Saturninus and Bassianus, sons of the deceased Emperor of Rome, challenge each other for the title of emperor. Titus Andronicus, general of the Roman forces, enters with captives from the recent war, along with his remaining sons, some living, some dead. Titus allows the eldest son of the captive Queen of the Goths to be slain in retribution for his own sons’ deaths. Titus is then asked by his brother, the tribune Marcus, to stand as a candidate for Emperor of Rome. Instead, Titus names Saturninus as emperor.
Saturninus’s first act as emperor is to choose Titus’s daughter Lavinia as his bride. Titus willingly agrees. Bassianus claims that she is his own betrothed, and Titus’s sons and his brother Marcus help Bassianus carry her away. Titus is enraged and kills his son Mutius, who is abetting their escape. Saturninus turns against Titus because of his family’s actions and replaces Lavinia with Tamora, Queen of the Goths, as his bride, exiting to marry her immediately.
Titus is persuaded by his family to allow the body of Mutius to be placed in the family tomb. Saturninus returns with his new empress, Tamora, and Bassianus and Lavinia, now married, enter with Titus’s family. Tamora publicly urges Saturninus to forgive Bassianus, Titus, and his family. Speaking privately to Saturninus, she explains that this forgiveness is only for show: soon she will destroy all of them in revenge for the ritual sacrifice of her own son. Titus and the others believe they are forgiven, and Titus invites the Emperor and Empress to a hunt.