Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School


First Advisor

Bruce Brandt


William Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece and Titus Andronicus offer comparable portrayals of women who become victims of rape. Both works end tragically; in the poem, Lucrece chooses to commit suicide rather than live in shame, and in the play, Titus kills his daughter Lavinia because he cannot face the reality of her rape and mutilation. Traditionally, critics have focused on these women as victims of a patriarchal power structure that ultimately subverts their individual voices and prevents them from effectively communicating their experience as rape survivors. Indeed, these texts represent prevailing attitudes toward rape in ancient Rome (where both stories are set) and in Shakespeare's own time. Not surprisingly, critics cannot agree on the overall message of these works or Shakespeare's intent for them. Was he simply reaffirming patriarchal values and attitudes toward rape or was he challenging them? What attitude did he have toward the rape victims themselves? In my own response to these questions, I offer a close, critical reading of both texts (supported by current criticism) to illustrate how a relatively sympathetic Shakespeare scrutinized the repressive, patriarchal structure that eventually destroys Lucrece, Lavinia, and to some extent, their families. I begin this study by examining perceptions of rape and relevant legal rhetoric pertaining to rape in Elizabethan England, as well as the influence of Ovid's Metamorphoses on Shakespeare's writing of these texts. Additionally, I explore how The Rape of Lucrece and Titus Andronicus demonstrate both the destructive nature and potential healing power oflanguage. Arguably, the real tragedy of these works is this instability of language; Lavinia, as a result of her mutilations, literally cannot speak, and Lucrece, giving into societal pressure, silences herself through her death. For both women, language may be the key to their subjectivity ( or lack thereof).

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Rape of Lucrece
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Titus Andronicus
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 Characters Women
Rape victims in literature.
English language -- Rhetoric.
Exposition (Rhetoric)


South Dakota State University



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