Male Dishonor as Guilt and Shame in The Rape of Lucrece Essay

1793 Words 8 Pages
Male Dishonor as Guilt and Shame in The Rape of Lucrece

Inasmuch as a woman’s virginity or chastity is imagined as an object that can be "owned," rape becomes a property crime, consisting in the theft of a woman’s "virtue" from its rightful "owner," her male guardian. Bernice Harris articulates this view with respect to Titus Andronicus: "The definition of the word is based on ownership: ‘rape’ is an appropriate term only if what is taken is not rightfully owned" (388). The man who can claim ownership of a woman is subsequently "dishonored" when she is violated: "‘Honour,’ then, is a function of ownership" (389).

While it is tempting to see the Shakespearean concept of rape entirely in such terms, such a view is not
…show more content…
By contrast, the pagan-humanist tradition, with its pantheon of capricious and often morally suspect gods, upheld a highly public ideal of honor, whereby behavior could be regulated. Whereas guilt can be either private or public, shame is necessarily a public affair. Guilt, as much a theological as ethical construct, requires appropriate punishment, but shame requires simply appropriate action to eliminate its source. Without dwelling on these distinctions, however, Williams argues that in the early modern period these contradictory sets of values operated simultaneously, and it is this tension that informs the often contradictory treatment of rape in such texts as Titus Andronicus and Lucrece.

In The Rape of Lucrece this tension is worked out in the portrayals of the two primary male characters. The text is overtly concerned with the question of male honor, and the damage done to it by the act of rape. Contradictory to the predictions of the "rape=theft" equation, however, it is not only Collatine, the injured husband, who is depicted as dishonored by the crime. Rather than as a conquering hero, the rapist Tarquin is himself depicted as dishonored by his crime. The different forms of dishonor incurred by the two men, I will argue, result from the judgments
Open Document