Rape of Lucrece

Rape of Lucrece

Rape of Lucrece

Rape of Lucrece

Excerpt

The Early Editions. The first edition of "LUCRECE" was published in quarto in 1594, with the following title-page:-- "LVCRECE | LONDON. | Printed by Richard Field, for John Harrison, and are | to be sold at the signe of the White Greyhound I in Paules Church-yard. 1594 |."*

The running title is "The Rape of Lvcrece." The Bodleian Library copies of this edition differ in some important readings, showing that the text was corrected while passing through the press. Seven new editions appeared by the year 1655; the 1616 issue purported to be "newly revised," but the variant readings are of very doubtful value.

The Source of the Plot. The story of Lucrece had been treated by many English writers before Shakespeare chose it as the subject of 'the second heir' of his invention. Chaucer told her story in his Legend of Good Women, quoting 'Ovid and Titus Livius' as his originals (cp. Ovid's Fasti, ii. 741; Livy, Bk. 1, chs. 57, 58). Lydgate treated the same theme in his ' Falls of Princes'; Painter, in his "Palace of Pleasure," 1567. There were other English renderings, notably "ballads" entered on the Stationers' Registers in the years 1568, 1570; a ballad was also printed in 1576.

"The Venus and Adonis did not perhaps allow the display of the deeper passions. But the story of Lucretia seems to favour, and even demand, their intensest workings. And yet we find in Shakespeare's management of the tale neither pathos nor any other dramatic quality. There is the same minute and faithful imagery as in the former poem, in the same vivid colours, inspirited by the same impetuous vigour of thought, and diverging and contracting with the same activity of the assimilative and of the modifying faculties; and with a yet larger display, and a wider range of knowledge and reflection; and lastly, with the same perfect dominion, often domination, over the whole world of language. What, then, shall we say? even this, that Shakespeare, no mere child of nature, no automaton of genius; no passive vehicle of inspiration possessed by the spirit, not possessing it: first studied patiently, meditated deeply, understood minutely, till knowledge, become habitual and intuitive, wedded itself to his habitual feelings, and at length gave birth to that stupendous power, by which he stands alone, with no equal or second in his own class; to that power which seated him on one of the two glorysmitten summits of the poetic mountain, with Milton as his compeer not rival. . . . All things and modes of action shape themselves anew in the being of Milton; while Shakespeare becomes all things, yet for ever remaining himself. O what great men hast thou produced, England! my country! Truly, indeed,

"Must we be free or die, who speak the tongue,

Which Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold,

Which Milton held; in every thing we are sprung

Of earth's first blood, have titles manifold."

COLERIDGE.

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