The Rape of Lucretia

Benjamin Britten
Reaktorhalle München
Hochschule für Musik und Theater München

6. Mai und 8. Mai 2016

Musikalische Leitung Ulrich Nicolai
Inszenierung Waltraud Lehner
Bühne. Video. Licht Ulrich Frommhold
Kostüme Katherina Kopp
Choreographie.Körperarbeit Christina Liakopoyloy
male chorus Christoph Birgmeier, Eric Price
female chorus Nikola Hillebrand, Iris Marie Sojer
Collatinus Matthias Bein, Martin Burgmair
Junius Manuel Adt
Tarquinius Carl Rumstadt
Lucretia Maria Brunauer, Luise Höcker
Bianca Carmen Artaza, Mirjam Künstner
Lucia Milena Bischoff, Anna-Lena Elbert
Fotos Monika Eberle
Dr. Pothiti Hantzaroula
The historicity of rape culture

The production by Waltraud Lehner has arrived at a time when the ominous sexual attacks of women happened in Köln. The coincidence illustrates only too well that the frequency with which a rape happens all over the world signals that the phenomenon is at the heart of our era and our civilization both in situations of crisis and in everyday life. This should not imped us from approaching rape as a historical phenomenon and thus from analyzing it rather than attribute to it a pre-civilized status. From the gang rapes in India to the rapes in Srebrenica and torture in the Abu Ghraib prison, the meanings and uses of rape vary, as they vary in relation to whether they are performed in patriarchal societies or in liberal ones, in antiquity or in the modern era, in situations of war or in private. Narratives are shaped by the social and legal frameworks that define the position of women and the meaning of rape depends on this position. The historical and metaphorical uses of rape and its mythology are of no secondary importance either. At the very foundations of Europe lies the rape of Europa by the bull.

Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia uses a historical event - a rape in sixth century BC Rome that served as a catalyst for the fall of a corrupt, dictatorial and belligerent regime and led to the establishment of the republic- represented famously in Shakespeare’s poem but which resonates strongly the immediate post-Second World War Europe. Britten was in the United States and returned to England in 1942. With Yehudi Menuhin they went to the concentration camp of Bergen Belsen, which had been liberated by the British army, to play for the survivors and it was there that they witnessed the devastating outcome of the Nazi occupation on the European Jews. There are major legal and mental ruptures that distinguish the Shakespearian era from Britten’s era. His dealing of rape belongs to the nineteenth century melodramatic imagination according to which the violation of a woman stands as a metaphor for the violation of a people, namely a threat to political order and popular sovereignty. This explains why Junius uses the dead body of Lucretia to his political ends. The new political (and national) meanings of rape are connected to a major rupture in the legal handling of rape that occurred in European societies in the seventeenth century. Before the seventeenth century rape was treated legally as a violation of property against the person (father or husband) to whom a woman belonged.[1] Her testimony as victim served only as a medium to prove that the rape did actually take place. From the seventeenth century onwards the woman who was victim of rape, started to be implicated in the legal procedure and her innocence was crucial for the conviction of the perpetrator. The law began to turn to consent and a new role was assigned to the victim. Rape was privatized and women, especially aristocratic and middle-class women, were increasingly sexualized. It was, thus, with the advent of the citizen (a category that did not apply to women at the time) that women’s subjectivity was molded with guilt. She was in any case supposed not to desire but to succumb to men’s desire, so the line between sex and rape started to blur. From now on it is the woman to whom honour belongs and who is responsible for her reputation, which reflects to her family. Honor does not anymore belong to the man to whom the woman belongs; her body is usurped by the nation. Women’s bodies are not properties of husbands but became nationalized. The nation is structured as a system of kinship whose integrity is preserved through the gender-specific values of honour and virtue. Hence, rape serves as a weapon to humiliate the fatherland of the enemy during war. But emancipation and women’s repossession of their bodies do not come from a distant point but are born out of the very names that have been assigned to them to suppress them.

[1] Miranda Chaytor, “Narratives of Rape in the Seventeenth Century”, Gender and History7, 3  (1995), 378-407.