Lucretia

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Anonymous (Gwinne?) (1604-1605)


Historical Records

St. John’s College ms. Acc.v.E.4, college Computus Hebdomalis:

fol. 6 v. (18-24th February 1605)

The tragoedy of Lucretia publickly acted xjth of ffebruary with good commedacon [marginal note reads "Shrouemunday"]
And dyverse strangers interteyned in respect thereof

folio 7 (25 Feburary-3 March)

Impositi pro tragoedia Luretjae 3 li. 17 s. 8 d. praeter 22 s. 4 d. in pecuijs solutis
In Decrementis xj s. ix d. ob.


(Quoted by Elliott-Nelson, REED Oxford I.281)


Theatrical Provenance

Produced at St. John’s College, Oxford, in 1604-1605. Probably written in Latin.


Probable Genre(s)

Latin (?) Tragedy (Harbage). If it resembles other contemporary dramatizations of the Lucrece story, Lucretia probably belongs to the sub-genre of rape tragedy.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Given that the vast majority of Latin-language university productions were reworkings of classical materials, the play almost certainly featured a version of the story of Lucretia, the Roman matron whose rape by Sextus Tarquinus and subsequent suicide precipitated the fall of Rome's last king and the establishment of the Roman Republic in the sixth century B.C.

The Lucretia story enjoyed broad popularity in Renaissance culture from the fourteenth century onward, first appearing in pro-republican contexts in humanist and reformist writings in Italy and elsewhere on the Continent (see particularly Stephanie Jed, Chaste Thinking). More locally, however, the story found expression in a variety of English popular media in the years leading up to 1605, many instantiations of which were closely linked to the public stage. Two Lucrece poems by popular London dramatists appeared in the 1590s: Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece (1594) and Thomas Middleton's Ghost of Lucrece (1600). The story found more direct expression in drama, as well, in Thomas Heywood's Red Bull blockbuster The Rape of Lucrece , which was first published in 1608 but, like much of Heywood's work, probably written and performed significantly earlier, even potentially appearing as early as 1594 (see Holladay, "Robert Browne and the Date of Heywood's "Lucrece"). The popularity of Heywood's play, and the new attention it brought to the Lucrece story, is attested not only by its progress through a remarkable five editions before 1642, but also by a spate of imitations and references it spawned in other works, ranging from its mention as the center of brief meta-theatrical joke in Beaumont's Knight of the Burning Pestle to its replication in miniature in the subplot of the rape of Antonio's wife in Middleton's Revenger's Tragedy (1606) to its full-scale reworking in Fletcher's Valentinian (1614). The widespread popularity of the Lucrece story in these urban dramatic contexts points to the possibility of an intriguing connection between university and public theater in 1605, an interplay that has already been noted with regards to Shakespeare's Macbeth and Matthew Gwinne's Latin pageant Tres Sibyllae, performed for James at St. John's in the same year (though dating problems render the direction of influence uncertain). (Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 470-472) This possible interest in developments in public theater, alongside Gwinne's 1603 authorship of Nero at St. John's -- a Latin tragedy with similar themes of tyranny and sexual misconduct-- might be taken as (highly tentative) evidence of his authorship.

Thematically, re-tellings of the Lucrece story vary wildly in their commitments and focus, falling anywhere on the spectrum from intensely affective investigations of Lucrece's plight (Shakespeare) to more explicitly political accounts of the shift from monarchy to republic. If, as seems likely, the anonymous author of Lucretia was inspired by or reacting to Lucrece's popularity on the public stage, Lucretia may tentatively be classified alongside other "rape tragedies" of the period, including, among others, Heywood's Rape of Lucrece, Rowley's All's Lost By Lust, and Fletcher's plays Valentinian and (with Beaumont) The Maid's Tragedy, all of which ring changes on the basic themes of the Lucrece story to investigate the connections between sexual conduct, tyranny, and the rights of subjects. (see Bamford, Catty, Nicol)


References to the Play

Critical Commentary

For What It's Worth

Works Cited

Site created and maintained by John Kuhn, Columbia University; updated 26 July 2011.