The assault on Lavinia that forms the central act of violation in Titus Andronicus takes place, like the acts of violence in Greek tragedy, offstage. Chiron and Demetrius rape her, cut off her hands, and cut out her tongue. What the audience, and Lavinia's family, have to confront is not the sight of the event but its significance. For Chiron and Demetrius it is simple: they have done what they wanted to do, and now they can gloat. As they taunt her in the aftermath of the rape, their voices work together easily, each taunt sliding into the next:
So, now go tell, and if thy tongue can speak,
Who 'twas that cut thy tongue and ravished thee.
Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so,
And if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe.(II.iii.1–4)
They use language smoothly and confidently to tell Lavinia she will never use language again. But in silencing her they have inadvertently made her the most powerful character in the play. What the rape means for them is straightforward: an expression of their power. What it means for her is beyond language, beyond imagining. That is what her silence conveys to us, and from this point on that silence haunts the play.
Yet plays use words, and on her next appearance we see her again with two brothers, her father and her uncle, who try to read the thing she has become and, unlike Chiron and Demetrius, disagree.