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Introduction to the poem

Like his Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare’s Lucrece belongs to the genre of the minor epic. But unlike VenusLucrece incorporates a second genre, the complaint. As a minor epic, Lucrece draws upon the legendary history of a great empire, the moment when Rome ceases to be a kingdom ruled by the Tarquins and becomes a republic governed by elected consuls. Yet, again as a minor epic, Lucrece employs as its chief characters figures of seemingly secondary historical or political importance. The poem gives us Tarquin (the king’s young son) and Lucrece (the wife of one of Rome’s first consuls, Collatine). Lucrece focuses initially on Tarquin’s overwhelming desire for the beautiful wife of his kinsman and friend. From the moment of Tarquin’s rape of Lucrece through the remainder of the poem, the focus shifts to the sexual shame felt by Lucrece, a much more disturbing emotion than that felt by Adonis as he is ardently wooed by Venus.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets and Poems

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

Night-wand’ring weasels shriek to see him there;
They fright him, yet he still pursues his fear.

Lines 307–308

In vain I rail at Opportunity,
At Time, at Tarquin, and uncheerful Night.

Lines 1023–1024

Lucrece in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Lucrece. Find more in our digital image collection

Pierre Le Moyne. The gallery of heroick women. London, 1652
Rape of Lucrece, One justly weeps. By H. Corbould; H. Rolls.
Rape of Lucrece. By J. Ber, Mathematic.
The rape of Lucrece : committed by Tarquin the Sixt; and the remarkable judgments that befel him for it. By the incomparable master of our English poetry, Will: Shakespeare Gent. Whereunto is annexed, The banishment of Tarquin: or, the reward of lust. By J. Quarles.

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare


Learn more about Shakespeare, his poem, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

About Shakespeare’s Lucrece
An introduction to the sources behind Shakespeare’s poem and his transformation of them.

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and poetic techniques

Teaching Lucrece