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Wanton Modesty: Lucrece and Elizabeth
by David P. Gontar (April 2012)
I. The Problem
At the heart of Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece is a moral paradox. If, in virtue of being forcibly violated by Sextus Tarquinius, "Lucrece the chaste" is innocent of adultery, what accounts for her swift and dramatic suicide, and how are her actions, including self-annihilation, to be appraised? Does not the lady protest too much? On the basis of the historical record (Livy, Ovid), well before Shakespeare, this was debated. One of the first non-Romans to take up the topic, Augustine, in Ch. 19 of The City of God, writes to refute the opinions of his pagan predecessors. He argues that it is beyond our capacity to decide whether she at some point gave inner consent, which, if present, would explain her chosen end as mortification and misguided penance. more>>>