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Act 2,
Scene 1
Lines 50-57

An explanation of the allusion to Tarquin in Act 2, Scene 1 of myShakespeare’s Macbeth.


Thus to mine eyes. Now, o'er the one half world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtained sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's offerings; and withered murder —
Alarmed by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch — thus with his stealthy pace,
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,

Tarquin was a tyrannical king in 6th-century BCE Rome. Shakespeare is alluding to a well known account describing how Tarquin stole through the palace in the middle of the night to forcefully “ravish” the noblewoman, Lucrece, an atrocity that triggered his overthrow.

Shakespeare personifies murder as Tarquin sneaking toward his victim. On guard is a wolf, whose howl is his watchword — the call he makes while performing his rounds.

(Lucretia and Tarquin, Titian, c. 1571)