Like his Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare’s Lucrece belongs to the genre of the minor epic. But unlike Venus, Lucrece 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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