- Alternate Character Interpretation:
- It's possible partially to exonerate Tamora, on the grounds that her child (Alarbus) has been brutally killed and her pleas for mercy have been ignored. Her having Bassianus killed is tit for tat (see Not So Different, below), and most of the other atrocities are committed by Aaron.
- For that matter, Aaron himself can be seen as a bitter, lost and unhinged Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds if you squint a bit.
- Titus Andronicus kills two of his own children - Mutius and Lavinia, and arguably as a general of an invading conquering army, he bears ultimate responsibility for his other sons killed in battle in his long war with the Goths, and as such is the true Villain Protagonist of the play, someone who values his own pride and honour over the lives of his children, and ultimately, over his state, since he commits open treason as part of his revenge (i.e getting his son Lucius to raise an army among the same Goths he subjugated and bringing them to Rome).
- "Common Knowledge":
- Titus Andronicus is not Shakespeare's most violent play in terms of body-count, nor is it the most excessive play of the Elizabethan-Jacobean era. That would be The Revenger's Tragedy, The White Devil, The Duchess of Malfi and among Marlowe's works, Edward II has a death scene and fate more degrading than Lavinia and Tamora's sons (one scandalous because it happens to a King). Jan Kott, the Polish Shakespeare scholar who revived the play's reputation pointed out that more people die in Richard III and King Lear is even more cruel and shocking for its ending (so much so that it's ending was censored on the English stage for 200 years).
- The violence of Titus Andronicus was neither excessive nor atypical of that time, nor was it an example of lowbrow prurient sex and violence fixation that later critics and modern audiences assume. It was based on the works of Roman tragedian and stoic philosopher Seneca, whose works also had much the same violence and bloodshed, and Seneca was a major influence on Elizabethan tragedians, and Shakespeare's use of Senecan motifs, and the Roman setting, is far more likely an attempt by him to do a work of high art than any Stealth Parody (especially when he was just starting out and as an outsider from Stratford to London would not have gotten far by making jabs at playwrights who were of a higher social class and better connected than he was). Titus Andronicus was certainly seen as a serious tragedy and regarded as such by his contemporaries, albeit their ideas of serious tragedy and that of the public is not entirely in synch with ours.
- Moral Event Horizon: Demetrius, Chiron, Tamora and Aaron all cross with Lavinia's rape and mutilation. The latter two didn't actively participate, but Aaron was the mastermind behind it, and Tamora fully encouraged it. And what's worse, Demetrius and Chiron taunt her about it afterwards, mockingly daring her to try and tell anyone who abused her so thoroughly.
- Nightmare Fuel: There is a lot:
- Though off stage, Chiron and Demetrius, egged on by Tamora, gang-rape Lavinia on top of the corpse of her murdered boyfriend.
- Older Than They Think: A character getting revenge on a hated enemy by tricking them into eating their own children. While that idea may be most closely associated with Titus Andronicus, it's also a major plot point in the saga of the House of Atreus in Greek Mythology, in which Atreus gets revenge on his brother Thyestes by killing his sons and serving them up as the main course in a banquet. Considering how much Shakespeare loved the Classics, the ending of Titus is almost certainly a deliberate Shout-Out to this.
- Overshadowed by Controversy: While this play doesn't have the stigma of being bigoted like The Merchant of Venice or The Taming of the Shrew, it's still rather contentious for its extreme ultraviolence and grimdark tone.
- Popularity Polynomial: In Shakespeare's lifetime, Titus Andronicus was one of his most popular works, indeed a 1614 comment by Ben Jonson in his introduction to the printed edition of Bartholomew's Fair places it in the same breadth as The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd (i.e. the Breakthrough Hit of Elizabethan Tragedy) in terms of popularity and critical esteem. Yet its reputation declined in the centuries that followed. Then it revived again after World War II, where a landmark production by Peter Brook and Laurence Olivier became unexpectedly popular and successful commercially, and Polish critic Jan Kott praised it as one of Shakespeare's most undervalued plays, and since then its critical reputation is slowly rising (albeit it's still dismissed and derided by the likes of Harold Bloom and other Shakespeare scholars).
- Rooting for the Empire: Titus Andronicus was the general of an invading army into the Gothic Kingdom, and Tamora is a subjugated woman brought in triumph to Rome, and whose pleas for mercy for her son Alarbus is denied for the sake of revenge for Titus' sons (whose death is Titus' responsibility since he started the war). Likewise, for all the evil Tamora and her children do, neither of them are willing to murder their own children, and in the case of Demetrius and Chiron, even they agree to spare and hide their step-brother even if it was a Chocolate Baby and potentially compromising their lifestyle, where Titus kills two. And in the end, Titus is two-faced and hypocritical enough to bring the Goths to invade Rome for his own revenge.
- Values Dissonance: Some scholars have contextualized the violence of the play by noting that the play happened in a very violent era, one where dueling, cockfighting and bear-baiting were all considered perfectly normal forms of entertainment (several London bear-baiting pits were just a short walk from the theaters where Shakespeare's plays were performed, in fact). Any level of staged violence—no matter how gruesome—probably seemed pretty tame to people who frequently entertained themselves with real violence, and likewise, Titus Andronicus is milder than the Senecan tragedies that inspired it and which was all the rage in its time and place.
- Values Resonance:
- Julie Taymor choose to adapt the play to film because she regards it as the closest to our current times. Formally and stylistically, the play's sex and violence, its mix of tones, and the juxtaposition of the absurd, grotesque, darkly comic, and tragic, makes the play look closer to an avant-garde 20th Century production, and in the wake of Brecht, Beckett, Artaud, Titus Andronicus looks way ahead of its time.
- A major part of the plot of the way, i.e. the identification of Lavinia's assailants happens because she uses her knowledge of Roman classics and poetry and alludes to what happened to her by making references to it, and then marking out the names in the sand despite being disabled, after being shown how to write by her Uncle Marcus to use a stick by moving it with her mouth and body. As such, one can argue that the play celebrates female literacy, high culture, and disability rights, and Titus Andronicus' honor killing of his mutilated daughter is openly condemned in the play.
- What an Idiot!:
- Really, Saturninus? You think it's a good idea to marry a defeated enemy who has sworn revenge right in front of you and elevate her to empress? And then convict the two sons of the man responsible for her son's death based on one piece of evidence that this revenge-sworn Queen of the Goths gave you? This is justified since Saturninus is portrayed throughout the play as an arrogant dumbass.
- Speaking of, why did it take everybody so damn long to give Lavinia a stick so she could scratch the names of her rapists out in the sand? Hell, why didn't she just use her feet? All her toes are still intact.
- Why didn't she go and point them out to the guard? They aren't exactly hard to find, being the sons of the empress.
YMMV / Titus Andronicus