Appendix A: The Prose History of Titus Andronicus

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© Marie Merkel 2008

Modern scholars were not fully aware of the prose pamphlet entitled The Tragical History of Titus Andronicus until 1936, when J. Q. Adams discovered it in the Folger Shakespeare Library.  He stumbled upon this curious piece while leafing through a volume published between 1736 and 1764 by C. Dicey, who “took over an old established business… famous for its reprints of early chapbooks and penny histories.” (Adams, J. Q., intro., Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus: The First Quarto, 1594 Scribner’s 1936, p. 8)  The volume also contained a 120-line ballad, Titus Andronicus’ Complaint.  According to Alan Hughes, “no early edition of the History is known, but while spelling and punctuation follow eighteenth-century practice, the diction is archaic.”(Hughes, p. 7)

The true relation between Shakespeare’s play and these two pieces – the ballad and the prose history – continues to perplex scholars. Which of the three contains the originating design?  Can we be certain that our choice for primary text undoubtedly influenced the others?  There’s a shadow of evidence supporting the hypothesis that the ballad and history were registered in 1594, and therefore available to Shakespeare.  Marco Mincoff – who argues for the play first, then ballad, then history – nevertheless concedes that “the style and language of the history may well be considerably earlier, possibly Elizabethan, and it is even conceivable, though improbable…that the entry in the Stationers’ Register on 6 February 1594 to John Danter of “a Noble Roman Historye of Tytus Andronicus” together with “the ballad thereof” was intended to cover all three versions – tale, ballad and play.” (M. Mincoff, ‘The Source of Titus Andronicus’, NQ 216 (1971): 131)

The preface to the history touts it as “Newly Translated from the Italian Copy printed in Rome,” but Mincoff says this is “certainly false – it was not newly translated.” (Mincoff, p. 134) Not newly translated at the time that Dicey published it, and most likely not when first penned either, as no “Italian copy” has come to light inRome or anywhere else.  For all we know, the original fabricator may have been as English as Robert Greene or George Gascoigne undoubtedly were.  Mincoff declares the work to be “almost certainly a mystification throughout.”  The mystification engendered by this pseudo-history and its relation to Titus Andronicus mirrors the perennial mystery of Hamlet’s “extant” but perversely muddled story of Gonzago’s murder, “writ in choice Italian.”

If Shakespeare wrote Titus Andronicus as his first “mousetrap,” he could hardly improve on this chapbook (if it were available to him) to excuse his offenses. After a close reading of the major arguments for and against the History as his primary source*, you may discover how difficult it is to rule out the possibility that the playwright used some version of this prose work – which so conveniently if inelegantly patches together his varied sources – as a cover for his play.

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THE HISTORY OF TITUS ANDRONICUS, The Renowned Roman General, Who, after he had saved Rome by his Valour from being destroyed by the barbarous Goths, and lost two-and-twenty of his valiant Sons in ten Years War, was, upon the Emperor’s marrying the Queen of the Goths, put to Disgrace, and banish’d; but being recall’d, the Emperor’s Son by a first Wife was murder’d by the Empress’s Sons and a bloody Moor, and how charging it upon Andronicus’s Sons, tho’ he cut off his Hand to redeem their Lives, they were murder’d in Prison. How his fair Daughter Lavinia being ravish’d by the Empress’s sons, they cut out her Tongue, and Hands off, &c. HowAndronicus slew them, made Pyes of their Flesh, and presented them to the Emperor and Empress; and then slew them also. With the miserable Death he put the wicked Moor to; then at her Request slew his Daughter and himself to avoid Torments. Newly Translated from the Italian Copy printed at Rome.London: Printed and Sold by C. Dicey in Bow Church-Yard, and at his Wholesale Warehouse in Northampton.










How Rome being besieged by the barbarous Goths, and being at the Point to yield, thro’ Famine, it was unexpectedly rescued by Andronicus, with the utter Defeat of the Enemy, for which he was receiv’d in Triumph.

WHEN the Roman Empire was grown to its Height, and the greatest Part of the World was subjected to its imperial Throne, in the Time of Theodosius, a barbarous Northern People out of Swedeland, Denmark, and Gothland, came into Italy, in such Numbers, under the leading of Tottilius, their King, that they overrun it with Fire and Sword, plundering Churches, ripping up Women with Child, and deflowring Virgins in so horrid and barbarous a manner, that the People fled before them like Flocks of Sheep.

To oppose this destroying Torrent of the Goths, a barbarous People, Strangers to Christianity, the Emperor raised a mighty Army in Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and England, and gave Battle under the Passage of the Alpine Mountains, but was overthrown, with the Loss of threescore thousand of his Men, and flying to Rome, was besieg’d in it by a numerous Host of these Barbarians, who pressed so hard to beat down the Walls, and enter with a miserable Slaughter of the Citizens, that such as could get over the River TYBER, fled in a fearful manner to a distant Country. The Siege lasting ten Months, such a Famine arose, that no unclean Thing was left uneaten, Dogs, Cats, Horses, Rats and Mice, were curious Dainties; Thousands died in the Streets of hunger, and most of those that were alive, looked more like Glass than living Creatures; so that being brought to the last Extremity, the vulgar Sort came about the Emperor’s Palace, and with piteous Cries implored him either to find some means to get them Food, to stay their fleeting Live, or make the best Terms he could, and open the Gates to the Enemy.

This greatly perplexed him; the former he could not do, and the latter he knew would not only uncrown him, if he escaped with his Life, but be the Ruin of the Roman Empire; yet in the greatest of this Extremity, he unexpectedly found Relief.

Titus Andronicus, a Roman Senator, and a true Lover of his country, hearing in Graecia, where he was Governor of the Province of Achaia, what Straits Rome and his Sovereign were brought into by the barbarous Nations, got together Friends, and sold whatever he had of value to hire soldiers; so that with his small Army he secretly marched away, and falling upon the mighty Army of the Enemy, (when they were drowned as it were in Security, Wine and Sleep, resolved to make a general Storm the next Day, in which they had undoubtedly carried the City) he and his sons entering their Camp, and followed by the rest, made such a Slaughter, that the Cry and Confusion were exceeding great; some changed Sleep into Death, others vomited Wine and Blood mixed together, through the Wounds they received; some lost Heads at once, other Arms: Tottilius, in this confusion being awakened, had his first care to convey away his Queen and two Sons, who were newly come to the Camp, and then labour’d to rally his flying Men; but being desperately charged by Andronicus, he was thrown from his Horse and much wounded, many Lives being lost in remounting him; whereupon, seeing the slaughter so great by the pale Beams of the Moon, and not knowing the Number of his Adversaries, having caused the Retreat to be sounded, he fled in great Confusion, and left the rich Spoils of his Camp, the Wealth of many plunder’d Nations, to Andronicus and his soldiers; who being expert in war, would not meddle with them that Night, but stood to their Arms till the Morning.




How in ten Years War, with the Loss of two and twenty of his valiant Sons, he won many famous Battles, slew Tottilius, King of the Goths, and did many other brave Exploits, &c.

THE Watch, upon the Walls of Rome, having heard a confused Cry and the clashing of Arms, were greatly astonish’d, but could not think what it should mean; for the Camps of the barbarous Goths extended in a large Circuit about the famous City; however the Captains of the Guards advertized the Emperor of it, who sent out Scouts but they, fearful of approaching too near the Enemy in the Night, could get certain Intelligence, only, that they heard the Groans and Cries, as they thought of dying Men: However the Shades of Night being dispelled, and the glorious Sun casting forth a chearful Light, the Porters of the Gate espying three Men coming towards it, and soon after being come up, knocked with great earnestness, they took the Courage to demand what they were, and what they required?

I am, said one of them, Andronicus, your Friend, and desire Admittance to speak with the Emperor, since the News I bring will no doubt be pleasing to him.

Upon this, lifting up his Helmet, they knew him with Joy, knowing him to be a very worthy Patriot, thinking he came to do them good, as he had often done in their great Distress, when the Huns and Vandals invaded the empire some Years before, and were beaten out by him.

The Emperor no sooner heard he was come, but he ran from his Palace to meet him, and would not suffer him to kneel, but embrac’d him tenderly as a Brother, saying, Welcome Andronicus, in this the Time of our greatest Misery; it was thy Counsel I wanted, to know how to free us from this barbarous Enemy, against whose force the City cannot long hold out.

May it please your Majesty, replied Andronicus, let those Fears be banished, the Work is done to you unknown; I and my twenty five Sons, and what Friends and Soldiers I could get, have this Night fallen into their Quarters, cut off fifty Thousand of them, and their scattered Remains with their King are fled.

At this the Emperor was astonished, and scarce could believe it, though he very well knew the Integrity of Andronicus, till his own Captains came and told him the Siege was raised, with a miserable Slaughter, but by whom they knew not, unless the Enemy had fallen out among themselves, and the Troops they could yet see in view were but inconsiderable; now these were those that belonged to Andronicus, who as soon as it was Day were in pursuit of the Enemy, under the Command of his five and twenty Sons.

The surprizing News was no sooner spread in the City, but the Joy of the People was exceeding great; and when they knew who was their Deliverer, they went in Procession and sung his Praises; after that, he rode in a triumphant Chariot through the City, crowned with an Oaken Garland, the People shouting, Trumpets sounding, and all other Expressions and Demonstrations of Joy, that a grateful People could afford their Deliverer, in which he behaved himself so humble, that he gained the Love of all.

This was no sooner over, but he desired the Emperor to join what Forces he could with those that he had brought, and speedily pursue the Enemy, before he could gather new Strength that he might beat him out of Italy and his other Countries, where he yet held strong Garrisons; This was embraced as good Counsel, and the Senators, by the Emperor’s Mandate, assembled with Joy, who chose with one Consent Andronicus their General; he was not slow in mustering his forces, nor in the speedy Pursuit; he found they had passed the Alps, and that their Army was increased by the new Supplies, yet he gave them Battle, and charging through the thickest of their Squadrons hand to hand, slew Tottilius, and beat down his Standard; whereupon the Goths fled, and the Slaughter continued for many Miles, covering all the Lanes and Roads with the Bodies of the Dead; and in the Pursuit he took the Queen of the Goths Captive, and brought her to Rome; for which signal Victory he had a second Triumph, and was stiled the Deliverer of his country: But his Joy was a little eclipsed by the Loss of five of his Sons, who died couragiously fighting in Battle.




How the Emperor, weary of so tedious a War, contrary to the Mind and Perswasions of Andronicus, married the Queen of the Goths, and concluded a Peace; how she tyrannized, and her Sons slew the Prince that was betrothed to Andronicus’s Daughter, and hid him in the Forest.

THE Goths having found the Pleasantness of these fruitful Countries, resolved not so to give them over, but, encouraged by Tottilius’s two sons Alaricus and Abonus, sent for fresh Forces, and made a Desolation in the Roman Provinces, continuing a ten Years War, wherein the valiant Andronicus, Captain-General of the Empire, gained many Victories over them, with great Effusion of Blood on either Side; but those barbarous People still encreasing in their Numbers, the Emperor, desiring Peace, it was agreed to, in Consideration he should marry Attava, Queen of the Goths, and in case he should die without Issue, her Sons might succeed in the Empire. Andronicus opposed this very much, as did many other; knowing, through the Emperor’s weakness, that she being an imperious Woman, and of a haughty Spirit, would govern him as she pleased, and enslave the noble Empire to Strangers: however, it was carried on with a high Hand, and great Preparations were made for the Royal Nuptials, though with very little Rejoicing among the People, for what they expected soon followed.

The Queen of the Goths being made Empress, soon began to shew her Disposition, according to the Cruelty of her Nation and Temper, perswading the easy Emperor to place the Goths in the Places of his most trusty Friends; and having above all, vowed Revenge on Andronicus, who most opposed her Proceedings, she procured him to be banished; but the People, whose Deliverer he had been in their greatest Extremity, calling to mind that, and his many other good Services, rose unanimously in Arms, and went clamouring to the Palace, threatning to fire it, and revenge so base an Indignity on the Queen, if the Decree which had been passed against all Reason was not speedily revoked. This put her and the Emperor into such a Fears, that their Request was granted; and now she plotted by more private Ways to bring the Effects of Revenge and implacable Hatred about more secretly.

She had a Moor as revengeful as herself, whom she trusted in many great Affairs and was usually privy to her Secrets, so far that from private Dalliances she grew pregnant, and brought forth a Blackmoor Child: This grived the Emperor extreamly, but she allayed his Anger, by telling him it was conceived by the force of Imagination, and brought many suborned Women and Physicians to testify the like had often happened. This made the Emperor send the Moor into Banishment, upon pain of Death never to return to Rome; but her Lust, and Confidence she had put in him as the main engine to bring about her Devilish Designs, made her Plot to have that Decree revoked; when having got the Emperor into a pleasant Humour, she feigned herself sick, telling him withal she had seen a vision, which commanded her to call back the innocent Moor from Banishment, or she should never recover of that Sickness: the kind good-natur’d Emperor, who could not resist her Tears and Intreaties, with some difficulty consented to it, provided he should be commanded to keep always out of her Sight, lest the like Mischance might happen as had been before: This she seemingly consented to, and he was immediately sent for, and the former Familiarities continued between them though more privately.

Andronicus, besides his Sons, had a very fair and beautiful Daughter, named Lavinia, brought up in all singular Virtues, humble, courteous and modest, insomuch that the Emperor’s only son, by a former Wife fell exteamly in Love with her, seeking her Favour by all vertuous and honourable Ways, insomuch, that after a long courtship with her Father and the Emperor’s consent she was betrothed to him.

The Queen of the Goths hearing this, was much enraged, because from such a Marriage might spring Princes that might frustrate her ambitious Designs, which was to make her Sons Emperors jointly; wherefore she laboured all she could to frustrate it, by declaring what a disgrace it would be to the Emperor to marry his Son to the Daughter of a Subject, who might have a Queen with a Kingdom to her Dowry: But finding the Prince constant, she resolved to take him out of the Way; so it was plotted between her, the Moor, and her two Sons, that they should invite him to hunt in the great Forest, on the Banks of the River Tyber, and there murder him. This was effected, by shooting him thro’ the Back with a poysoned Arrow, which came out at his Breast, of which Wound he fell from his Horse and immediately died: Then they digged a very deep Pit in a Path-way, and threw him in, covering it lightly with Boughs, and sprinkling Earth on it; and so returning reported they had lost the Prince in the forest, and though they had sought and called every where, they could not find him.




How the wicked Moor who had laid with the Empress, and got into her Favour above all others, betrayed Andronicus’s three Sons, and charged the Prince’s Murder on them for which they were cast into a Dungeon, and after their Father had cut off his Hand to save them were Beheaded.

THE fair Lavinia no sooner heard the Prince was missing, but she fell into great Sorrow and Lamentation, her Heart misgiving her of some Treachery, and thereupon she entreated her Brothers to go in search of him, which they did with all speed; but being dogged by the Moor and the Queen of Goths two sons, they unluckily coming in the Way where the Pit was digged, they fell both in upon the dead Body, and could not by reason of the great Depth, get out; their cruel Enemies no sooner saw this, but they hasted to the court, and sent the Guards in search of the murdered Prince, who found Andronicus’s two Sons with the dead Body, which they drew up, and carried Prisoners to the court, where the Moor and the other two falsely swore against them that they had often heard them threaten Revenge on the Prince, because he had put them to the Foil, in a Turnament at Justing. This, and the Circumstances of their being found, with the vehement Aggravation, was a sufficient Ground to the Emperor to believe, who loved his Son entirely, and was much grieved for his Death, and tho’ they denied it with all the Protestations imaginable, and pleaded their Innocence, demanded the Combat against their Accuser, which by the Law of Arms they ought to have been allowed, they were immediately loaden with Irons, and cast into a deep Dungeon among noisome Creatures, as Frogs, Toads, Serpents, and the like, where notwithstanding all the Intercessions that were made, they continued eating the filth that they found in that Place.

At last the Queen designing to work her Revenge on Andronicus, sent the Moor in the Emperor’s Name, to tell him, if he designed to save his Sons from the Misery and Death that would ensue, he should cut off his right Hand and send it to Court. This the good-natur’d Father scrupled not to do, no, nor had it been his Life to ransom them, he would have freely parted with it; whereupon laying his Hand on a Block, he gave the wicked Moor his Sword, who immediately struck it off, and inwardly laugh’d at the Villainy; then departing with it, he told him his sons should be sent to him in a few Hours: But whilst he was rejoicing with the Hopes of their Delivery, a Hearse came to his Door with Guards, which made his aged Heart to tremble. The first Thing they presented him was his Hand, which they said would not be accepted; and the next was his three Sons beheaded. At this woful sight, overcome with Grief, he fainted away on the dead Bodies; and when he recover’d again, he tore his hoary Hair, which Age and his lying in Winter-Camps for the Defence of his country, had made as white as snow, pouring out floods of Tears; but found no Pity from the hardened Villains, who left him with Scoffs in the midst of his woful Lamentations with his sorrowful Daughter: Yet this was not all, for soon after another to be deplored Affliction followed, as shall in the next Chapter be shewn.




How the two lustful Sons of the Empress, with the Assistance of the Moor, in a barbarous manner ravish’d Lavinia, Andronicus’s beautiful Daughter, and cut out her Tongue, and cut off her Hands to prevent Discovery; yet she did it by writing in the dust with a Wand, &c.

THE fair and beautiful Lavinia, for the Loss of her Lover and Brothers, so basely murder’d by Treachery, tore her golden Hair, shed Floods of Tears, and with her Nails offer’d Violence to that lovely Face Kings had adored and beheld with Admiration; she shunned all Company, retiring to Woods and Groves, to utter her piteous Complaints and Cries to the sensless Trees, when one Day, being watched thither by the Moor, he gave notice of it to the Queen’s two Sons, who, like the wicked Elders and chaste Susanna, had a long Time burned in Lust, yet knew her Virtues were proof against all Temptations, and therefore it could not be obtain’d but by Violence; so thinking this an Opportunity to serve their Turns, immediately repaired to the Grove, and setting the Moor to watch on the Outborders, soon found her pensive and sorrowful, yet comely and beautiful in Tears, when unawares, before she saw them, like two ravenous Tygers, they seized the trembling Lady, who struggled all she could, and cried out piteously for help; and seeing what their wicked Intentions bent at, she offered them her Throat, desiring they would bereave her of her Life, but not of her Honour; however in a villainous Manner, staking her down by the Hair of her Head, and binding her Hands behind her, they turned up her Nakedness, and forced their Way into her Closet of Chastity, taking it by Turns, the Elder beginning first, and the Younger seconding him as they had before agreed on; and having tired themselves, in satiating their beastly Appetites, they began to consider how they should come off when such a Villainy was discovered; whereupon, calling the Moor to them they asked his Advice, who wickedly counselled them to make all sure, seeing they had gone thus far, by cutting out her Tongue to hinder her telling Tales, and her Hands off to prevent her writing a Discovery: This the cruel Wretches did, whilst she in vain intreated ‘em to take away her Life, since they had bereaved her of her Honour, which was dearer to her. And in this woful Condition they left the Lady, who had expired for the Loss of Blood, had not her Uncle Marcus happened accidentally, soon after, to come in search of her, who at the woful Sight, overcome with Sorrow, could hardly keep Life in himself; yet recovering his Spirits, he bound up her Wounds, and conveyed her home.

Poor Andronicus’s Grief for this sad Disaster was so great, that no Pen can write or Words express; much ado they had to restrain him from doing Violence upon himself; he cursed the Day he was born to see such Miseries fall on himself and Family, intreating her to tell him, if she could any ways do it by signs, who had so villainously abused her. At last the poor Lady, with a Flood of Tears gushing from her Eyes, taking a Wand between her Stumps, wrote these Lines.

The Lustful sons of the proud Empress

Are doers of this hateful Wickedness.

Hereupon he vowed Revenge, at the Hazard of his own and all their Lives, comforting his Daughter with this when nothing else would do.




How Andronicus, feigning himself mad, found Means to intrap the Empress’s two Sons in a Forest, where binding them to a Tree, he cut their Throats, made Pyes of their Flesh, and served them up to the Emperor and Empress, then slew them, set the Moor quick in the Ground, and then killed his Daughter and himself.

ANDRONICUS, upon these Calamities, feigned himself distracted, and went raving about the City, shooting his Arrows towards Heaven, as in Defiance, calling to Hell for Vengeance, which mainly pleased the Empress and her sons, who thought themselves now secure; and though his Friends required Justice of the Emperor against the Ravishers, yet they could have no Redress, he rather threatening them, if they insisted on it; so that finding they were in a bad Case, and that in all Probability their Lives would be the next, they conspired together to prevent that Mischief, and revenge themselves; lying in Ambush in the Forest when the two Sons went a hunting, they surprized them and binding them to a Tree pitifully crying out for Mercy, though they would give none to others, Andronicus cut their Throats whilst Lavinia, by his Command, held a Bowl between her Stumps to receive the Blood; then conveying the Bodies home to his own House privately, he cut the Flesh into fit Pieces, and ground the Bones to Powder, and made of them two mighty Pasties, and invited the Emperor and Empress to Dinner, who thinking to make sport with his frantick Humour came; but when they had eat of the Pasties, he told them what it was; and thereupon giving the Watch Word to his Friends, they immediately issued out, slew the Emperor’s Guards, and, lastly, the Emperor and his cruel Wife, after they had sufficiently upbraided them with the wicked Deeds they had done. Then seizing on the wicked Moor, the fearful Villain fell on his Knees, promising to discover all; but when he had told how he had killed the Prince, betrayed the three sons of Andronicus by false Accusation, and counselled the Abuse to the fair Lavinia, they scarce knew what Torments sufficient to devise for him; but at last, digging a Hole, they set him in the Ground to the middle alive, smeered him over with Honey, and so, between the stinging of Bees and Wasps and starving, he miserably ended his wretched Days, After this, to prevent the Torments he expected, when these Things came to be known, at his Daughter’s Request, he killed her; and so, rejoicing he had revenged himself on his Enemies to the full, fell on his own Sword and died.


* See Adams, J. Q., intro., Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus: The First Quarto, 1594(Scribner’s 1936) 7-9; R. M. Sargent, ‘The Sources of Titus Andronicus’ Studies in Philology, 46(1949)167-83 and J. C. Maxwell, ed., Titus Andronicus (Arden Edition, 1953) xxxiv-xxxix. Bullough, Geoffrey, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Vol. VI., (Columbia University Press, 1966)3-33; Metz, G. Harold, Shakespeare’s Earliest Tragedy, Assoc. Univ. Presses, 1996, chapter 5; Eugene Waith, ed., Titus Andronicus, (Oxford,1984)27-37. For arguments against the History as primary source, see M. Mincoff, ‘The Source of Titus Andronicus’, NQ 216 (1971)131-4; G. K. Hunter, ‘Sources and Meanings in Titus Andronicus’ in The Mirror up to Shakespeare, ed. J. C. Gray (Toronto, 1983)171-88 and ‘The “Sources” of Titus Andronicus – Once Again’, NQ, 228 (1983)114-16. See also, Jonathan Bate, ed., Titus Andronicus, (Arden Edition, 1995) 83-92, and Brian Vickers (Shakespeare, Co-Author, p. 188) “…claims that the mid-eighteenth century chapbook version may derive from a lost sixteenth-century source, accepted by Geoffrey Bullough, were definitively refuted by Marco Mincoff and G. K. Hunter.”

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