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Poetry in a World of ThingsAesthetics and Empiricism in Renaissance Ekphrasis$
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Rachel Eisendrath

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226516585

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226516752.001.0001

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Feeling like a Fragment: Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece

Feeling like a Fragment: Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece

(p.118) Chapter Five Feeling like a Fragment: Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece
Poetry in a World of Things

Rachel Eisendrath

University of Chicago Press

By the end of the sixteenth century, the central aim of history writing in Europe was shifting from moral edification to factual accuracy. This emphasis on facts entailed an increased involvement with evidence and, more specifically, with the fragmented material historical record. In Shakespeare’s 1594 The Rape of Lucrece, the ekphrasis describing a picture of Troy’s fall illustrates this transition. Right at the moment when the reader is led to expect a resurrection of the past, Shakespeare asserts the historical record’s fragmentation and brokenness: “A hand, a foot, a face, a leg, a head / Stood for the whole to be imagined.” Throughout the poem, Shakespeare is concerned with the things (ruins, graves, tombs) of the historical record. He charges these material artifacts with the unarticulated experience of historical suffering, re-infusing mute objects with affect. Lucrece relates to the image of Hecuba not despite its material fragmentation, but precisely because of it. In so doing, she projects a new subjectivity from within the fragmented ruins that have since become emblematic of an alienated modernity.

Keywords:   William Shakespeare, Lucrece, ekphrasis, fragment, ruins, subjectivity, objectivity, Hecuba, things, silence

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