‘So Much Grief and not a Tongue’: Trauma and Intertextuality in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece

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In her 2008 monograph Unto the Breach: Martial Formations, Historical Trauma, and the Early Modern Stage, Patricia A. Cahill argues that critics of Renaissance literature have thus far failed to ‘reckon with the fact that early modern traumatic experience is defined not only by its subject matter … but also by what can be described as its “belated” and “latent” temporal structure’. Which is to say that the hallmark of trauma – both early modern and modern – is the delayed manifestation of the signs and symptoms that evince the originary experience having taken place; as such, trauma is defined by the period of latency that follows the instigating event, known only by the belated arrival of symptoms attesting to it. Since then, scholars have begun to interrogate the ways in which early modern literature appears to anticipate later cultural and theoretical configurations of trauma. By examining the significance of trauma and intertextuality in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece (1594), this essay builds on the insights of a strong and diverse body of research that continues to attend to the complex role of trauma in early modern literature. By reading The Rape of Lucrece in the context of and also through Shakespeare’s Ovidian source material, this essay suggests that the very act of returning to Ovid formally encodes the distinctive and disturbing structure of trauma into Shakespeare’s depiction of responses to extreme experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-144
Number of pages21
Issue number265
Publication statusPublished - 11 Apr 2020

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