As his sons Martius and Quintus are bound and led away, Titus, citing his loyal service to the Roman state, begs the tribunes to spare the lives of his sons. Lucius, who has his weapon drawn, advises his father to desist, arguing that the tribunes are so insensate that Titus might as well be making his appeal to stones. Titus rebuts that as stones will humbly receive his tears at his feet it would avail him more to appeal to them than to the tribunes. Anon, Titus questions Lucius about the import of his drawn weapon. When Lucius replies that he had just tried in vain to forcibly free his brothers for which the tribunes have condemned him to exile, Titus accounts Lucius fortunate, arguing that Rome is a devouring predator which feeds on Titus and Titus’ own and would have fed on Lucius but for his exile. Presently, Marcus and Lavinia arrive on the scene, exacerbating Titus’ grief and pain. Lavinia’s mangled state plunges Titus into a state of grief so fathomless that Marcus, out of concern for his brother’s sanity, urges Titus to exercise reason. Reason and consolation are the furthest things from Titus’ mind, however, that is until Aaron arrives on the scene, claiming that he has come on behalf of Saturninus who has agreed to exchange Titus’ sons for a severed off hand of an Andronicus. Titus, Lucius, and Marcus respectively make their cases for chopping off their own hands to redeem Martius and Quintus. Aaron urges them to decide quickly lest it’s too late and Martius and Quintus lose their lives. Titus concedes, letting Lucius and Marcus to decide amongst themselves as to who is to lose his hand. However, while Lucius and Marcus go to fetch an axe, Titus chops off his own hand with Aaron’s assistance. Alas, it isn’t long when a messenger arrives with tokens of Aaron’s treachery and Saturninus’ cruelty; namely, Titus’ severed hand and the chopped off heads of Martius and Quintus. Lucius, Lavinia, and Marcus are devastated, but Titus begins to laugh. Incredulous, Marcus wonders how and why. Titus explains that as he has mourned so much he has no more tears to shed. Besides, he argues, inconsolable grief will only be an impediment to that which he now knows he must do. As to what that is,Titus confides his family in secret. Presently Lavinia, Marcus, and Titus respectively bear away a body part of an Andronicus. As to Lucius, he vows that he will have an army of Goths at his beck and call when he returns to Rome from his exile.
At the dinner table, to Marcus’ distress, Titus exhorts Lavinia to resort to violence if she must to still her rapidly beating heart. When Marcus objects, Titus assures him that he—Titus—means nothing but the best for Lavinia, and that come hell or high water he will, by diligence and assiduity, learn to interpret Lavinia’s speechless language. Not assured, Lucius’ son, who is acting as servant boy, pleads with his grandfather to speak of pleasant matters so as to have his aunt becalmed and in a merry mood. At this point, Marcus stabs at something with his knife and when asked what the matter is replies that he had merely killed a fly. Inexplicably, Titus censures his brother for harming an innocent creature, comparing its fate to his own. Marcus assures his brother that killing the fly was justified on the grounds that it resembled Aaron, and though this explanation sets the matter straight Marcus is worried that his brother is losing his grasp of reality. Presently, Titus commands the Boy to accompany him as he will go with Lavinia to her room where he will read to her to comfort of her which the Boy may have a part in contributing to