The Rape of Lucrece

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Poem Text



The Rape of Lucrece

In 1594, William Shakespeare published the second of his long narrative poems.  As with Venue and Adonis, the poem was dedicated to the Earl of Southhampton.  Likewise, the poem was also printed with a dedicatory poem, however, unlike his previous dedication to the earl, this letter seemed much more personal and has led to the assumption that Shakespeare and Southhampton had struck up a close friendship.  This level of connection and other indirect signs that Shakespeare may have stayed at Southhampton's estates in 1593 has linked Southhampton to the 'Fair Youth' of the Sonnets. 

Below, the dedication from The Rape of Lucrece

The Rape of Lucrece follows a popular story from one of Shakespeare's favorite ancient writers, Ovid.  Lucrece is the angelic wife of Collatine, an illustrious Roman general.  She is coveted and eventually ravaged by Prince Tarquin, Collatine's best friend.  The power of the work is in the build up to the act itself Tarquin struggles with his lustful emotions.  The story was well known in Shakespeare's day and it proved to be of some further inspiration to him as references to Tarquin's stealthy nature are found in some of his other plays such Macbeth and Cymbeline. Unlike its predecessor, The Rape of Lucrece was praised by older readers for its intellectual prowess in poetic structure and references to classical literature, while Venus and Adonis was much more popular among the younger crowd for its erotic poetry.  Along with Venus and Adonis, the poems were extremely popular in their time and saw several reprints in Shakespeare's lifetime.  These poems only lost their popularity in succeeding centuries as the form of literature itself faded into obscurity.  Interestingly enough, both of the long poems as well the rest of Shakespeare's other non dramatic poetry carry well when presented as performance pieces. 

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Poems Main Page      Venus and Adonis     The Rape of Lucrece      A Lover's Complaint     The Phoenix and the Turtle


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