chapter  2
26 Pages

‘To see sad sights’: Reading and Ekphrasis in The Rape of Lucrece

In this striking example of the paragone, the final stanza of George Chapman’s poem Ovids Banquet of Sence (1595), the narrator highlights the fact that even the most apparently realistic works of pictorial art often leave parts of the people or objects they depict hidden or unseen. These absences or gaps should not, however, be regarded as a breach of artistic decorum; as Chapman’s narrator points out, we ‘neuer blame / The Painters Art’. Similarly, he suggests, the fact that this poem leaves certain events unrepresented is not a failure of the poet’s art either. On the one hand, Chapman is apologising for, or at least explaining, the fact that he is unable to depict material that might offend certain readers; after all, the poem ends with Ovid being interrupted before he is able to consummate his desire for Corynna.2 On the other hand, however, Chapman’s poem draws our attention to the ways in which both literary and pictorial art have to appeal to the imagination of the reader or viewer. Both forms of representation are reliant upon our ability to imagine things outside the text; or, as Chapman puts it, ‘we vnderstand / The rest not to be seene’. Chapman’s poem appeared in print the year after Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece (1594), another literary work that explores the hermeneutic gaps in the reading process, as well as the relationship between different forms of art.3