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The Rape of Lucrece
The narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece is the "graver work" promised by English dramatist-poet William Shakespeare in his dedication to his patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, in Venus and Adonis. Unlike the humourous role-reversals of Venus and Adonis, this poem treats the public and private consequences of the rape of the Roman matron, Lucrece.
This poem draws on the story described in both Ovid's Fasti and Livy's history of Rome. In 509 BCE, Sextus Tarquinius, son to Tarquin, the king of Rome, raped Lucretia (Lucrece), the wife of Collatinus, one of the king's aristocratic retainers. As a result, Lucrece committed suicide. Her body was paraded in the Roman Forum by the king's nephew, Lucius Junius Brutus. This incited a full-scale revolt against the Tarquins and resulted in the banishment of the royal family and founding of the Roman republic.
Shakespeare retains the overall plot, although it is significant that he adds the detail that Tarquin's lust for Lucrece springs from her husband's own praise of her, before he ever saw her. This relates to Cymbeline, in which Imogen is symbolically raped by Giacomo as a result of Posthumous' praise of her virtues. Like Shakespeare's other raped women, Lucrece also gains symbolic value. Through her suicide, her body is metamorphosed into a political symbol that serves as a form of eloquence her speech could not attain.
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