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"O teach me how to make mine own excuse": Forensic Performance in Lucrece


Scholars have not sufficiently considered the rhetorical genre of Lucrece’s speeches, especially her final speech to her father and husband. Drawing on school forms of rhetorical invention, Shakespeare amplifies Lucrece’s report of the rape, as it is related told by Livy, into a formal oration in the judicial genre. His judicial construction of Lucrece’s voice reflects the use of the legend of Lucretia as subject matter for declamatory exercises in schools, both ancient and modern. After tracing influential academic treatments of the Lucretia theme up to the early modern period, the essay demonstrates Shakespeare’s exploitation of the terms of judicial controversy to represent a psychological division within the heroine.

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