The Rape of Lucretia

Synopsis

Explore Britten's The Rape of Lucretia in our archive.

Act I

The Male Chorus and Female Chorus tell us how the ancient Etruscans seized Rome and how Etruscans rule.

At an army camp outside the city, the generals Collatinus, Junius and Tarquinius discuss how, the previous night, they had ridden back to Rome only to find their wives unfaithful – except for Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus. The cuckolded Junius, jealous of Lucretia’s fidelity, mocks and argues with the single Tarquinius. Junius insists that all women are whores by nature, but the drunken Tarquinius declares that Lucretia is not. ‘I’ll prove her chaste,’ he says, and leaves for Rome.

In an interlude, the Male Chorus describes Tarquinius’s ride to Rome.

That evening, at Lucretia’s house in Rome, her servants Bianca and Lucia are spinning. While working they talk of men and love.

There is a violent knock on Lucretia’s door. Tarquinius enters and asks Lucretia for wine and lodging. She shows him to a room for the night.

Act II

The Male Chorus and Female Chorus describe the Etruscan domination of Rome.

Tarquinius steals into Lucretia’s room. He kisses her and she, dreaming of Collatinus, draws him closer. But when Lucretia wakes and realises it is Tarquinius they struggle. Tarquinius overcomes Lucretia.

In an interlude, the Male Chorus and Female Chorus interpret the events of the night from their devout Christian viewpoint.

The next morning, Lucia and Bianca arrange flowers. Lucretia enters and asks Lucia to send for Collatinus, but Bianca tries to stop the messenger. Collatinus arrives with Junius. Lucretia tells Collatinus what has happened.

He insists it will not change their marriage, but Lucretia knows differently.

In an epilogue, the Female Chorus wonders if there is any meaning to these tragic events. The Male Chorus insists that all is made right through Jesus Christ. But the question remains: ‘Is it all?’

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