In the play, the titular character, a Roman general, returns from a victorious campaign against the Goths to be offered the currently vacant Imperial throne. Citing both his advanced age, and a lack of interest he declines the offer in favour of one of the previous emperor's sons. Shortly afterwards, vicious power politics ensue, including a revenge plot on the part of a Gothic queen he had originally brought back to Rome as a prisoner of state. By the end, Titus is down one hand, twenty-four of twenty five sons and his only daughter1, the new Emperor and his Goth wife have inadvertently eaten two of her sons, the Gothic queen's Moorish lover has been buried alive in the desert and their child lost to an uncertain fate. Meanwhile, Titus's remaining son marches on Rome at the head of an army of angry goths. Almost certainly the most bloody and horrific of Shakespeare's plays, to the extent where some wonder if it wasn't meant to be a comedy of some kind.
The Trope, then, concerns someone who lays aside extraordinary power, only to find their forbearance unreciprocated and to suffer greatly at the hands of those who do assume the power they relinquished. Sub-concepts include the duty, as well as privilege of rulership, the triumph of evil at the inaction of the good, and the need to hold power for negative as well as positive reasons2.
Game and Story Use
- Probably best played by having the PCs patron in the role of Titus, especially if they played a big part in his victory - the crisis over, the great man feels a call to agriculture and steps down, handing over to a more politically inclined successor. Who immediately decides that he can't take the risk of his predecessor coming back and starts purging - putting the PCs right in the firing line.