In 1594 Shakespeare published The Rape of Lucrece, also dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, and, presumably, the ‘graver labour’ mentioned in the dedication of Venus and Adonis. Like that earlier poem, The Rape of Lucrece is concerned with erotic desire as it manifests itself in a struggle to exert power over its object. However, whereas Venus and Adonis finds comedy in a tragic situation as it gleefully reverses and parodies conventional sex-roles, this ‘graver’ poem contemplates the effects of masculine violence and of institutionalized attitudes to feminine chastity and the ‘shame’ of its loss. Furthermore, it connects these subjects to larger political issues of tyranny, for the violation of Lucrece is an image of the violation of the state and a motivating factor in the expulsion of the Roman monarchy and the foundation of the Roman Republic.
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