Sexual Violation in Shakespeare’s “Double Falsehood”


It’s strange how often I read something and discover it relates to events taking place in the world around me. Many of us are outraged at the lenient sentence given to Brock Turner, a mere six months for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. As such, I found it serendipitous that Double Falsehood, written over 500 years ago, also addresses the issue of the sexual violation of women.

For those of you who do now know the history of this play, it is thought to be a lost Shakespeare play. The play has only recently been attributed to him and added to the collection of Shakespeare’s works. If you are interested in reading more about the history of the text, check out this Wikipedia page.

Anyway, I want to focus on the text.

First off, I want to point out that one of the central female characters, the one who is sexually violated in the beginning by Henriquez, is named Violante. I instantly noted the similarity of her name to the word “violate.” Remove the “n” from her name and you have violate, symbolizing a violated woman.

After forcing himself on Violante, Henriquez tries to convince himself he did nothing wrong, that even though she resisted, she did not resist enough and therefore acquiesced in his mind.

Hold, let me be severe to myself, but not
unjust. Was it rape then? No. Her shrieks, her
exclamations then had drove me from her. True, she
did not consent: as true, she did resist; but still in
silence all.

(Act 2, scene 1)

Afterwards, as is often the case with victims of sexual abuse, Violante feels guilt and shame.

Whom shall I look upon without a blush?
There’s not a maid whose eye with virgin gaze
Pierces not to my guilt. What will’t avail me
To say I was not willing?
Nothing, but that I publish my dishonour,
And wound my fame anew. O misery,
To seem to all one’s neighbours rich, yet know
One’s self necessitous and wretched.

(Act 2, scene 2)

In her despair, Violante escapes to the country and disguises herself as a young boy. But her master figures out she is actually a woman and also tries to violate her sexually.

Come, you’re made for love.
Will you comply? I’m madder with this talk.
There’s nothing you can say can take my edge off.

(Act 4, scene 1)

She manages to escape her new attacker, but is then wracked with guilt and despair. Sadly, she considers suicide as the only way to rid herself of the pain she feels as a result of her violation.

And O, thou fool,
Forsaken Violante – whose belief
And childish love have made thee so – go, die!
For there is nothing left thee now to look for
That can bring comfort but a quiet grave.
There all the miseries I long have felt
And those to come shall sweetly sleep together.

(Act 4, scene 2)

While this is certainly not one of Shakespeare’s best works (if in fact it truly is the work of the bard), it’s an easy read and worth checking out, if nothing else but for insight into a social plague that still vexes us today. All sexual assault should be condemned and perpetrators given punishments that suit the crimes. But let me not get too high on the soapbox. Give the play a read and feel free to share your comments in the space below.

Thanks for stopping by and showing an interest in literature.


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11 responses to “Sexual Violation in Shakespeare’s “Double Falsehood”

  1. Ooh, Arden Double Falsehood. Rare and saucy! Just thought that this post needed a comment. Haven’t seen you in a while…come over and visit, have a read, leave a comment or two if you can!

  2. Normally I do not follow the news avidly but this particular story really grasped my attention. The victim’s court statement was incredibly powerful and excruciatingly painful to read.

    I wonder if this is really Shakespeare. Quite admirable he would have picked that theme…

    • Hi Monika. I hope you are doing well.

      Yeah, I’m not wholly convinced that this is a Shakespeare play, but in my quest to read all of his works, I figured I would make sure I read this one too.

      The theme is something close to me. As a father of all daughters, I am always concerned about them getting hurt. Date rape and such is a real problem and it angers me to see people getting away with it or blaming the victim.

      Anyway, as always, it’s great to hear from you. Sending blessings to you and your family.


  3. One of Shakespeare’s most hardhitting plays on sexual violence (which I think is why it is not read in high school) is Measure for Measure, which the Asheville Montford Players will be putting on this summer.
    I had lobbied for it, and I hope the production goes well.

    • Oh yeah, really excited about Measure for Measure. Read it way back in college. Don’t recall all the details, only that it was one of those “problem” plays. I’ll have to read that one again soon, definitely before the MPP performance. Cheers!

  4. Interesting banter on virginity in All’s Well That Ends Well. I noticed it on the YouTube BBC tv version. But it’s here too, of course: (just search page with keyword >> virginity)

    I wonder if that really was based on the bard’s script. I recall scholars saying that he might have adapted some of his own material from existing stories. If so, that doesn’t diminish it in my mind. It’s the way he puts it together that is so captivating.

  5. Pingback: The Complete Plays of William Shakespeare | Stuff Jeff Reads