The brothers Saturninus and Bassianus are in contention for the Roman emperorship.
Titus Andronicus, Rome's most honoured general, returns from wars against the Goths with their queen, Tamora, her sons and her lover, Aaron the Moor, as captives. Her eldest son is sacrificed by Titus; she vows revenge.
A new emperor
Titus is nominated emperor by his brother Marcus, one of Rome's tribunes. This Titus declines, instead nominating Saturninus.
To seal the bond of friendship, the new emperor, Saturnius, offers to marry Titus's daughter Lavinia. She, however, is already pledged to Bassianus.
Saturninus, by now infatuated with Tamora, makes her empress instead.
Manipulated by Aaron, Tamora's sons, Chiron and Demetrius, avenge their mother by raping and mutilating Lavinia, and killing Bassianus. Aaron falsely implicates two of Titus's sons in this murder.
In his turn Titus vows revenge and sends his surviving son Lucius to the Goths to raise an army. Titus achieves his revenge by killing Tamora's sons and serving them up to her at a banquet, and then killing her.
He himself is killed by Saturninus and his death avenged by Lucius, who is made emperor.