak:
Lucius swears, but wonders why we're bothering, since Aaron believes in nothing. Aaron believes that Lucius believes in oaths. He then reports all, including his own role in the crimes. He urged Chiron and Demetrius on, despite "That codding spirit they had from their mother" (V.i.99). He says he laughed uncontrollably about tricking Titus into sacrificing his hand. His only regret is that he cannot live to inflict thousands more villainies (V.i.124, 144). He has wreaked havoc every day of his adult life.
Oft have I digg'd up dead men from their graves,Hanging is too easy for this wretch, so Lucius has him brought down, but gagged to shut him up (V.i.151). Lucius and the chief Goths are invited to Titus' home for a parley with the Emperor.
And set them upright at their dear friends' door,
Even when their sorrows almost was forgot,
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
"Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead."
Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.
Tamora is disguised as Revenge with her two sons in tow. "Knock at his study, where they say he keeps / To ruminate strange plots of dire revenge" (V.ii.5-6). "'Study' was the Cambridge name for the closet space allotted to the individual student in the common room, while 'where he keeps', in the same context, means 'where the student can be found studying'" [Derran Charlton, "Cambridge University 'Implications.'" Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 44.2 (Spring 2008): 6]. Titus knows she's Tamora (as he will reveal later) and wants to be left alone.
Who doth molest my contemplationShe insists she is Tamora's enemy, come from the infernal regions to help him. He eventually pretends to believe her and notices how much her two attendants, Rape and Murder, resemble Tamora's sons. They're missing a Moor though. Tamora coaxes Titus into her vague plan of revenge, supposedly against his enemies, at the banquet for Lucius. Titus has Marcus deliver invitations for a banquet at his house to Lucius, and to Saturninus, Tamora, and her sons. "When Titus welcomes her with a one-armed embrace, the moment has a double significance: Titus is embracing Revenge but he is also embracing Tamora -- and the act conveys, more than Titus realizes, how much he and his victim have in common" (Leggatt 248). Titus persuades Tamora to leave "Rape" and "Murder" with him for now. Tamora instructs her sons to humor Titus, and departs.
Is it your trick to make me ope the door
That so my sad decrees may fly away,
And all my study be to no effect?
You are deceiv'd, for what I mean to do
See here in bloody lines I have set down:
And what is written shall be executed.
Titus summons some kinsmen and has Chiron and Demetrius bound and gagged: "stop their mouths if they begin to cry" (V.ii.161), "Stop close their mouths, let them not speak a word" (V.ii.164), "stop their mouths, let them not speak to me" (V.ii.167). He returns with a knife and Lavinia, who carries a basin. Titus rails against them: "Here stands the spring whom you have stain'd with mud" (V.ii.170). [The two sons of conspiracy have stained the "spring," or "Ver" (Ogburn and Ogburn 347).] "Almost literally, he talks them to death" (Leggatt 245).
This one hand yet is left to cut your throats,He does cut their throats and starts to prepare them for the cannibalistic feast.
Whiles that Lavinia 'tween her stumps doth hold
The basin that receives your guilty blood.
. . .
Hark, villains, I will grind your bones to dust,
And with your blood and it I'll make a paste,
And of the paste a coffin I will rear,
And make two pasties of your shameful heads,
And bid that strumpet, your unhallowed dam,
Like to the earth swallow her own increase.
. . .
For worse than Philomel you us'd my daughter,
And worse than Progne I will be reveng'd.
Lucius brings the prisoner Aaron and his baby along with the Goths for testimony against Tamora. He distrusts the Emperor's motives regarding this parley. Aaron says,
Some devil whisper curses in my ear,The moment reminds the elder Ogburns of Iago and the ostensible real-life model for both characters, Charles Arundel (Ogburn and Ogburn 350). Lucius has Marcus hide Aaron until the right time. The Emperor, Empress, and other attendants arrive. Marcus seats them all.
And prompt me that my tongue may utter forth
The venemous malice of my swelling heart!
Titus begins the banquet and serves up the boys pie. Shakespeare critic Marjorie Garber comments, "A personal note: It was the staging of this scene, in Julie Taymor's film Titus (1999), that turned me -- a lifelong meat-eater -- against the eating of mammals' flesh" (Garber 85). "The pit, like the tomb of the Andronici, is a dark hole that swallows life; now Tamora will be made to imitate it.... In revenge Titus compels Chiron and Demetrius to enter Tamora's body, making her the final image of the hole in the earth that swallows men" (Leggatt 246).
Titus asks Saturninus' opinion of the story of Virginius, who by his own
hand slew his daughter "Because she was enforc'd, stain'd, and deflow'r'd"
(V.iii.38) -- though that's not the way the most famous version of the story
really goes. (He slew her to prevent it. Shakespeare is using an alternate
version.) Saturninus thinks it a good decision, "Because the girl should not
survive her shame, / And by her presence still renew his sorrows" (V.iii.41-42).
Titus heartily agrees with him, and immediately kills Lavinia in front of the
guests. "Yet in Titus's act we feel the weight of the patriarchal society he
has always served, in which Lavinia earlier seemed to be a pawn. He is
preoccupied not with her grief but with her shame; the grief that matters
is his own" (Leggatt 247).
Saturninus asks who raped her but Titus turns attention to the food.
When Titus says that it was Chiron and Demetrius, Saturninus commands
that they be brought in. Titus explains that they're already here!
Why, there they are, both baked in this pie;Titus stabs Tamora. Saturninus stabs Titus. Lucius stabs Saturninus.
Marcus has Lucius explain the Andronicus family's sufferings to all the others, so that Rome may knit "These broken limbs again into one body" (V.iii.72). Lucius lists the atrocities against his family, ending, at some length, with his own banishment.
Alas, you know I am no vaunter, I;Here Oxford, it seems, after ranting about banishment, "catches himself" (Ogburn and Ogburn 357-358).
My scars can witness, dumb although they are,
That my report is just and full of truth.
But soft, methinks I do digress too much,
Citing my worthless praise. O, pardon me,
For when no friends are by, men praise themselves.
The Andronici, says Lucius, stand "hand in hand" by Titus' revenge (V.iii.132, 136). Lucius, it is agreed, should be Emperor now, and the Romans are invited to '"bring our Emperor gently in thy hand" (V.iii.138). The image of the hand, "so important to the plot of dismemberment, now returns as an emblem of union" (Garber 85), "To heal Rome's harms, and wipe away her woe" (V.iii.148).
[B]oth at the end of Titus Andronicus and at the end of most other Shakespearean tragedies, the audience is left with mixed emotions: the tragic heroes, with their excesses, their eloquence, their errors, and their magnificent suffering, are replaced by figures of lesser emotional scope, though often of far greater practical and political acumen. (Garber 75)Marcus orders that Aaron be brought forth for judgment, and he and Lucius then pay hommage to Titus. Young Lucius comes forth too and mourns, as his father tells him,
Many a story hath he told to thee,Aaron, the "execrable wretch / That hath been breeder of these dire events" (V.iii.177-178), is brought forth and Lucius sentences him to be buried up to his chest in the earth and starved to death. Aaron thinks he will not beg and repent near the end. He reiterates his only regrets:
And bid thee bear his pretty tales in mind,
And talk of them when he was dead and gone.
Ten thousand worse than ever yet I didIf "one can't help but feel a kind of sneaking admiration for his defiance" (Asimov 416), perhaps it's because it sounds, at first, like the playwright speaking again of his works.
Would I perform if I might have my will.
If one good deed in all my life I did,
I do repent it from my very soul.
Lucius orders the bodies to be removed from the diningroom. Titus and Lavinia will be buried in the family tomb. Tamora's corpse will be left outside for the birds. "This harsh and retributive conclusion -- as editors of the play point out, executed felons were treated in such a fashion in Shakespeare's time, their bodies exposed on the gates of London -- calls for silence rather than mourning" (Garber 88). Incidentally, the lopping off of hands was also a state punishment, as the unfortunate Mr. Stubbs learned after publishing his commentary on the Queen's marital negotiations.
In the last scene Lucius is proclaimed Rome's emperor, charged with restoring Rome and healing its wounds. Yet he has entered at the head of an army of Goths. Restoration is also enemy invasion: again the border has collapsed" (Leggatt 248).
"Titus, the patriarchal insider pushed from the center to the margins of his world, and Aaron, the proud outsider who prowls his way to the center by devouring everything in his path, only to discover that his rough nihilism melts in the fact of paternity. Taymor, and her film, understands that 'Titus and Aaron are mirrors, absolute mirrors of each other...'" (Johnson-Haddad, qtd. in Crowl 95).
Although the play can be considered a "dreamscape or nightmare world laid out for all to see, not disguised by retreat into metaphor" (Garber 84), Titus Andronicus is not simply the early modern equivalent of an R-rated action film. "Great poets do not toss off work of this kind simply to pander to the public's taste for the macabre" (Ogburn and Ogburn 344). Still, this kind of praise sounds lame:
Merely to catalogue the play's horrors is to misrepresent it: [we] are presented with much conscious artistry and rhetorical power as part of a seriously projected story of personal and national catastrophes. (Wells 74-75)The artistry and importance comes in when we attune ourselves to the allegorical or topical nature of the play: "Like all Shakespeare plays set in the historical past, Titus has three, perhaps four, 'times' of reference: ancient Rome, Elizabethan England, the shifting contemporary time of each performance -- and the literary 'time' of its poetic models, from Ovid to Livy to the Elizabethan revenge tragedies" (Garber 84). I'd say the key referential time is the Elizabethan one, and in the version of the play we have now, that concerning the severing of Oxford from his works.
One last note: despite Garber's insightfulness in her reading of this play, she can still assert the most absurd of Stratfordian comments, this concerning the numerous classical references throughout the play:
The classical myths were well known through readings of Ovid -- a basic text in grammar school education -- Virgil, and other ancient poets. For Elizabethans, these were not arcane or obscure texts. References to Tereus, Philomela, and Procne, to Dido and Aeneas, would have been part of the common store of knowledge, as is clear from those many moments in Shakespeare's plays when "low" characters joke about mythological figures. (Garber 73)More circular "reasoning."