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“Ere She with Blood had Stained her Stained Excuse”: Graphic Stains in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece and Middleton’s The Ghost of Lucrece

“Ere She with Blood had Stained her Stained Excuse”: Taches physiques dans The Rape of Lucrece de Shakespeare et The Ghost of Lucrece de Middleton
Harvey Wiltshire

Résumés

Cet article examine la conjonction des taches, taches de sang, marques et autres références graphiques à la souillure dans The Rape of Lucrece (1594) de William Shakespeare et The Ghost of Lucrece (1600) de Thomas Middleton, pour montrer comment les deux poètes se saisissent de la matérialité du sang et sa faculté de tacher à son tour dans leur récit de la vie de Lucrèce. On s'intéressera au rôle que jouent le sang souillé et la tache qui en résulte en manifestant l'évidence du viol. En convertissant la souillure du sang de Lucrèce en marques typographiques qui représentent les taches et les souillures, Shakespeare remet en question les limites de la représentation de ces dernières. On montrera que le sang de Lucrèce, en tachant et en souillant à son tour, franchit la limite entre le corps animé, vu dans une perspective médicalisée, et le texte écrit. En lisant la contamination de Lucrèce comme "infection" (907, Latin infectus, inficere, corrompre, teindre, tacher, maculer), on montre ici que les interprétations humorales de Lucrece entrent en converssation avec la riche matrice des images textuelles et typographiques. En effet, dans l'usage du seizième siècle "to distain" et, dans sa forme aphétique "to stain", impliquent toujours à la fois colorer et décolorer: marquer, souiller et salir (OED 4.a), mais aussi décolorer ou priver de couleur (OED 1.a, †2). En ce sens, le sang de Lucrèce, qui est souillé et qui souille, est à la fois destructeur et créateur. En plus d'être tache, souillure, corruption, le sang de Lucrèce offre aussi une manifestation ("testament", 1183) et une "excuse" (1316). Alors que le sang est cause et symptome, il donne aussi toujours à lire et à entendre. En conséquence, le suicide sanglant de Lucrèce manifeste publiquement la souillure, interne, de son propre sang ; et en lisant Lucrèce et The Rape of Lucrece, nous réalisons une lecture - diagnostic du sang. Enfin, on abordera The Ghost of Lucrece de Middleton pour montrer comment ce dernier s'approprie et amplifie l'image de la tache sanglante.

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  • 1 Jerome, Against Jovinianus, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian (...)
  • 2 Jerome, ‘Adversus Jovinianum’, Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Patrologia Latina, ed. P. Migne, vol. (...)

1In his treatise Against Jovinianus, the fourth-century theologian, St. Jerome writes that “Lucretia, who would not survive her violated chastity, blotted out the stain upon her person with her own blood”.1 Defending Lucrece’s decision to kill herself, Jerome deploys the inky, graphic metaphor of blotting to suggest that her suicidal blood overwrites the moral and ontological stain produced by the rape. However, in Jerome’s Latin original – “maculam corporis cruore delevit” – there is a sense in which Lucrece’s blood does not simply blot over the fact of her lost chastity, but erases it entirely; writing delevit, from which the word delete is derived (Lt. dēlētus blotted out, effaced, past participle of dēlēre to delete), Jerome’s account seems to suggest that Lucretia’s suicidal blood literally effaces the stain of her violated chastity.2

  • 3 William Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece, in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter (...)

2In a remarkably similar construction, in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece, Lucrece delays divulging the facts and circumstances of her violation to her husband Collatine, “Lest he should hold it her own gross abuse, / Ere she with blood had stained her stained excuse” (1315-1316, emphasis added).3 To avoid Collatine misinterpreting her explanation as proof of moral culpability, Lucrece understands that she must control how Tarquin’s crime comes to light. By spilling her own blood, then, Lucrece hopes that she will be able to correctively “stain” her explanation. Put another way, Lucrece believes that her spilt blood will supply irrefutable, visible evidence of her purity, in contrast to the uncertainty of her words. As the poet makes clear, Lucrece’s “excuse” is already “stained”, stained in the sense that, owing to the unseen and, therefore, unknowable nature of her violation, it is intrinsically unreliable. Ultimately, Lucrece must postpone telling Collatine until a time when her innocence can be proven beyond doubt. Like Jerome’s “blotted […] stain”, Shakespeare’s “stained […] stain” – one stain signifying bodily and moral corruption and the other the possibility of erasing or effacing that corruption – captures the simultaneously damning and curative potential of Lucrece’s textual and graphic metaphors. By layering these inky, blotting allusions, Jerome’s defence of Lucrece compels us to ask what exactly it means to blot a stain, or, in the case of Shakespeare’s Lucrece, to stain a stain?

  • 4 Charlotte Scott, “‘To Show ... and so to Publish’: Reading, Writing, and Performing in the Narrativ (...)
  • 5 Amy Greenstadt, “‘Read It in Me’: The Authors Will in Lucrece”, Shakespeare Quarterly, 57, 2006, p. (...)

3Accordingly, this essay will examine the material and referential qualities of blood stains, blots and blemishes in The Rape of Lucrece, to suggest that Shakespeare encourages an active and ongoing reading of Lucrece’s “stained blood” (1181). Throughout the poem, Shakespeare embraces the staining properties of blood to activate a process of diagnostic reading, not only of Tarquin’s humoral interior and Lucrece’s polluted, sanguineous body, but also of the indelible blots and stains that mark the textual surface of Lucrece. Lucrece’s blood is both marked and marking, simultaneously “bear[ing]” (734) the unspeakable truth of the rape and providing the means by which it comes to light. Consequently, it will be suggested that Lucrece’s blotting and staining blood flows across the border between the poem’s animate, medicalised bodies and the written text. As Charlotte Scott contends, Lucrece’s body “becomes a site of record”, where the visibility of physical marks display “the narrative of her ordeal.”4 Indeed, by exploiting “the multiple meanings of words that describe both the actions and attributes of Lucrece’s body and the material qualities of texts”, as Amy Greenstadt suggests, Shakespeare repeatedly disrupts the frontiers between the graphic text and the poem’s graphically rendered bodies.5

4As written and printed texts that depict the efforts of a textual subject to record and convey meaning through writing, both of the Elizabethan Lucrece narratives examined in this essay scrutinise the act authorship at various levels. By depicting Lucrece writing, and repeatedly emphasising the graphic materiality of her sanguineous body, both The Rape of Lucrece and Thomas Middleton’s The Ghost of Lucrece draw attention to their own textual materiality. In both cases, the poems accentuate the processes of their own creation as penned, printed and published texts; place particular emphasis on Lucrece as a written and a writing subject; and repeatedly call our attention to the polluting and staining properties of blood, and its use as a graphic material – where I take graphic to generally denote anything written by hand. In Lucrece, Shakespeare presents Lucrece as both a written and a writing subject, whilst at the same time drawing the connection between Lucrece’s corporeal, sanguineous body and Lucrece as a textual body. In many ways, then, this study examines blood as a graphic substance, in the sense that it marks corporeal and textual surfaces to convey meaning. Encountering Lucrece’s blood – as a uniquely discursive substance – and reading her stained body and the stains produced by it, becomes an extended process of semiotic interpretation. When, following the rape, Lucrece announces “How Tarquin must be used, read it in me” (1195), her instruction unifies her visceral body and the poem as a textual body.

5Within both poems, then, the marking, material qualities of blood are exploited to produce and convey meaning. Shakespeare’s depiction of Lucrece’s blood also, however, registers the ways in which he responds to existing versions of the Lucrece narrative; as we read and interpret Lucrece’s body, we are aware that Shakespeare has read and is, in part, responding to Lucretia’s previous bleedings. Consequently, this essay will address Shakespeare’s engagement with classical accounts of the rape and death of Lucrece. Indeed, Shakespeare’s use of Ovid’s and Livy’s versions of the Lucretia narrative reveal the extent to which he, as a reader, is attuned to the material and referential qualities of blood. Reading Livy’s The History of Rome, for example, Shakespeare will have encountered the image of Lucretia’s dripping, post-mortem blood, concurrently pure and corrupted. In The Rape of Lucrece, Shakespeare appears to respond to and intensify the latent semiotic potentialities of Lucrece’s blood that can be found in the classical accounts of her rape and death. In a way, then, each depiction of Lucrece’s stained and polluted blood illustrates the way in which intertextual borrowings contaminate subsequent retellings of the narrative. Finally, by continuing this trajectory of reading and writing Lucrece’s bleeding, it will be shown that in The Ghost of Lucrece, published in 1600, Middleton appropriates and further amplifies Shakespeare’s depiction of Lucrece’s polluted and graphically staining blood, as he too reads and rewrites the story of Lucrece’s rape and death. Middleton’s poem presents a gruesome materialisation of the blotted and figuratively bloody letter found in Shakespeare’s poem, by depicting the Lucrece’s ghost composing a letter to Tarquin in her own blood. Consequently, Middleton elaborates Shakespeare’s portrayal of Lucrece’s sexualised and textualised body, offering a haunting image of female authorship.

  • 6 Catherine Belling, “Infectious Rape, Therapeutic Revenge: Bloodletting and the Health of Rome’s Bod (...)
  • 7 Randy Phillis, “The Stained Blood of Rape: Elizabethan Medical Thought and Shakespeare’s Lucrece”, (...)
  • 8 Ibid., p.128.
  • 9 Ibid., p.124.
  • 10 Barbara Antonucci, “Blood in Language: The Galenic Paradigm of Humours in The Rape of Lucrece and T (...)

6In several ways, my reading of Lucrece will build on the critical commonplace to associate Lucrece’s “stain” with humoral contamination. Indeed, there are a number of critics who read Lucrece’s stained blood as symptomatic of the Galenic paradigm in which Shakespeare was writing, such as Catherine Belling, who asserts that Lucrece’s blood is contaminated with “a material and medically pathologized moral stain”.6 Epitomising such overtly medicalised readings of the poem, Randy Phillis claims that critics have repeatedly “overlooked the physical evidence that Lucrece’s blood is literally tainted by the rape and that the predicament is a physical one for which, given Lucrece’s honour, death is the only solution.”7 Phillis’ argument is simple, Lucrece kills herself because her blood has been materially and irrevocably spoiled by Tarquin; Lucrece cannot undo or overcome the contamination of her blood, and so suicide is the only escape. In Shakespeare’s poem, Lucrece’s blood becomes pathologically contaminated, so her suicide is medically justified and, as Phillis contends, “need not be based on moral or honourable considerations at all”.8 Lucrece’s blood is, however, replete with competing significances. The image of Lucrece’s stained blood is, at least in part, derived from Shakespeare’s reading of antecedent versions of the story, and is not solely contingent on the immediate historical and medical contexts in which The Rape of Lucrece was composed. That is not to say, however, that these contexts do not result in Lucrece’s blood gaining added medical significance, just that Phillis’ exclusively medical reading of Lucrece’s blood disregards allusions to Shakespeare’s literary appropriations, the conditions of authorship, and the inky materiality of Elizabethan print production. Hence Phillis’ rigid assertion, that “Shakespeare provides a neutral, nonmoral, scientific explanation for Lucrece’s need to die”, occludes the graphic and inherently literary implications of Lucrece’s “stained blood”.9 Similarly, Barbara Antonucci’s reading of Lucrece’s blood as “physiological substance” underestimates the extent to which Shakespeare exploits the semiotic capacity of blood to signify beyond its own medicalised materiality.10

7By reading Lucrece’s contamination as “infection” (907; Lt. infectus, inficere, to corrupt, dye, stain, imbue), humoral interpretations of the poem can be drawn into conversation with the poem’s rich matrix of textual and graphic images. Indeed, in sixteenth century usage, to distain and, in its aphetic form, to stain is always both to colour and discolour: to mark, blemish and defile (OED 4.a), but also to remove or deprive of colour (OED 1.a, †2). In this sense, Lucrece’s stained and staining blood is simultaneously creative and destructive, equally able to mark and efface.

“Of that Black Blood”

  • 11 Coppélia Kahn, “The Rape in Shakespeare’s Lucrece”, Shakespeare Studies, 9, 1976, p. 45-72, here p. (...)
  • 12 Ibid., p. 48.

8As Coppélia Kahn observes, “the central metaphor in [Lucrece] is that of the stain”; both before and after the rape, stains, blots, blemishes, taints, and images of contamination and pollution saturate the poem.11 However, whilst Kahn clarifies the extent to which the poem shows Lucrece to have been morally stained by the rape, Kahn further contends that the anxieties articulated through the poem’s various blots and stains are “expressed ironically”, and are ultimately set against an alternative, Christian understanding of Lucrece’s actions.12 Lucrece’s conception of the corporeal and sanguineous stains produced by the rape only serve, therefore, to illustrate her participation in the language and ideology of the patriarchal Roman society in which she lives, and which conceives moral transgression as pollution and impurity. By these standards, Lucrece’s suicide is straightforwardly the expected and dutiful response to her having been raped, and so her “stained” body represents a figurative justification for her need to die. It would seem then, that in Shakespeare’s poem Lucrece’s stained, Roman body is set against a contemporary Christian ethic which discounts the material conditions of her polluted body as means by which to judge her actions; Lucrece’s stained body is Roman, whilst the “correct” moral judgement of her death is Christian. However, I would like to suggest that Shakespeare’s depiction of Lucrece’s stained body plays a significant role, separate from our reading of the poem as a moral and ethical evaluation of Lucrece’s suicide. The contaminated, black, inky, materiality of Lucrece’s stained and polluted blood, replete with sixteenth-century medical associations, provides the means by which Lucrece is able to assert herself as an authoring subject within the poem.

  • 13 See Charles F. Mullet, The Bubonic Plague and England: An Essay in the History of Preventative Medi (...)

9It is widely acknowledged that Shakespeare’s narrative poems were written in the context of, if not in response to, the temporary closure of London’s playhouses during an outbreak of plague, which lasted from the spring of 1592 until the winter of 1593. In the years leading up to the publication of Lucrece, the number plague deaths in London often surpassed two-hundred a week; Charles F. Mullet estimates that during September 1593, eight months before Lucrece was entered into the Stationers’ Register, as many as a thousand people were dying from the plague each week.13 Needless to say, during this period, the plague was persistently at work. Unsurprisingly, then, the closure of the public playhouses was authorised by the Privy Council, until the number of plague deaths abated; between February 1592 and 23 December 1593, for example, The Rose theatre was temporarily closed. The Rape of Lucrece was, therefore, composed and first read at a time when the threat of plague was both real and relentless. As Keir Elam explains, the language of Lucrece is polluted by allusions to disease and infection:

  • 14 Keir Elam, “‘I’ll Plague Thee for That Word’: Language, Performance, and Communicable Disease”, Sha (...)

Lucrece’s “make sick the life of purity” […] suggests the influence of a kind of sociolinguistic miasma or habitus, whereby Shakespeare’s discourse is, as it were, referentially contaminated by the corrupted and strange vapours of the historical contexts or of the historical contexts or dangerous years of the poem's […] conception.14

  • 15 W. Shakespeare, ‘Venus and Adonis,’ in The Norton Shakespeare, op. cit.
  • 16 Thomas Lodge, A Treatise of the Plague, London, 1603, sig. B2V.

10Lucrece is replete with allusions to the symptoms of contagious infection, as Shakespeare’s depiction of Lucrece’s tainted, polluted body suggest the extent to which the poem is contaminated by the plaguey contexts in which it was composed. In Venus and Adonis, published during the plaguey months of 1603, the referential traces of contagious disease similarly contaminate Shakespeare’s writing, when Venus variously describes Adonis’ beauty as both infection and cure. First, Adonis is imagined as a love-cure, his lips able to “drive infection from the dangerous year […] the plague is banished by thy breath” (508-510), and then his beauty as infectious disease: “As burning fevers, agues pale and faint / Life-poisoning pestilence, and frenzies wood, / The marrow-eating sickness, whose attaint / Disorder breeds by heating of the blood” (739-742).15 In A Treatise of the Plague, published in 1603, Thomas Lodge’s description of tumorous, plaguey spots, that “be the signs and tokens by which you may gather a sure and unfeigned judgment of […] him that is attainted with the plague” stresses the visibility of infection.16 By describing an infected body “attainted with the plague”, Lodge employs a word in which the multivalent meaning of attaint, signifying conceptions of honour and infection, efficiently coalesce. Meaning both to be “affected with sickness” and a “stain upon honour [or] purity” (OED adj.2; n.6), to be “attainted” carries both corporeal and ontological implications. So, when Lucrece refuses to let Collatine “know the stained taste of violated troth” (1059), and resolves “I will not poison thee with my attaint” (1072), what Lucrece desires is to shield Collatine from both her dishonour and the “poison[ous]” stain in her blood.

  • 17 Simon Kellwaye, A Defensative Against the Plague, London, John Windet, 1593, sig. E1V.
  • 18 W. Shakespeare. Hamlet, in The Norton Shakespeare, op. cit..
  • 19 William Perkins, An exposition of the Symbole or Creed of the Apostle, Cambridge, John Legatt, 1595 (...)

11During episodes of pandemic infection, pathogenically tainted blood became a principal image of both moral and somatic infection. Simon Kellwaye’s summary of plague-time sanitation policies, which is not an entirely original publication, but rather an anthology of Elizabethan restrictions collated by Kellwaye and published in 1593, records a particularly sanguinary injunction against disposing of blood in streets and rivers. Amongst directions to clean and fumigate city streets, and to cull cats and dogs, Kellwaye records that the city authorities commanded “that no chirurgians, or barbers, which use to let blood, do cast the same into the streetes or ryvers”, which certainly suggests that this practice was routine enough to warrant prohibiting during times of plague.17 As blood from barber-surgery and city slaughterhouses was washed into the streets and ditched – which evokes Hamlet’s description of blood “bak'd and impasted with the parching streets” (2.2.381) – the significance of blood as a corrupted and corrupting substance gained a degree of public visibility.18 Writing during the pestilent years of the early 1590s, then, the puritan cleric, William Perkins repeatedly employs the language of bodily corruption and contagious disease in his lengthy explication of the Apostle’s Creed; “euerie man”, writes Perkins, “since the fall of Adam is stained with the lothsome contagion of sinne”.19 Indeed, Perkin’s depiction of moral corruption as plaguey pathogen achieves an affecting realism when he evokes the flight of London’s citizens during periods of mass-infection:

  • 20 Ibid., p. 453.

Wee are carefull to flie the infection of the bodily plague: oh then how carefull shoulde wee bee to flie the common blindenesse of minde and hardnesse of heart, which is the verie plague of all plagues20

  • 21 Ibid., p. 2-3.

12Not only does Perkin associate moral corruption with the spread of infectious disease, but by equating sin with medicalised contamination he attests to the potential curability of moral stains. Perkin’s exposition comes close to Shakespeare’s image of a stained stain, when the tainted blood of humanity is cleansed by the de-staining, curative blood of Christ: “The blood unstained before men, is stained blood before God by the fall of Adam, if it be not restored by the blood of Christ.”21 It seems that the persistent threat of plague offered both Shakespeare and Perkins the perfect metaphor of a medicalised, moral stain, and produced a readership that was attuned to the deadly connotations of contagious spots and blots. In Elizabethan England, images of stained blood attain both profane and medical significances, and these associations become essentially indivisible.

  • 22 Philip Barrough, The Methode of Phisicke, London, Thomas Vautroullier, 1583, p. 267.

13In the opening stanza of the poem, Tarquin’s lust is described successively as a “lightless fire” (4), “pale embers” (5), and “embracing flames” (6), which identifies his sexual desires with the potentially dangerous overheating of his body. Repeatedly, the poem characterises Tarquin’s uncontrollable lust as the outcome of his liver dangerously heating his blood: his illicit desire for sexual gratification is thus presented as a desire to “quench the coal which in his liver glows” (47). Early modern physiological theory maintained that an oversupply of the hot humours, choler and blood, produced an irascible temperament, aggression, and lust. As the sixteenth-century physician Phillip Barrough asserts, black bile is “the dregges of good bloud, and as it were a certaine slimie superfluitie, and verie grosse bloud, whose colour is blacke”.22 As Tarquin’s “black lust” (654) illustrates, the characterisation of his immoral behaviour as “black” corresponds to the symptomology of his overheated, unrefined blood.

  • 23 C. Belling, p. 114.

14Under the aegis of Galenic medicine, it was widely believed that physical ailments and diseases stemmed from one of two pathological states: either the corruption of one of the constituent parts of an individual’s blood, or a general excess of blood. As such, disease originated primarily from the subject’s own body. However, as Belling explains, “where humoral disease was understood to be based on imbalances endogenous to the body itself, the interchange of humors […] enabled Galenic medicine to incorporate a theory of infection”.23 Galenic theory, on which Elizabethan medicine was based, claimed that the entire human body was made from blood, variously mixed and refined. Consequently, sexual intercourse, as the transfer of seminal fluid between man and woman, effectively facilitated the transmission of plethoric or polluted blood between individuals; by raping Lucrece, Tarquin literally contaminates her body with his corrupted, staining blood.

  • 24 Joel Fineman, “Shakespeare’s Will: The Temporality of Rape”, in Misogyny, Misandry and Misanthrope, (...)

15At the beginning of the poem, even as Tarquin’s “weak-built hopes persuade him to abstaining” (130), Shakespeare’s tightly controlled rhymes work to accentuate his constant desire to rape Lucrece; as Joel Fineman observes, hard rhymes such as “obtaining” and “abstaining” (128-130) work to “sound out the ‘stain’ that soon becomes the poem’s dominant image of Lucrece’s rape.”24 However, whilst Fineman classifies this example as a local configuration, the poem returns to these lexically embedded “stains” on two subsequent occasions, when Lucrece queries her maid’s weeping – “on what occasion break / Those tears from thee that down thy cheeks are raining? / If thou dost weep for grief of sustaining” (1271-1272) – and just before Collatine returns home: “her complaining [….] her remaining […] sorrow’s sharp sustaining” (emphasis added, 1570-1573).

16Subsequently, when Lucrece attempts to repel Tarquin, she entreats him to let his better, “sovereign” (652) nature overcome his dark desires, rather than allow his lust to pollute him entirely:

[…] there falls into thy boundless flood
Black lust, dishonour, shame, misgoverning,
Who seek to stain the ocean of thy blood.
If all these petty ills shall change thy good,
Thy sea within a puddle’s womb is hearsed,
And not the puddle in thy sea dispersed. (653-678)

  • 25 Ibid., p.40.

17By imagining a tempestuous conflict between Tarquin’s “petty ills” and “the ocean of [his] blood”, Lucrece also prefigures her bloody death, when she compels us to envisage a somatically sealed and containing female body everted, when, as Fineman puts it, her sea-womb-puddle conceit puts “the inside on the outside and the outside on the inside”.25 Whilst Lucrece’s conceit is aimed at dissuading Tarquin, the reference to “womb” fatally implicates her soon-to-be polluted body and undermines her effort to resist his assault. Rather than conveying the possibility of Tarquin overruling his desires and by doing so avoiding staining his own blood, then, Lucrece unknowingly prefigures Tarquin polluting the body of his female victim. Consequently, the conflict between the stained and sovereign portions of Tarquin’s blood becomes a proleptic vision of the potential conflict between Tarquin’s and Lucrece’s sanguineous bodies; the impossible proportions of Lucrece’s chiasmus conceive the oceanic volume of Tarquin’s sovereign blood inconceivably and fatally contained in her womb, juxtaposed with the idea of her baser blood undetectably “dispersed” and diluted in his. Rather than deterring Tarquin, Lucrece’s metaphor of mutually stained blood succinctly portends the possibility of pregnancy and death.

  • 26 Katharine Eisaman Maus, “Taking Tropes Seriously: Language and Violence in Shakespeare's Rape of Lu (...)

18As Katherine Eisaman Maus reminds us, “Lucrece thinks about her body in terms of metaphors: house, fortress, mansion, temple, tree bark”, perpetuating her fantasy of a somatically sealed body.26

‘My body or my soul, which was the dearer,
When the one pure the other made divine?
Whose love of either to myself was nearer,
When both were kept for heaven and Collatine?
Ay me! The bark pilled from the lofty pine,
His leaves will wither and his sap decay;
So must my soul, her bark being pilled away. (1163-1169)

  • 27 Augustine, Concerning the City of God against the Pagans, trans. Henry Bettenson, London, Penguin, (...)

19However, whilst Lucrece vests a great deal of significance in the sheltering qualities of the body, her “bark” metaphor upturns Augustine’s dualism with her own conception of the body-soul relationship as inter-dependent. In De Civitate Dei, Augustine contends that the body can remain pure following sexual violence: “bodily chastity is not lost, even when the body has ravished, while the mind’s chastity endures.”27 In a damning reversal of Augustine’s reasoning, however, Lucrece fears that the corruption of one guarantees the corruption of the other; like bark stripped from a tree, because Lucrece’s body has been damaged, her soul will “wither” and “decay”. Whereas Augustine is satisfied with the primacy of the soul over the body, Lucrece’s pine bark analogy emphasises their fundamental symbiosis. If, as Lucrece suggests, the body and soul are essentially united – “the one pure the other made divine” (1164) – it stands to reason that a contaminated body taints the soul. Consequently, Lucrece’s casuistic justification for her suicide – “let it not be called impiety, / If in this blemished fort I make some hole / Through which I may convey this troubled soul” (1174-1176) – risks endangering her soul through the same logic of mutuality. If, as Lucrece asserts, her body’s purity makes her soul worthy of heaven, self-murder guarantees damnation. When Lucrece describes her body as a “sacred temple spotted, spoiled, corrupted, / Grossly engirt with daring infamy” (1172-1173), Shakespeare’s use of “engirt”, meaning to be encircled or surrounded, anticipates the subsequent image of Lucrece’s body being “circle[d]” (1739) by her blood. At the same time, this image of contamination and encirclement recalls Tarquin’s instigating desire to “girdle with embracing flames the waist / Of Collatine’s fair love, Lucrece” (6-7).

20The poem’s dominant motif of the stain begins to intensify and gain specific textual and graphic significance when Lucrece’s efforts to pen an account of her rape are only able to yield indecipherable, inky blots: “what wit sets down is blotted straight” (1299). Certainly, the image of Lucrece blotting the white surface of paper is intended to recall Tarquin’s assault, which “blot[s] with […] uncleanness” and “spots and stains love’s modest snow-white weeds” (193-196), creating a direct lexical connection between the rape and Lucrece’s attempt to articulate it. Consequently, Lucrece delays penning an account of her rape, until her suicidal blood can substantiate the truth of her ordeal; Lucrece’s words, both written and spoken, are put on hold until her materially staining and blotting blood can incontestably attest to Tarquin’s crime and her moral purity: “To shun this blot, she would not blot the letter / With words till action might become them better.” (1322-1323) Lucrece is acutely aware of the potential interpretive gulf between her written words and Collatine’s interpretation, and so wants to avoid “blot[ting]”, or disfiguring, her meaning by using words. Crucially, by evoking the graphic materiality of the inky blot, Lucrece pre-empts the blotting and staining role of her blood in the conclusion of her narrative. Ultimately, the blood streaming from her body, part polluted, part pure, expresses her story in the most essentially mimetic way.

21Lucrece’s repeated insistence on her body’s stain, right up to the moment of her suicide, directly opposes Augustine’s understanding of female chastity. Asking “May my pure mind with the foul act dispense[?]” (1704), Lucrece attempts to elicit her kinsmen’s advice. Sharing her moral dilemma, she asks again “The poisoned fountain clears itself again; And why not I from this compelled stain?” (1707-1708), this time anticipating the “purple fountain” soon to gush from her chest. Yet, no sooner do her kinsmen unhesitatingly assert that “Her body’s stain her mind untainted clears” (1710), she rejects this too-easy solution and kills herself. Whilst Lucrece is able to distinguish between spiritual guilt and bodily pollution, she resolves that this difference can only be proved to those around her by letting her own blood; to her husband and kinsmen, Lucrece’s moral impasse is illustrated only when her self-slaughtered body lies dead in separable “rigols” of “corrupted” and “untainted” blood (1745-1749).

  • 28 Albert H. Tricomo, “The Mutilated Garden in Titus Andronicus”, Shakespeare Studies, 9, 1976, p. 89- (...)

22Witnessing Lucrece plunge the knife into her breast, Collatine and Lucretius are left “stone still, astonished” (1730) by the “purple fountain” (1734) spouting blood from her chest. As Albert Tricomi asserts, in Renaissance poetry fountains are frequently “associated with the female sexual organs” and as such, flowing fountains represent a “conventional image of lost virginity and consequent shame”.28 Here, then, Lucrece’s “purple fountain” instantly suggests the violent loss of her chastity. However, Lucrece’s blood also grants her corpse a degree of post-mortem agency that troubles any easy evaluation of her moral condition; at the same time, her blood speaks expressively of her ability to write her own epitaph.

23As Brutus draws the knife from Lucrece’s flesh her blood gushes out, unbearably “bubbling” (1737) from the wound. In what follows, Shakespeare vividly expands Livy’s account of Brutus removing the knife from Lucrece’s body, from two to eighty-three lines. In contrast to Livy’s and Ovid’s depictions, in which Brutus immediately pledges revenge on the gore-covered weapon, Shakespeare dramatically dilates this scene by pausing to draw close attention to the grisly progress of Lucrece’s blood across and around her corpse:

From her breast, it doth divide
In two slow rivers, that the crimson blood
Circles her body in on every side,
Who like a late-sacked island vastly stood
Bare and unpeopled in this fearful flood.
Some of her blood still pure and red remained,
And some looked black, and that false Tarquin stained

About the mourning and congealed face
Of that black blood a wat’ry rigol goes,
Which seems to weep upon the tainted place;
And ever since, as pitying Lucrece’s woes,
Corrupted blood some watery token shows,
And blood untainted still doth red abide,
Blushing at that which is so putrefied [.] (1737-1750)

24By forcing what is was inside – her “stained blood” – to gush out of her body and surround her corpse, Lucrece is able to invert the relationship between unseen interior and visible exterior; through this gruesome act of self-exsanguination, Lucrece is able to make the visceral visible. Moreover, as it divides into two opposing streams, one black and one red, Lucrece’s blood confirms her ontological condition as both polluted and pure. Throughout the poem, but here especially, distinguishing the physical attributes and various symptoms of Lucrece’s body – her “untainted” and yet also “putrefied” blood – is central to understanding and corroborating her self-appraised moral status. However, whilst both of Shakespeare’s classical sources for The Rape of Lucrece, Livy’s The History of Rome and Ovid’s Fasti, make the task of differentiating between physical violation and spiritual purity the central dilemma of Lucretia’s affliction, Shakespeare takes this haematoscopic undertaking to an unparalleled level.

  • 29 Mary Janell Metzger, “Epistemic Injustice and The Rape of Lucrece”, Mosaic, 49.2, 2016, p. 19-34, h (...)
  • 30 Livy. History of Rome, Volume I: Books 1-2. trans. B.O. Foster, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University P (...)

25As Mary Janell Metzger suggests, “Livy makes clear the distinctions of gender, age, and rank that combine to expose Lucrece to sexual violence”.29 However, Livy’s account also offers the possibility of distinguishing between Lucretia’s polluted body and her spotless soul, a distinction that has troubled subsequent religious responses to the story. Of course, Lucretia’s declaration that her soul has remained intact – “ceterum corpus est tantum violatum, animus insons; mors testis ecrit” [my body only has been violated, my soul is guiltless, as my death will testify] – has underpinned critical responses to the Lucretia narrative ever since.30 However, in Livy’s account, and later in Shakespeare’s, it becomes clear that the physical and moral burdens of Lucretia’s violation are literally distilled in her blood. Describing the immediate aftermath of Lucretia’s suicide, Livy writes:

Brutus […] cultrum ex volnere Lucretia extractum manantem cruore prae se tens, “per hunc,” inquit, “castissimum ante regiam iniuruan sanquinem iuro”

  • 31 Ibid. p. 204-205.

Brutus […] drew out the knife from Lucretia’s wound, and holding it up, dripping with blood, exclaimed “by this blood, most chaste until a prince wronged it”31

  • 32 Ovid does not differentiate between Lucretia’s polluted and pure blood in quite the same way, inste (...)
  • 33 See Caroline Walker Bynum, Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany (...)

26Here, Livy’s subtle transition from “cruore”, meaning gore or clotted blood, to “sanguinem”, which denotes healthy blood, suggests that Lucretia’s exsanguinated blood represents two conflicting symptomologies. At once, Lucretia’s blood is both cruor and sanguis, corrupt and clean, a humoral and ethical concoction that embodies the physical and moral effects of Tarquin’s rape. 32 Consequently, Lucretia’s blood threatens to collapse the dichotomy between pure and corrupted blood, a dichotomy which, as Caroline Walker Bynum notes, has traditionally been drawn along gendered lines.33 On the one hand sanguis signifies vital, healthy blood and the blood shared between family members, and on the other cruor suggests blood flowing from or clotted around wounds. As the sixth century scholar and prelate, Isidore of Seville, makes clear, these terms were understood to be structurally opposite:

  • 34 Isodore of Seville, Etymologies, trans. Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach, and Oliver Ber (...)

It is called ‘blood’ as long as it is in the body, ‘gore’ when it is shed. Gore (cruor) is so called because once it has been shed it ‘runs away’ (decurrere), or because in running (currere) it falls (corruere). Others interpret ‘gore’ as corrupted (corrumpere) blood, which is secreted. Still others say that blood (sanguis) is so called, because it is sweet (suavis).34

  • 35 Simon Harward, Three sermons… Preached at Tanridge in Surrey, London, Richard Bradocke, 1599, sig. (...)
  • 36 Simon Harward, Harwards Phlebotomy: or, A Treatise of Letting of Bloud, London, F. Kingston, 1601, (...)

27Flowing from a single wound, Lucretia’s blood simultaneously represents the corrupted substance that gushes from her body and covers the knife, and the pure, healthy sanguis on which Brutus makes his solemn pledge. Consequently, Livy’s rendering of Lucretia’s story already includes the possibility of distinguishing between her corrupted and her healthy blood, which Shakespeare differentiates to a greater degree in his own retelling. Early modern medical practitioners continued to make the distinction between healthy blood and cruor. In Shakespeare’s lifetime, Simon Harward, an Elizabethan clergyman and the author of Harwards Phlebotomy, or, A Treatise of Letting of Blood (1601), associates moral corruption with cruor, writing that “all crueltie hath the name of the latin word cruor which signifieth blood, because cruel harts are murdering harts”.35 Similarly, in his treatise on phlebotomy, Harward’s directions for bloodletting identifies cruor as the unhealthy blood that needs to be removed from the body. Citing the Schola Salernini, a popular Italian medical manual, Harward writes “fac plagam largam, mediocriter, vt cito fumus, exeat uberius, liberius que cruor’, which he subsequently translates as “make well and wide thy wound, That bloud and fumes may largely flow”.36 Harward’s instruction to make a sizeable wound, in order that the patient’s fuming and polluted cruor can be removed from the body, echoes Lucrece’s frantic search for a “desp’rate instrument of death” (1038) with which she can “make more vent” (1040) to release her polluted breath, described by the poet as “smoke from Aetna” and “discharged cannon fumes” (1042, 1043).

28At the very end of the poem, the narrator reports how Lucrece’s kinsmen will parade her body through the streets of Rome:

They did conclude to bear dead Lucrece thence,
To show her bleeding body thorough Rome,
And so to publish Tarquin’s foul offence [.] (1850-1852)

  • 37 Philippa Berry, “Woman, Language, and History in The Rape of Lucrece”, Shakespeare Survey, 44, 1992 (...)

29Recalling Collatine’s initial act of publication (33-34), it is once again Lucrece’s relations that force her body into the public sphere; indeed, here the significance of “publish”, meaning to make public, is most clearly expressed. As Lucrece’s corpse is exhibited, she is reduced to a public political symbol, used to expose Tarquin’s crime. Whilst the poet heralds this act of publication as the founding moment of Roman republicanism, provoking the Roman citizens to “give consent / To Tarquin’s everlasting banishment” (1854-1855), by exploiting her private body and personal tragedy for political and patriarchal gain, Lucrece’s kinsmen repeat Tarquin’s attempt to silence his victim – “with her own white fleece her voice controll’d” (678) – and his effort to efface her identity. However, the concluding image of Lucrece’s “bleeding body” revivifies the poem’s depiction of her blood as eloquent, graphic substance, and contests this final effort to bring her subjectivity, her body, and her narrative under masculine control. Lucrece’s corpse is not bloody but “bleeding”, and so her flowing blood is still actively signifying, even as her kinsmen attempt to translate her body from fluent subject to inert object. Whilst Philippa Berry contends that Lucrece’s body begins and ends the poem “as the object of masculine rhetoric”, her still bleeding body undermines this effort to efface her subjectivity, as her blood flows out of her corpse and beyond the limits of the written text.37 Unable to articulate her experience, silenced by her male oppressor, and fearful of the potential misinterpretation of her written “excuse”, Lucrece ultimately relies on the semiotic authority of her blood in order to expose Tarquin’s crime and pronounce her innocence. Whilst St. Jerome describes the power of Lucrece’s blood to “[blot] out” her moral stain, Shakespeare’s retelling of Lucrece’s ordeal imagines her self-inflicted bleeding as a creative and discursive process in much more explicit terms, all the while appearing to respond to and intensify the latent humoral materiality of Lucrece’s blood as depicted in the poem’s classical sources. In what follows, it will become clear that Thomas Middleton continues this process of appropriation and amplification in his poetic response to Shakespeare’s poem – The Ghost of Lucrece – in which Lucrece’s staining blood achieves its full graphic potential.

Middleton’s Ghost Writing

  • 38 Thomas Middleton, The Ghost of Lucrece, in Thomas Middleton: The Complete Works, ed. Gary Taylor an (...)
  • 39 G. B. Shand points out that Middleton’s fluid imagery derives from Ovid’s ‘fluunt lachrimae more pe (...)

30At the beginning of The Ghost of Lucrece, Thomas Middleton’s poet picks up where Shakespeare’s left off, with the explicit publication of Lucrece’s wounded body. The prologue begins with the ghost of “gored Lucretia” (34) being summoned from hell to play her part in a dreadful recital of her violation, death, and damnation.38 Indeed, by employing unequivocally dramatic rhetoric – ‘Be ye the audience, take your tragicke places’ (41), ‘Be ye our stages Actors’ (48) – the poet emphasises his intention to re-embody Lucrece’s damned soul. Fashioning Lucrece’s mutilated body as the dramatic locus of the poem, the poet summons an audience of “[r]ape slaughtered Lucreces” (40) to watch as a cast of murderers and rapists cannibalistically “carve out” their “part[s]” (49). Yet despite the nightmarish ensemble of “Lucreces” and “Tarquins” that populates the scene, the poet ensures that Lucrece’s violated body remains centre-stage; as they prepare to “play” (48), this company of the damned gives way to the solitary image of Lucrece’s ghost weeping through “a trine of eyes” (51), with her leaking eyes and bleeding wound flowing together into a “red sea-flood” (55). Whilst the poetic scene is heavily populated, then, Lucrece’s ghost is only offered partial, synecdochical re-embodiment through her weeping eyes and bleeding wound. Here, as throughout, the poem emphasises the fluidity of Lucrece’s mutilated body, endlessly oozing and discharging bodily fluids in recurrent images of fountains, rivers, floods, and tides.39 Hence Middleton is able to foreground Lucrece’s liquescent body as a site of physical and moral instability.

  • 40 G.B. Shand, ibid., p. 1988.

31However, whereas Shakespeare’s rendition of the Lucrece narrative begins and ends with two acts of publication, Middleton’s poem is framed by the poet’s attempts to exert a specifically literary control over Lucrece’s textualised body. Newly arrived from hell, Lucrece’s ghost protests being re-articulated by the author’s “poetising breath” (65). Echoing Collatine’s act of “publish[ing]” Lucrece to “thievish ears” in Shakespeare’s version, the ghost of Lucrece is introduced through male rhetorical performance. As the poet’s invocation to “paper” and “ink” (31-2) makes clear, this summoning is not simply an oratorical achievement. Lucrece’s ghost is written into textual existence through a reversed, if condensed, blazon, indecorously piecing her “dissevered” (63) body parts back together. So too is Lucrece’s textual and spectral body written out of existence as the poem concludes with the conventional anatomising rhetoric of the blazon. Thus, the poem is enclosed by the chiastic re-membering and dismembering of Lucrece’s body, as she is first pieced together – “What wind, what storm / Blew my dissevered limbs into this form” (62-63) – before being poetically and anatomically dissected in the epilogue – “her hair”, “her eyes”, “her tongue”, “her breath”, “her teats” (613-647). In the end, the poet ensures that Lucrece is carefully disassembled through the conventions of Petrarchan blazon, “containing”, as G. B. Shand asserts, “Lucrece’s body, her ‘female’ voice, her very subjectivity, in a specifically objectifying masculine way”.40 Ultimately, having first emerged from a multitude of “[r]ape slaughtered Lucreces”, the ghost is subsumed back into an indistinguishable mass of bodies, indiscriminately dumped on Rhamnusia’s chariot already “Heaped up with ghosts of blood” (600).

  • 41 Nancy Vickers, “Diana Described: Scattered Woman and Scattered Rhyme”, in Writing and Sexual Differ (...)

32However, whilst Lucrece’s fluency, both in the sense of her leaky body and her patterned rhetoric, is ultimately confined within this misogynistic literary frame, the ghost’s efforts to contest the poet’s authorial control result in a haunting vision of female authorship. As Nancy Vickers has shown, sixteenth-century poets reinforced the model of male authorship by poetically dismembering the female body.41 In contrast, Middleton’s portrayal of Lucrece’s re-membered body temporarily subverts the convention of a linguistically subjugated female body. The conjunction of Lucrece’s re-formed body and her endlessly bleeding wound unsettles the established relationship between male author and female poetic object; consequently, Middleton presents seemingly discordant conceptions of male and female authorship. Outside of the poem’s re-membering and dismembering frame, Middleton’s dedication of the poem to William Compton, Second Baron Compton, characterises both patronage and authorship as a confusingly cross-gendered enterprise. By describing Compton “rock[ing] comely honour in thine armes” (1), and naming him “Godfather to th’issue […] Baptizer of mine infant lines” (4-5), Middleton introduces his work as a new-born child and fashions print-publication as textual parturition. Subsequently, this image of male author as mother, and text as child, is further complicated by Lucrece assuming control of authorship, and her descriptions of Tarquin as “nurse-child” (136) and herself as mother and wet-nurse. Whereas Shakespeare’s Lucrece is portrayed struggling to articulate the facts of Tarquin’s crime, and to overcome the inadequacies of language, Middleton’s Lucrece dispenses with these doubts and is able to give names to her assailant and his crime. Moreover, as a poem in which Middleton appropriates and responds to Shakespeare’s version of the Lucrece narrative, questions of authorship saturate the poem, both in terms of its poetic and narrative content, and the means of its production.

  • 42 Jeffrey Todd Knight, “Afterworlds: Thomas Middleton, the Book, and the Genre of Continuation”, in F (...)
  • 43 J. Todd Knight, op cit.,p.85; in addition to replicating Shakespeare’s use of rhyme royal, Donald J (...)
  • 44 Sarah Carter, Ovidian Myth and Sexual Deviance in Early Modern English Literature, Basingstoke, Pal (...)

33As Jeffrey Todd Knight explains, Middleton’s poem represents an imagined “afterworld” to Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece, in which he “takes up an existing text and adds new text to it”.42 Accordingly, The Ghost of Lucrece is “both a new verse-episode and a conspicuous preservation of the antecedent text, incorporating words and lines from Shakespeare”.43 So whilst recurrent images of blood, dismemberment and contamination, mean that, as Sarah Carter explains, Middleton’s Lucrece “is not an exemplar of chastity known in this period”, these gory images ensure that Middleton’s version of the Lucrece narrative replicates Shakespeare’s depiction of Lucrece as bloody and pathogenically stained, even if they are excessively intensified.44 In the same way that Shakespeare appropriates and elaborates the staining and expressive qualities of blood found in classical accounts of the rape and death of Lucrece, Middleton cultivates Shakespeare’s depiction of textual and graphic bloodstains in his own retelling. As such, Middleton’s poem delivers a literal manifestation of the gory inheritance –‘My stained blood to Tarquin I’ll bequeath […] as his due writ in my testament’ (1181-3) – that is imagined by Shakespeare’s Lucrece. All the while, direct borrowings from Shakespeare’s text – such as ‘Tarquin from Ardea posts’ (148) from Shakespeare’s ‘[f]rom the besieged Ardea all in post’ (1), and Tarquin’s epithets: ‘traitor’, ‘night-owl’ – demonstrate the extent to which Middleton is re-articulating an already written story.

  • 45 G. B. Shand, op cit., p. 1985.

34In the mouth of Lucrece’s Ghost, these textual appropriations emphasise the impossibility of escaping male authorship. And yet, by focussing on Lucrece’s poetic agency, rather than the political exigencies of her rape and death, Middleton offers, as Shand puts it, a “sympathetic evocation of the female subject”.45 Undeniably, the relentless publication of Lucrece’s violated body works to suppress female subjectivity, but at the same time it emphasises her body’s – particularly her blood’s – capacities for expression. As Middleton appropriates familiar imagery from Shakespeare, his text further complicates the relationship between authorship and subjectivity. Middleton appears to concentrate the narratorial interjections that are present throughout The Rape of Lucrece into the poem’s prologue and epilogue, and yet the continuously ambiguous interaction between the poem’s speaker and the ghost ensures that these voices remain simultaneously dialogic and inextricable, at times wholly indistinguishable from each other.

  • 46 S. Carter, op cit., p. 67.

35By imagining the disarticulated, bleeding, female, textual body, alongside reflections on the material production of texts and the conditions of authorship, Middleton’s The Ghost of Lucrece forces the haematoscopic and graphic features of Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece to their sanguineous extreme. Recalling Brutus’ pledge to revenge – “by this chaste blood so unjustly stained […] and by this bloody knife” (1836-1840) – Middleton’s ghost commands the reader to “behold this blade varnished with blood” (101), before narrating a re-enactment of her suicide, which releases the first surge of fluid imagery. Immediately, the elucidatory significance of the pool of divided blood in The Rape of Lucrece, is translated onto the knife: the ghost proclaims, “[t]his is the tragic knife. Here you may see / Tears strive for fame, and blood for chastity” (106-7). Here, however, both Lucrece’s blood and her tears strive to prove her unsullied reputation. Lucrece’s blood is, therefore, instrumental in conveying her moral status from the earliest stages of the poem. The poem does not shy away from implicating Lucrece’s fluid body in Tarquin’s crime; in a metaphor depicting Lucrece as fuel to Tarquin’s libidinous flame – “my blood for oil, his lust for fire” (79) – the dangerously fluid, female body collusively combines with the excessively heated male body. As Sarah Carter suggests, The Ghost of Lucrece abounds with images of weeping and bleeding that ultimately achieve a “grotesque realisation of the essential fluidity associated with females.”46 Lucrece’s blood is, ironically, both complicit in fuelling her attacker’s desire and essential to revealing his offense.

  • 47 Here, the image of the ghost’s tidal blood recalls Shakespeare’s description of Tarquin’s “uncontro (...)
  • 48 Revelation 16. 3.

36After re-staging her suicide (108-114), Lucrece’s ghost assertively reclaims ownership of her copiously bleeding body, declaring “[n]ow is my tide of blood” (122), and redirects her gory emissions towards Tarquin.47 In the following sequence, in which Lucrece first calls Tarquin to partake in a profane, demonic Eucharist, before directing him to drink blood directly from the wound – itself a perverted image of motherhood: “thou art my nurse child, Tarquin […] Lucrece thy nurse […] here’s blood for milk” (136-41) – the medical and theological significances of Lucrece’s blood are offered simultaneously. When, for example, Lucrece describes collecting her blood for Tarquin to drink, the “ivory bowl / To hold the blood that streameth from my vein” (124-5) resembles a phlebotomist’s bleeding dish, used to collect and examine a patient’s blood, and perverts the practice of therapeutic blood-letting. Donald Jellerson, however, suggests the blood streaming from the “bowl” of Lucrece’s breast also alludes to the seven, apocalyptic bowls of God’s wrath in Revelations 16: “the second angel poured out his bowl over the sea, and it turned to blood, like the blood of a corpse, and every living creature in the sea died.”48 Certainly, the juxtaposition of drinking blood and potential biblical echoes places Middleton’s rendition of the Lucrece narrative firmly in a Christian context, and paves the way for later references to Eucharistic feeding, when Lucrece petitions “blood divine” and “food angelical” (549-550). However, the theological connotations of this profane blood drinking are superseded by a medicalised image of pathogenic infection. By describing the “shame / Which swims amidst my blood and doth inherit / The portion of my soul without a merit” (131-2), Middleton’s creates an image of reciprocal-infection and cross-contamination; Tarquin is directed to consume the blood that he first infected with his “lustful flame” (129). As Lucrece imagines her assailant drinking her blood, the possessive determiners “thine” and “thy” clash with “my shame” and “my soul’”, Lucrece’s and Tarquin’s transmissive bodies liquefy into the indeterminacy of “this spring of blood” (134). Whilst Middleton’s poem predates William Harvey’s discovery of circulation, Lucrece’s fantasy of Tarquin imbibing the “lustful flame / That circuits in the circle of thy spirit” (129-30) offers an arresting image of pathogenic circulation. At the same time, it echoes the pool of blood that “circles” Lucrece’s corpse in Shakespeare’s text. Even if it is a step too far to suggest that Middleton’s sanguine bodies anticipate the discovery of cardiovascular circulation, they nevertheless depict a haematological and pathogenic exchange.

  • 49 D. Jellerson, op cit., p. 63.

37In her vituperative tirade against Tarquin, the anaphoric repetition of “Tarquin” at the beginning of thirteen out of fourteen consecutive stanzas (143-234) emphasises Lucrece’s willingness to name her attacker, which deviates from Shakespeare’s Lucrece who resists this basic nomenclative deed until she is assured of revenge – ‘[b]ut ere I name him, you fair lords […] shall plight your honourable faiths’ (1688). Even then, Shakespeare’s Lucrece is unable to actually utter Tarquin’s name: “she throws forth Tarquin’s name: ‘He, he’, she says, / But more than ‘he’ her poor tongue could not speak” (1717-1718). In contrast, Lucrece’s ghost, who has reclaimed ownership of her body, begins to assume the role of the poet-author by repeatedly naming Tarquin. In the poem, then, authorship, subjectivity, body, and agency, are inextricably linked. Whilst the conventional distinction between masculine authorial subject (writer) and feminine object (text) “proves resilient and difficult to breach” – as Jellerson contends – by reclaiming her body, Lucrece’s ghost resists the male poet’s subjecting control, and by wresting authorship of the poem attains, if only temporarily, something close to textual agency.49 At the point in the poem when she most convincingly embodies the author of her own narrative, Lucrece re-transcribes the conventional, gendered distinction, between writer and text, when she figures herself as a printed text and Tarquin as imprinting type:

Lo’ under that base type of Tarquin’s name
I cipher figures of iniquity.
He writes himself the shamer, I the shame,
The actor he, and I the tragedy.
The stage I am, and he the history
The subject I, and he the ravisher[.] (395-400)

38Lucrece catalogues Tarquin’s active roles as “shamer”, “actor” and “ravisher”, whilst she is the passive “stage” on which he performs. Echoing Tarquin’s and Lucrece’s “cipher[ing]” (207) and cipher[ed] (811) bodies in The Rape of Lucrece, making use of the opposed meanings of ciphering and deciphering as acts of textual production and reception, here, Lucrece’s ghost understands that it is “Tarquin’s name” that causes her to “cipher figures of iniquity”. In addition to imagining her prone and passive body under Tarquin’s, Lucrece’s has become a textual figure, with the “base type of Tarquin’s name” evoking the cast metal type pieces used in early print technology. Figuratively, then, Lucrece becomes the printed text created under the impression of moveable type; the metaphor of printing and printed material discloses Lucrece’s anxiety at having no control over textual representation and authorship. Lucrece is fashioned as a typographic subject, brought into existence through, and her honour and identity is contingent on, the discursive activities of others. And yet, the twofold meaning of ciphering opens the text up to an alternative vision of authorship. Lucrece’s assertion, “I cipher”, discloses the possibility of a female authorship through which she can re-write “iniquity” under “Tarquin’s name”, and by doing so reallocate the burden of guilt to her male assailant.

  • 50 G. B. Shand, op cit., p. 1991.

39As Lucrece attempts to further wrest authorial control, however, the combination of dramaturgical and typographic allusion is followed by a stanza in which Lucrece disparages the deficient writing equipment that is available to her. At first, Lucrece rejects a simple feather quill that burns “to ashy dust” (404), before requisitioning “a pen of blood” (414) plucked from the Promethean vulture. Although it is, as Shand points out, unclear if “this pen of mine” (402) belongs to Middleton’s poetic persona or to Lucrece’s ghost, it appears to indicate the start of Lucrece’s imagined epistolary intertext, even if this ambiguity is intended to augment the poem’s depiction of disputed authorship.50 Certainly, the description of the “quill and feathers, burnt to ashy dust” and the “pen of blood / Thrice steeped and dipped in Phlegethontic flood” (414-15) echoes the poet’s “quill from the white angels’ wings […] paper from the Via Lactea […] ink from Jove’s high nectar-flowing springs” (30-32). However, the subsequent description of Lucrece’s suicidal blade as “[t]his knife, my pen, / This blood, my ink” (563), indicates that the introduction of “this pen of mine”, itself recalling the earlier instruction to “behold this blade, varnished with […] blood from my heart” (101-2), frames the ghost’s epistolary interlude. Thus Lucrece temporarily assumes the role of the poem’s author, by re-transcribing the poem as a letter to Tarquin written in her own blood – “to thee I consecrate this little-most / Writ by the bloody fingers of my ghost” (568–569).

40Furthermore, when Lucrece resolves to “stamp” (416) and “mark” (417) Tarquin, she insists on her authority to exert textual control over him, as if claiming Tarquin’s own authorial power – as Shakespeare puts it, his “will that marks” (487) – for herself. These lines go on to associate literary publication with illegitimate progeny – “heir of darkness, bastard of the light” (418) – as in The Rape of Lucrece when Tarquin describes Lucrece’s future children as “issue blurred with nameless bastardy” (522). At this point in the poem, Lucrece’s sexualised and textualised body seizes Tarquin’s claim to authorship and subjects him to a textualising process, culminating in an image of Lucrece as incestuous mother marking Tarquin with “the stain in Vesta’s cheeks which first begun / In Tarquin’s flesh” (420-421). Like Shakespeare, then, Middleton associates graphic marks and pathogenic stains. Lucrece’s blood writing, the twenty stanzas of exclamation to lust and chastity that follow conclude with Lucrece commanding her body to stop bleeding:

Bleed no more lines, my heart. This knife, my pen,
This blood, my ink, hath writ enough to lust.
Tarquin, to thee, thou very devil of men,
I send these lines, thou art my fiend of trust.
To thee I dedicate my tomb of dust.
To thee I consecrate this little-most
Writ by the bloody fingers of my ghost. (563-569)

41Here the association of bleeding and writing that courses through each retelling of the Lucrece story reaches its climax; with Shakespeare having derived his own images of sanguine and typographic staining from his classical antecedents, Middleton’s ghost actualises Shakespeare’s conceit of a sanguineous testament by literally writing in her own blood. Her letter finished, Lucrece staunches the bleeding and concludes her epistolary interjection. At this point, one of the poem’s many textual echoes brings Middleton’s and Shakespeare’s images of letter-writing into close correspondence, as the ghost “folds” up “[t]his little scroll” (570-572), just as Shakespeare’s Lucrece “folds […] up the tenor of her woe” (1310). Having bequeathed her stained blood to Tarquin before her death in The Rape of Lucrece, in The Ghost of Lucrece this imagined sanguinary exchange is poetically realised – “to thy ghost my ghost doth send the same, / Intitulèd The Lines of Blood and Flame” (573-574).

42By reclaiming control of her body and directing her blood to graphic, discursive ends, Middleton’s Lucrece exploits the dangerous fluidity of her body to seize control of a narrative, both in the sense of Middleton’s poem and antecedent versions of the story, that variously seeks to subjugate female textual subjectivity. Both Shakespeare’s Lucrece and Middleton’s ghost are exposed to a masculine literary system that frustrates their efforts to become authors of their own text. However, by foregrounding Lucrece’s textual and graphic endeavours, both poems are able to put forward an alternative, and in some ways sympathetic, vision of female authorship, which attempts to thwart the masculine and objectifying textual convention, even if this project ultimately ordained to fail.

43By attending to Lucrece’s stained and staining blood, in both Shakespeare’s and Middleton’s Lucrece narratives, it becomes clear that Lucrece’s sanguineous body surfaces as an effectual signifier of discursive authority. However, by suggesting that Lucrece’s stained and staining blood grants her a form of authorial agency, I have not meant to imply that either poet sets out to present a particularly sympathetic vision of female authorship, but rather that Lucrece’s awareness of the hermeneutic properties of her blood becomes an important instrument against patriarchal discourse, and a central feature of both poems. Lucrece’s blood succeeds where conventional modes of discourse – i.e. written and spoken language – are unable to articulate her experience. Consequently, the image of the blot or the stain becomes a compelling remedy to the limitations of language. Furthermore, by examining the ways in which Shakespeare and Middleton appropriate the image of Lucrece’s stained and polluted blood from antecedent versions of the story, these literary appropriations, specifically appropriations of visceral, corporeal images, can be seen as a kind of textual contamination, whereby the image of the stain pollutes and marks retellings of the Lucrece narrative.

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Notes

1 Jerome, Against Jovinianus, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Henry Wace and Philip Schaff, vol. 6, Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1989, p. 382.

2 Jerome, ‘Adversus Jovinianum’, Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Patrologia Latina, ed. P. Migne, vol. 23, Paris, J. P. Migne, 1845, p. 287.

3 William Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece, in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, and Katharine Eisaman Maus, London and New York, W.W. Norton, 1997. All references are to this edition.

4 Charlotte Scott, “‘To Show ... and so to Publish’: Reading, Writing, and Performing in the Narrative Poems”, in The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare's Poetry, ed. Jonathan Post, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 378-396, here p. 378.

5 Amy Greenstadt, “‘Read It in Me’: The Authors Will in Lucrece”, Shakespeare Quarterly, 57, 2006, p. 45-70, here p. 49.

6 Catherine Belling, “Infectious Rape, Therapeutic Revenge: Bloodletting and the Health of Rome’s Body”, in Disease, Diagnosis, and Cure on the Early Modern Stage, ed. Stephanie Moss and Kaara L. Peterson, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2004, p. 118.

7 Randy Phillis, “The Stained Blood of Rape: Elizabethan Medical Thought and Shakespeare’s Lucrece”, in Shakespeare’s Theories of Blood, Character, and Class, ed. Peter C. Rollins and Alan Smith, New York and Washington, D. C., Peter Lang, 2001, p. 125.

8 Ibid., p.128.

9 Ibid., p.124.

10 Barbara Antonucci, “Blood in Language: The Galenic Paradigm of Humours in The Rape of Lucrece and Titus Andronicus”, in Questioning Bodies in Shakespeare’s Rome, ed. Maria Del Sapio Garbero, Nancy Isenberg, Maddalena Pennacchia, Göttingen, V&R Unipress, 2010, p. 149.

11 Coppélia Kahn, “The Rape in Shakespeare’s Lucrece”, Shakespeare Studies, 9, 1976, p. 45-72, here p. 47.

12 Ibid., p. 48.

13 See Charles F. Mullet, The Bubonic Plague and England: An Essay in the History of Preventative Medicine, Lexington, University of Kentucky Press, 1956, p. 85-104; also, Charles Creighton, “Plague in the Tudor Period”, A History of Epidemics in Britain: From A. D. 664 to the Extinction of Plague, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1891, p. 282-373; and, on the theatre closures, F. P. Wilson, The Plague in Shakespeare’s London, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1963, p. 51-55.

14 Keir Elam, “‘I’ll Plague Thee for That Word’: Language, Performance, and Communicable Disease”, Shakespeare Survey, 50, 1997, p. 19-27, here p. 24.

15 W. Shakespeare, ‘Venus and Adonis,’ in The Norton Shakespeare, op. cit.

16 Thomas Lodge, A Treatise of the Plague, London, 1603, sig. B2V.

17 Simon Kellwaye, A Defensative Against the Plague, London, John Windet, 1593, sig. E1V.

18 W. Shakespeare. Hamlet, in The Norton Shakespeare, op. cit..

19 William Perkins, An exposition of the Symbole or Creed of the Apostle, Cambridge, John Legatt, 1595, p. 93.

20 Ibid., p. 453.

21 Ibid., p. 2-3.

22 Philip Barrough, The Methode of Phisicke, London, Thomas Vautroullier, 1583, p. 267.

23 C. Belling, p. 114.

24 Joel Fineman, “Shakespeare’s Will: The Temporality of Rape”, in Misogyny, Misandry and Misanthrope, ed. R. Howard Bloch and Frances Ferguson, Berkeley CA, University of California Press, 1992, p. 25-76, here p. 39.

25 Ibid., p.40.

26 Katharine Eisaman Maus, “Taking Tropes Seriously: Language and Violence in Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece”, Shakespeare Quarterly, 37.1, Spring 1986, p. 66-82, here p. 70.

27 Augustine, Concerning the City of God against the Pagans, trans. Henry Bettenson, London, Penguin, 2003, I. 18, p. 28.

28 Albert H. Tricomo, “The Mutilated Garden in Titus Andronicus”, Shakespeare Studies, 9, 1976, p. 89-105, here p. 94.

29 Mary Janell Metzger, “Epistemic Injustice and The Rape of Lucrece”, Mosaic, 49.2, 2016, p. 19-34, here p. 21.

30 Livy. History of Rome, Volume I: Books 1-2. trans. B.O. Foster, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1919, p. 202-204.

31 Ibid. p. 204-205.

32 Ovid does not differentiate between Lucretia’s polluted and pure blood in quite the same way, instead emphasis is placed on the nobility and chastity of her “generoso sanguine” [noble blood] and her “castumque cruorem” [chaste blood] (Fasti II. 839, II. 841).

33 See Caroline Walker Bynum, Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007, p. 16.

34 Isodore of Seville, Etymologies, trans. Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach, and Oliver Berghof, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 239.

35 Simon Harward, Three sermons… Preached at Tanridge in Surrey, London, Richard Bradocke, 1599, sig. D1v.

36 Simon Harward, Harwards Phlebotomy: or, A Treatise of Letting of Bloud, London, F. Kingston, 1601, p. 105.

37 Philippa Berry, “Woman, Language, and History in The Rape of Lucrece”, Shakespeare Survey, 44, 1992, p. 33-39, here p. 33.

38 Thomas Middleton, The Ghost of Lucrece, in Thomas Middleton: The Complete Works, ed. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2007. All references are to this edition.

39 G. B. Shand points out that Middleton’s fluid imagery derives from Ovid’s ‘fluunt lachrimae more perenis aquae’ [her tears flowed like a running stream], see G. B. Shand (ed.), ‘The Ghost of Lucrece’, in Thomas Middleton: The Complete Works, ed. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2007, p.1985-1986.

40 G.B. Shand, ibid., p. 1988.

41 Nancy Vickers, “Diana Described: Scattered Woman and Scattered Rhyme”, in Writing and Sexual Difference, ed. Elizabeth Abel, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1986, p.95-110. See also, Wendy Wall, The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1993, p. 281-282.

42 Jeffrey Todd Knight, “Afterworlds: Thomas Middleton, the Book, and the Genre of Continuation”, in Formal Matters: Reading the Materials of English Renaissance Literature, ed. Allison K. Deutermann and András Kiséry, Manchester and New York, Manchester University Press, 2013, p. 77-96, here p. 78 and p. 80.

43 J. Todd Knight, op cit.,p.85; in addition to replicating Shakespeare’s use of rhyme royal, Donald Jellerson suggests that Middleton also reproduces Shakespeare’s use of synœciosis, the rhetorical coupling of opposites, see Donald Jellerson, “Haunted History and the Birth of the Republic in Middleton's Ghost of Lucrece”, Criticism, 53.1, 2011, p. 55-6.

44 Sarah Carter, Ovidian Myth and Sexual Deviance in Early Modern English Literature, Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillan, 2011, p. 69.

45 G. B. Shand, op cit., p. 1985.

46 S. Carter, op cit., p. 67.

47 Here, the image of the ghost’s tidal blood recalls Shakespeare’s description of Tarquin’s “uncontrolled tide” (645-646).

48 Revelation 16. 3.

49 D. Jellerson, op cit., p. 63.

50 G. B. Shand, op cit., p. 1991.

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Référence électronique

Harvey Wiltshire, « “Ere She with Blood had Stained her Stained Excuse”: Graphic Stains in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece and Middleton’s The Ghost of Lucrece », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 33 | 2018, mis en ligne le 09 septembre 2018, consulté le 19 novembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/2253 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.2253

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Auteur

Harvey Wiltshire

University College London

Harvey Wiltshire is completing a London Arts and Humanities Partnership funded PhD at University College London – entitled Shakespeare, Blood, and the Circulation of the Body – in which he examines the medical, theological and literary contexts of blood in the poetry and drama of William Shakespeare. He completed his BA and MA at Royal Holloway, University of London, where he was awarded the Caroline Spurgeon Memorial Prize for Shakespeare. Harvey has presented at conferences in the UK, Germany, and Italy, on topics relating to the passionate body and early modern humoralism, as depicted in the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In addition to his research, Harvey teaches at UCL, as an undergraduate tutor in the Department of English and through his involvement with UCL’s Widening Participation initiatives.

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