The Rape of Lucrece

09/05/1594View on timeline

The Rape of Lucrece (1594) is a narrative poem by William Shakespeare about the legendary Lucretia. In his previous narrative poem, Venus and Adonis (1593), Shakespeare had included a dedicatory letter to his patron, the Earl of Southampton, in which he promised to compose a "graver labour". Accordingly, The Rape of Lucrece has a serious tone throughout.

The poem begins with a prose dedication addressed directly to the Earl of Southampton, which begins, "The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end." It refers to the poem as a pamphlet, which describes the form of its original publication of 1594.

The dedication is followed by "The Argument", a prose paragraph that summarizes the events preceding the start of the poem, which begins in media res.

The poem contains 1,855 lines, divided into 265 stanzas of seven lines each. The rhythm of each line is iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme for each stanza is ABABBCC, a format known as "rhyme royal", which has been used by Geoffrey Chaucer, John Milton and John Masefield.

Tarquin and Lucretia by Titian

Publication and title

The Rape of Lucrece was entered into the Stationers' Register on 9 May 1594, and published later that year, in a quarto printed by Richard Field for the bookseller John Harrison ("the Elder"); Harrison sold the book from his shop at the sign of the White Greyhound in St. Paul's Churchyard. The title given on the title page was simply Lucrece, though the running title throughout the volume, as well as the heading at the beginning of the text is The Rape of Lucrece.[1] Harrison's copyright was transferred to Roger Jackson in 1614; Jackson issued a sixth edition (O5) in 1616. Other octavo editions followed in 1624, 1632 and 1655. The poem went through eight editions before 1641.

Title page of the sixth edition of The Rape of Lucrece (1616).

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Published in 18/09/2018

Updated in 19/02/2021

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