Covering and Uncovering: Marital Coverture and the Female Voice in Shakespeare’s Lucrece (1594)

Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation


This paper attempts to provide a new perspective on a pivotal element of Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece (1594): Lucrece’s spoken attempt to reject Tarquin’s sexual advances (575-666). Lucrece’s resistance is articulated through a rhetoric which has long been recognised by critics as educated and complex, and has routinely been addressed by modern critical papers which question the addition of this speech to Shakespeare’s original sources. This paper exposes the concept of the feme covert - the wife who is legally and socially ‘covered’ by her husband’s will - as a key theme of this poem and the source for Lucrece’s resisting speech. I view Lucrece’s marital covering as a pivotal trope around which the action of the poem is structured, reading Tarquin’s sexual assault as framed by a fantasy of discovering an alternative and sexually receptive version of Lucrece beneath Collatine’s covering. As Tarquin transgresses the physical and metaphorical boundaries surrounding Lucrece, the threat of rape creates a space in which the female voice and viewpoint becomes ‘uncovered’ and is a justified and necessitated agent for resistance.
Period24 Aug 2021
Event titleBritish Graduate Shakespeare Conference 2021
Event typeConference
LocationUnited KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational