Shakespeare: The Rape of Lucrece

The Rape of Lucrece appeared in 1594.

Shakespeare was no doubt a brilliant man who changed the course of world literature.

His work is often difficult to access because of the differences in sixteenth century English and its modern counterpart.

In examining the following passages from the famous poem I aim to illustrate how a few simple observations of switches in letters demystifies the Bard.

The “u” is our “v”, as illustrated immediately in the dedication of the poem to “To the Right and Honorable, Henry Wriothesley Earle of Southhampton and Baron of Titchfield.” Shakespeare writes to him, “The loue I dedicate to your Lordship is without end.”

The terminal “e” at the end of words is remnant of French influence. William the Conquerer had brought the French language to England. For example, “Respect and reason waite on wrinckled age” (line 275).

Other small transformations can be found in lines 279-280: “Desire my Pilot is, Beautie my prise/Then who feares sinking where such treasure lies.”

Curiously, the “v” is our “u,” as if Shakespeare were encoding his writing just for us.

My favorite lines of the poem illustrate this beautifully, as we see the “u” and “v” interchanged over the ages:

“Let him haue time to marke how slow time goes/In time of sorrow, and how swift and short/His time of follie, and his time of sport./And euer let his vnrecalling crime/Haue time to waile th’abusing of his time” (lines 990-994).

The Rape of Lucrece is one of Shakespeare’s shorter works and great introduction to the corpus that continues to shake literature as we know it.


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