Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Titus Andronicus

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University



Young Lucius with books under his arm runs from Lavinia, assuming she has gone mad with grief, like Hecuba of Troy (IV.i.20). But Titus and Marcus think there’s some good purpose for her chasing him: “Ay, boy, Cornelia never with more care / Read to her sons as she hath read to thee” (IV.i.12-13). With her stumps, Lavinia rummages through the books Lucius has let fall, and she draws their attention to Ovid’s Metamorphoses. “My mother gave it me,” says Lucius (IV.i.43). [Oxford’s contact with the English translation of Ovid was indeed through his mother: her brother Arthur Golding is credited with the translation, though many suspect a young Oxford himself did the work under his uncle’s tutelage.] Marcus speculates that Lavinia has chosen this book “For love of her that’s gone” (IV.i.43). “Marcus’s sentimental and wrongheaded notion, that Lavinia chooses Ovid as a comfort because she loved the sister-in-law whose book it was, is quickly supplanted by the truth: Lavinia can regain a kind of speech by ‘quoting the leaves'” (Garber 81). Lavinia turns to the story of Philomela. Titus realizes she was raped in the woods during that hunt and wonders if Saturninus was the “Tarquin” (IV.i.63).

Marcus demonstrates a way of using a staff, guided by mouth and feet, to write on the ground:

This sandy plot is plain; guide, if thou canst,
This after me. I have writ my name,
Without the help of any hand at all.
Curs’d be the heart that forc’d us to this shift!”

With this technique, Lavinia identifies the rapists: Chiron and Demetrius. “In one sense she is restored in this moment: she uses language again, and by writing her attackers’ names she gains power over them” (Leggatt 246). Marcus now fully devotes himself to revenge too, invoking the commitment of Junius Brutus to avenge Lucrece’s rape. Titus warns of Tamora’s power over the Emperor, but he declares,

I will go get a leaf of brass,
And with a gad of steel will write these words,
And lay it by. The angry north wind
Will blow these sands like Sybyl’s leaves abroad,
And where’s our lesson then?

Young Lucius states that if he were a man, “Their mother’s bedchamber should not be safe / From these base bondmen to the yoke of Rome” (IV.i.108-109). [Think here of Rome as the center of Catholicism.] Titus invites them into his “armory” (IV.i.113) — bringing thoughts of Hedingham Castle to Oxfordians (e.g., Ogburn and Ogburn 346) — to supply Lucius with presents that Young Lucius will bring from Titus to Chiron and Demetrius. The boy promises to deliver these “with my dagger in their bosoms” (IV.i.118), but Titus says, “No boy, not so, I’ll teach thee another course” (IV.i.119) — a subtler one than the military default (Clark 58). The scene ends with Marcus concerned about Titus’ sanity.

Reading and then writing are the keys to a recovered humanity, as well as the first steps toward further revenge. It is not an accident, I think, that Young Lucius and his books are the proximate agent here. The recovery of the ancient classics made possible the humanist educational reforms of the Tudor period, and in this dramatic (or melodramatic) instance the classics are seen as explicitly enabling a kind of rebirth for Lavinia, reduced to the state of an ‘infant’ by her attackers. Literature here comes to the rescue, replacing speech with writing, and telling the truth across the ages. (Garber 81)

The non-accidental Oxfordian reading of the scene holds Young Lucius as Oxford (Clark 57) and Lavinia as perhaps the Queen with her interest in young Oxford (Clark 58), though the stronger connections seem to be to Oxford’s mother’s side of the family. The alternative “course” to military action will become clearer in the next scene, represented by a “scroll” wrapping the weapons: the plays as powerfully effective propaganda (Clark 59).


Though in asides he notes, “you are both decipher’d, that’s the news, / For villains mark’d with rape” (IV.ii.8-9), Young Lucius presents the gifts to Tamora’s sons with Titus’ praise that they are “The hope of Rome” (IV.ii.13). Demetrius finds the “scroll, and written round about” (IV.ii.18) with a Latin quotation from Horace. Aaron realizes it means Titus knows what happened, but he keeps this to himself, thinking that Tamora would be impressed with Titus’ craftiness. Tamora’s sons still gloat over their crimes, and they reveal that Tamora is in labor.

A Nurse arrives with “that which I would hide from heaven’s eye, / Our Empress’ shame, and stately Rome’s disgrace! / She is delivered, lords, she is delivered” (IV.ii.59-61). Tamora’s baby is obviously Aaron’s too. Tamora has sent word that she wants the baby killed, though Aaron asks, “is black so base a hue?” (IV.ii.71). The sons of Tamora are angry: “Thou hast undone our mother” (IV.ii.75). “Villain, I have done thy mother,” responds Aaron (IV.ii.76). Demetrius and Chiron, because of the dishonor, agree that the infant should be killed, but Aaron threatens to kill them if they harm their half-brother. He mocks their whiteness: “Ye white-lim’d walls! ye alehouse painted signs!” (IV.ii.98). Demetrius wails, “By this our mother is for ever sham’d” (IV.ii.112). Aaron’s declaration, “He is your brother, lords” (IV.ii.126) “is not so much a plea for common humanity as a challenge to recognize in the self the evil that is too easily projected onto the Other” (Leggatt 249-250). After finding out how many witnesses there were at the delivery — just the Nurse, a midwife, and Tamora — Aaron kills the Nurse. He sends Tamora’s sons to bury her and to find another mulatto baby he knows about light enough in skin to suffice for a switch to fool the Emperor:

this their child shall be advanc’d
And be received for the Emperor’s heir,
And substituted in the place of mine,
To calm this tempest whirling in the court….

Tamora’s sons should also send the other witness to the birth, the midwife, to him. Aaron then expresses his intention to bring his baby — “you thick-lipp’d slave” (IV.ii.175) — to the Goths to be raised as a warrior.

So in this scene we have the “offspring of black villainy mated with conspiracy” (Ogburn and Ogburn 550). But on a more literal level, Prince Tudor proponents have perhaps evidence, if we take Aaron somewhat as a representation of Oxford (he’s called “Gentle” Aaron later in the play), of a father defensive of a bastard conceived with the queen. The Nurse’s use of the term “evermore” binds E. Ver with Moor (IV.ii.56), and other statements made in the scene ring with potential significance (Ogburn and Ogburn 848).


Titus quotes Ovid, “Terras Astraea reliquit” (IV.iii.4): Justice has left the earth. This is also quoted in The Spanish Tragedy when Hieronimo plunges a dagger into the ground and shouts for justice (Garber 84). Titus, Marcus, Young Lucius, and a group of Titus’ followers carry arrows with messages stuck on their tips. Titus tells some men to try to dig to the center of the earth to request aid from Pluto. He now regrets helping Saturninus to the emperorship. Marcus and his son Publius lament Titus’ madness (although this may merely be, as Hamlet would say, an “antic disposition”); in any case, feigned madness is a popular revenge tragedy theme (Garber 75). Publius doesn’t mind humoring Titus, but Marcus wants them all to join the Goths against Rome.

Publius tells Titus that Pluto is allied: “If you will have Revenge from hell, you shall” (IV.iii.39). But Justice is busy, which sends Titus into another rage. He gives the men arrows addressed to various gods and has the men shoot all the arrows into Saturninus’ court. A Clown figure enters with two pigeons in a basket. Titus sends him to the court to deliver a message: a “supplication” (IV.iii.109) or “oration” (IV.iii.116) for the Emperor.


Saturninus is annoyed by the volleys of arrows and the notes requesting redress from the gods, and he wants Titus killed. Tamora calms him but secretly snickers over the success of her schemes. The Clown brings the message and pigeons and is sent to be hanged for his trouble. Saturninus calls for Titus to be brought in for execution, but this is interrupted by news of Lucius with an army of Goths “Who threats, in course of this revenge, to do / As much as ever Coriolanus did” (IV.iv.67-68). Saturninus fears for his position and over the popularity of Lucius:

‘Tis he the common people love so much
Myself hath often heard them say
When I have walked like a private man….

Titus, like Hamlet, is “lov’d of the distracted multitude” (qtd. in Ogburn and Ogburn 357). So Tamora promises to trick Titus into luring Lucius into their murderous clutches:

For I can smooth and fill his aged ears
With golden promises, that, were his heart
Almost impregnable, his old years deaf,
Yet should both ear and heart obey my tongue.

Act V