Rape of Lucrece

Masculine Honor and the Fetish of Chastity in Shakespeare's "Rape of Lucrece"

Lucrece's tragic downfall in Shakespeare's "Rape of Lucrece" can be largely blamed on male competition. Her hapless story begins with a contest to determine which man possesses the chastest wife, "among which Collatus extolled the incomparable chastity of his wife Lucretia" After Lucrece is proclaimed the most dutiful, Sextus Tarquinius, a Tarquin prince and friend of Collatine, becomes "inflamed with Lucrece's beauty...treacherously stealeth into her chamber, violently ravished her, and early in the morning speedeth away." In the rhetoric of Early Modern masculinity, the chastity of women is a cause for great anxiety, because though it is the basis of male honor, female chastity is ultimately outside of male control. Men resolve their anxiety by rendering chastity a public virtue and the basis of a woman's social reputation; women are given a stake in their own chastity. Because of chastity's public significance, it is both a figure of approbation and attack - and, as such, becomes a preciously guarded resource in the world of male rivalry. Collatine's honor is contingent upon Lucrece's ability to withhold her body from other men.

"Lucrece" is a text both...

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