Titus Andronicus is the earliest tragedy and the earliest Roman play attributed to Shakespeare. Titus, a model Roman, has led twenty-one of his twenty-five sons to death in Rome’s wars; he stabs another son to death for what he views as disloyalty to Rome. Yet Rome has become “a wilderness of tigers.” After a death sentence is imposed on two of his three remaining sons, and his daughter is raped and mutilated, Titus turns his loyalty toward his family.
Aaron the Moor, a magnificent villain and the empress’s secret lover, makes a similar transition. After the empress bears him a child, Aaron devotes himself to preserving the baby. Retaining his thirst for evil, he shows great tenderness to his little family—a tenderness that also characterizes Titus before the terrifying conclusion.