In her paper on Lacan and Joyce in this collection, Ellie Ragland-Sullivan quotes Lacan's claim that "Joyce is his language," and that Finnegans Wake demonstrates all of language—in its plenitude and in its "fading out" of meaning. To balance the hyperbole, let us allow the claim. Let Joyce and Lacan be the morticians of meaning, presiding over its referential dislocations, celebrating its demise, writing its wake. For me, Shakespeare is language. That is, Shakespeare celebrates the genesis of modern poetic possibility in English: the birth of a Renaissance vernacular from the corpse of the classics.
But enough of my hyperbole. I want to discuss Shakespeare's, especially in his narrative poem, Lucrece. For those whose familiarity with this text has faded, I will briefly rehearse its narrative. One evening, at the siege of Ardea, the Romans hold an after-dinner discussion of wifely virtue. After all the husbands have praised their wives, they secretly return to Rome to spy on the women. All are discovered "dancing and revelling, or in several disports" (as Shakespeare puts it), except for Lucrece who is found chastely spinning. With Lucrece's husband, Collatine, the victor in this contest, the noblemen return to their tents. Prince Tarquin, however, is so aroused by Lucrece's beauty and probity that he returns to Rome later that night, where he is politely received by Lucrece. After he retires to his room, and after much internal debate, he creeps into Lucrece's chamber. Failing to seduce her by argument or compel her by threat, he overpowers and rapes her. He quickly departs, leaving Lucrece in vigorous lamentation. She blames Tarquin, then