The Rape of Lucrece Page 01
RIGHT HONOURABLE HENRY WRIOTHESLY,
EARL OF SOUTHHAMPTON, AND BARON OF TICHFIELD.
THE love I dedicate to your lordship is without end; whereof this pamphlet, without beginning, is but a superfluous moiety. The warrant I have of your honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your lordship, to whom I wish long life, still lengthened with all happiness.
Your lordship's in all duty, WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
LUCIUS TARQUINIUS, for his excessive pride surnamed Superbus, after he had caused his own father-in-law Servius Tullius to be cruelly murdered, and, contrary to the Roman laws and customs, not requiring or staying for the people's suffrages, had possessed himself of the kingdom, went, accompanied with his sons and other noblemen of Rome, to besiege Ardea. During which siege the principal men of the army meeting one evening at the tent of Sextus Tarquinius, the king's son, in their discourses after supper every one commended the virtues of his own wife; among whom Collatinus extolled the incomparable chastity of his wife Lucretia. In that pleasant humour they all posted to Rome; and intending, by their secret and sudden arrival, to make trial of that which every one had before avouched, only Collatinus finds his wife, though it were late in the night, spinning amongst her maids: the other ladies were all found dancing and revelling, or in several disports. Whereupon the noblemen yielded Collatinus the victory, and his wife the fame. At that time Sextus Tarquinius being inflamed with Lucrece' beauty, yet smothering his passions for the present, departed with the rest back to the camp; from whence he shortly after privily withdrew himself, and was, according to his estate, royally entertained and lodged by Lucrece at Collatium. The same night he treacherously stealeth into her chamber, violently ravished her, and early in the morning speedeth away. Lucrece, in this lamentable plight, hastily dispatched messengers, one to Rome for her father, another to the camp for Collatine. They came, the one accompanied with Junius Brutus, the other with Publius Valerius; and finding Lucrece attired in mourning habit, demanded the cause of her sorrow. She, first taking an oath of them for her revenge4 revealed the actor, and whole manner of his dealing, and withal suddenly stabbed herself. Which done, with one consent they all vowed to root out the whole hated family of the Tarquins; and bearing the dead body to Rome, Brutus acquainted the people with the doer and manner of the vile deed, with a bitter invective against the tyranny of the king: wherewith the people were so moved, that with one consent and a general acclamation the Tarquins were all exiled, and the state government changed from kings to consuls.
From the besieged Ardea all in post, Borne by the trustless wings of false desire, Lust-breathed Tarquin leaves the Roman host, And to Collatium bears the lightless fire Which, in pale embers hid, lurks to aspire And girdle with embracing flames the waist Of Collatine's fair love, Lucrece the chaste.
Haply that name of 'chaste' unhappily set This bateless edge on his keen appetite; When Collatine unwisely did not let To praise the clear unmatched red and white Which triumph'd in that sky of his delight, Where mortal stars, as bright as heaven's beauties, With pure aspects did him peculiar duties.
For he the night before, in Tarquin's tent, Unlock'd the treasure of his happy state; What priceless wealth the heavens had him lent In the possession of his beauteous mate; Reckoning his fortune at such high-proud rate, That kings might be espoused to more fame, But king nor peer to such a peerless dame.
O happiness enjoy'd but of a few! And, if possess'd, as soon decay'd and done As is the morning's silver-melting dew Against the golden splendour of the sun! An expired date, cancell'd ere well begun: Honour and beauty, in the owner's arms, Are weakly fortress'd from a world of harms.