In Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece, the audience’s sense of Lucrece’s consent concludes her ordeal, both within the poem and as a method of political and critical response. This essay suggests that Shakespeare turns away from consent as a legal and political remedy for Lucrece’s sorrow and turns to sympathy to imagine both his protagonist’s plight and the formal possibilities of his poem. By treating Lucrece’s ordeal as a search for sympathy, Shakespeare casts himself among her audience, an audience whose impulses and desires might not be authorized by Lucrece herself. Shakespeare formalizes this uncertainty in the relationship between tears and marble in his poem, practicing a poetics of “impression” that argues for the ethical priority of receptive observation over prescriptive voyeurism in the experience of sympathy. Ultimately, the ethics of sympathy that Shakespeare discovers in his poem constrains the politics of consent with which the poem ends and questions Shakespeare’s own capacity to speak for Lucrece. However, Shakespeare discovers a realm where his poetic voice is defined by sensitive observation, as opposed to the celebration of poetic virtuosity. The essays also considers Milton’s recognition of Shakespeare’s poetry of “deep impression” as a new model of reckoning poetic power.


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pp. 349-371
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