Affrighted by his aunt who is determined to get at the books he’s holding, Boy (Lucius’ son) runs to the safety afforded by his grandfather and granduncle. Titus and Marcus assure the Boy that his aunt Lavinia means no harm. Indeed, she means to show them all something within one of the books; namely, the betrayal and rape of Philomel at the hands of Tereus in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
. Titus and Marcus infer from this that Lavinia had met a fate similar to Philomel, but they cannot for the life of them guess just who the villain was, that is until Marcus finds a way to scribble on the sand they’re standing on without the aid of his hands. Anon, using her mouth, Lavinia scribbles the names of her rapists: Demetrius and Chiron. Shocked and outraged, Marcus swears to exact revenge on Tamora & Co. or die in the attempt, but Titus counsels prudence, arguing that Tamora’s advantage (her privileged status beside the Emperor) is such that revenge will require more cunning than passion. To that end, Titus cooks up a plan wherein the Boy will presently go to the Emperor with gifts. Marcus, sensing that his brother is losing his grasp on reality, resolves to do all that he can to help his brother in whatever way he can.
Though inwardly full of maledictions, Boy, the son of Lucius, greets Demetrius and Chiron, who are accompanied by Aaron, with blessings and gifts from his grandfather Titus. The gifts, which are weapons from Titus’ armory, are presented with a quote from the poet Horace. The brothers think nothing of the quote, but Aaron recognizes its significance: Titus has discovered the brothers’ villainy. Nonetheless, Aaron inwardly applauds Titus’ subtle maneuver, and he imagines Tamora would share his admiration. Presently, as the brothers gloat on their good fortune, Tamora’s nurse arrives with a bundle on her arms and dire news. Tamora has given birth to Aaron’s child (a black child), and Tamora requires that Aaron kill it right away lest the Emperor discover the betrayal. Anxious to save his mother, Demetrius makes a move to kill the child himself only to be opposed by Aaron at sword point. Arguing that the child though black is Demetrius’ and Chiron’s flesh-and-blood brother on their mother’s side, Aaron assures Demetrius and Chiron that the child will live so long as he—Aaron—is there to protect him. Realizing that Aaron is more than a match for them, Demetrius and Chiron agree to do as Aaron prescribes so long as their mother escapes blame. But first, having learned of all the parties that are privy to the child’s existence, Aaron kills the nurse lest her prattling gossip undo them all. Next Aaron bids the brothers to get Cornelia the midwife who knows of the child’s existence and therefore must die as well. As for himself, Aaron will go to a countryman whose wife has just recently given birth to a child whose complexion is white. He will persuade his countryman go give up his child and allow the child to grow up in the imperial household as the Saturninus’ heir apparent. The brothers leave to bury the nurse and to fetch Cornelia the midwife. Meanwhile, Aaron prepares to leave for the wilderness of the Goths where intends have his child grow up to be a warrior among trusted friends.
To ease Titus’ suffering, Marcus; Marcus’ son Publius; Lucius’ son; and others sympathetic to Titus’ suffering indulge Titus who is convinced that as justice is nowhere to be found on earth it must be sought out in the heavens. Thus Titus has Marcus, Lucius’ son, and Caius shoot messaged arrows to Jove, to Athena, and to Saturn, while Publius and Sempronius dig to petition Pluto. Anon, Publius assures Titus that he has spoken to Pluto who has given his pledge to grant Titus his revenge. In the same spirit, Marcus informs Titus that his arrow has knocked off the Ram’s horns; that the Ram’s horns have fallen in the royal court where they were found by Tamora and Aaron; and that Tamora laughed as she bid Aaron to give them to Saturninus as a gift. Presently, a clown appears on the scene. Titus thinks the clown is a messenger from Jove, which the clown denies. However, as he is on his way to the royal court, the clown doesn’t deny Titus’ request to have a message delivered to the Emperor.
Worried that Titus’ seemingly harmless escapades—circulating word of Rome’s injustice with messaged arrows—might destabilize Rome’s peace and order, Saturninus has a mind to punish Titus. But he is dissuaded from doing so by Tamora who attributes Titus’ escapades to grief at the loss of his sons. By and by, a clown arrives on the scene with a letter for the Emperor. The Emperor reads only to condemn the clown to death. Saturninus announces his intention to have Titus, his age and privilege notwithstanding, punished when a messenger arrives with dire news: A formidable army of Goths, led by Titus’ son Lucius, are on the warpath and headed directly for Rome. Devastated, arguing that the Roman citizens will side with Lucius, Saturninus gives in to resignation. Tamora assures him, however, that she will set things right; that she will go to Titus; and that her words will persuade Titus to call off his son.