Home Literature The Rape of Lucrece by William Shakespeare

The Rape of Lucrece by William Shakespeare

by Litinbox

“The Rape of Lucrece” is a touching narrative poem written by William Shakespeare, centering around the Roman noblewoman Lucretia (other name for titular Lucrece).

This literary masterpiece consists of 1,855 lines and 265 stanzas, adhering to the iambic pentameter and employing the ABABBCC rhyme scheme, known as ‘rhyme royal,’ which Shakespeare adopted from Chaucer.

The Rape of Lucrece

The Rape of Lucrece is a minor epic narrative poem that recounts the story of the legendary Roman noble woman Lucretia (Lucrece).

Composed around 1594, The Rape of Lucrece consists of three sections: “The Dedication”, “The Argument” and “The Poem”.

The Dedication

In the dedication section of “The Rape of Lucrece” William Shakespeare dedicates the poem to Henry Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton and the note given by Shakespeare reveals his deep and constant affection towards him.

Shakespeare is faithful to Southampton and affirms that he has been working for Southampton’s gain and will do further in future.

Shakespeare also wishes his lordship many years of happy life for happiness is what everyone wishes for in life. In conclusion, the dedicatory part shines a light on Shakespeare’s profound regard coupled with his faithfulness towards the Earl of Southampton.

The Argument

Before getting into the poem’s narrative, a brief historical background is provided. Lucius Tarquinius (also known as Tarquin the Proud or Supervisor) takes the position of a Roman king and neglects the physical and legal welfare of the citizens of the state.

Tarquinius marches his forces against Ardea; and one night, while sitting around the fires in the Roman soldiers’ camp, Sextus Tarquinius– the son of Lucius Tarquinius–tells his comrades to share tales about the chastity and virtue of their wives.

Collatinus is a military man in the army of Lucius, and a friend of Sextus Tarquinius, has a deep admiration for wife Lucretia, whose unparalleled beauty and virtues are beyond comparison.

The Rape of Lucrece Summary

Sextus Tarquinius’ Lust

The narrative of the poem starts at once after Collatinus shares about the beauty and virtue of his beloved wife. Sextus Tarquinius (Tarquin), who is obsessed with thoughts of Lucretia’s beauty and virtue, immediately goes to Collatium, Collatinus’ house.

In Collatium, he gets a warm reception by Lucretia (Lucrece), who is very hospitable to him. Tarquin starts conversing with Lucrece, telling her of his husbands’ valor in the battlefield; to this she responds in a similar fashion.

Sinister Night

Tarquinius stays in Collatium that night and as the demonic urge within him to have Lucrece surfaced he decides to go visit her. In a rather sneaky manner, he gets into her bedroom and discovers her lying asleep on the bed.

Unable to control the lechery in him, he takes a chance and gropes her breast. Being frightened by his unexpected presence, she wakes up, and her fear only grows worse.

Tarquin threatens and tells her that he would kill her if she fails to agree to what he wants. He continues to threaten her that he would ruin her reputation and virtue by staging a fake romantic affair between her and her servant.

Though she tries to put up some resistance he overpowers her and proceeds to have non-consensual sexual intercourse with her. After raping her, driven by his own guilt and shame, he flees.

Furious Lucrece

In the wake of fury and shaming, Lucrece is trapped between life and death. She immediately sends out messengers in a hurry to call for her father as well as her husband back home.

Lucretius immediately comes to the house together with Collatine, as well as with their close friends Junius Brutus and Publius Valerius.

They are shocked to discover Lucrece dressed in mourning attire and demand an explanation for her distress. She courageously recounts the entire incident, yet refuses to reveal the perpetrator’s identity until they vow to avenge him in her stead.

Lucrece’s Suicide

At last, she unmasks the real culprit for the entire mishap and, most unfortunately, after revealing his identity she dies by stabbing herself with a knife. Collatine and Lucretius, shattered by her tragic decision, are determined to seek retribution for her death.

Fall of Tarquins

As Lucrece’s lifeless body is carried through the streets, a profound sense of empathy ripples through the crowd, leading to the merciless exile of the Tarquins. Ultimately, the consuls rise to power, bringing an end to the reign of kings.

The Rape of Lucrece Characters

“The Rape of Lucrece” features several main characters including the titular Lucrece, Lucretius, Collatine, Sextus Tarquinius, Junius Brutus, Publius Valerius and Collatine.

Lucrece (Lucretia)

Lucrece or Lucretia is the Roman noblewoman who remained a paragon of virtue and the main character in “The Rape of Lucrece.” We see in her the model of purity, beauty, and morality.

Lucrece is raped by Sextus Tarquinius. The pain and her subsequent suicide contribute to the action of the story.

Tarquin (Tarquin)

Tarquin is known by the name of Sextus Tarquinius, is the son of Lucius Tarquinius, king of Rome. Tarquin sexually assaults Lucrece which forms the basis of the tragic events in the poem. He behaves as a dictator abusing his powers while demonstrating the evil that comes with it.

Collatinus (Collatine)

Collatine is a warrior in the force of Lucius Tarquinius and is documented to be a friend of Tarquinius. He is married to Lucrece, and he cherishes her greatly, asserting to her beauty and honesty.

Lucrece commits suicide after Collatine hears of her rape, driven by shame and guilt, displaying loyalty and determination.


Lucretius is Lucrece’s father, who sits at the center of the play in the wake of the rape. He dies of shock on hearing about the tragedy that had befallen his daughter and like Collatine seeks retribution.

On this level, the presence of Lucretius suggests the value of family and the actual relationships between family members.

Junius Brutus & Publius Valerius

Junius Brutus is a trusted friend of Collatine while Publius Valerius is a friend to Lucretius. These chicks are portrayed as loyal and good friends who support them when they seek justice and revenge. Both these characters represent the power which lies in partnerships and the backup one gets.

FAQs: People Also Ask

Q: What did Tarquin do to Lucretia?

Tarquin (Sextus Tarquinius) and Lucrece (Lucretia) are the central characters of “The Rape of Lucrece”. Tarquin is the son of the Roman king, Lucius Tarquinius. Tarquin sexually assaulted Lucrece while her husband (Collatine) is away in Ardea battlefield.

This wicked act of Tarquin leads to Lucrece’s profound anguish and ultimately to her suicide.

Q: How long is The Rape of Lucrece?

“The Rape of Lucrece” is 1,855 lines long divided into 265 stanzas. The lines adhere to iambic pentameter and employ the rhyme scheme of ABABBCC.

The rhyme scheme is known as “rhyme royal” primarily utilised by Geoffrey Chaucer in 14th century.

Q: What does Lucretia symbolize?

Lucretia in “The Rape of Lucrece” symbolises the virtues of chastity, honour and dignity. Lucrece is the victim of Tarquin’s lust. Subsequently, this leads to her deliberate anguish and her ultimate suicide.

Lucrece is expected to adhere to a higher standard of virtue and chastity, which contributes to the unfolding of the poem’s tragic narrative.

Q: Who does Lucretia send a message to?

Overwhelmed by sorrow and shame after she is raped by Sextus Tarquinius, Lucrece sends messengers to both her husband and her father, urging them to come home immediately, with a good friend, since a grave and terrible event had occurred.

Lucretius and Collatine arrive at home quickly and are shocked to learn about the rape. After disclosing the terrible event, Lucrece commits suicide with a knife. Tarquins are mercilessly exiled and the consuls rise to power at the end.