Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0283. Monday, 10 April 1995.
Date: Sunday, 9 Apr 1995 21:56:13 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: The Rape of Lucrece"
Shakespeare's narrative poem *The Rape of Lucrece* has never been unanimously
lauded by literary critics. Generations of reviewers have found in its lines
nothing more than mere rhetorical ornamentation. It is easy to accept the
authority of these experts who have come to such a broad consensus as to the
mediocrity of Shakespeare's "graver labor," a consensus that is only
reinforced after comparing Shakespeare's long rhetorical enlargement to the
simple elegance of the originals by Livy and Ovid which, we are told, are the
primary sources for Shakespeare's narrative poem.
I am currently working on a project to uncover some deeper meaning which may
have been overlooked by critics who, while accepting the influence of Livy and
Ovid, overlooked the influence St. Augustine and Chaucer. To Augustine Lucrece
was guilty of murder. Her fear of scandal and subsequent suicide illustrate
the moral contradictions inherent in the Roman's holding her story up as an
ideal of chastity (City of God 1:19). Later, in *The Legend of Good Women*
Chaucer cites what he calls Augustine's "greet compassion/ Of this
Lucresse"(1690) leaving us to wonder if Chaucer simply got his facts wrong or
is attempting some irony.
Any ideas on this subject would be greatly appreciated.