Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sextus Tarquinius

Sextus Tarquinius (SEHKS-tuhs tahr-KWIH-nee-uhs), or Tarquin, the son of the king of Rome and a friend and fellow warrior of Collatine. He hears from the latter of the chastity of his beautiful wife Lucrece and is seized with illicit desire. Like Faustus, he is the allegorical battleground of a good and an evil influence. His good side and his evil side engage in debate, and the evil triumphs. He is hypocritical, sly, and ruthless. Part of the joy in his brutal conquest of the chaste wife stems from sheer cruelty. After his violation of Lucrece, he suffers revulsion and slinks away in the night.


Lucrece (lew-KREES), the chaste wife of Collatine, devoted to her husband. She welcomes his friend as a trusted guest. When she is helpless in Tarquin’s clutches, she uses all her intelligence and persuasiveness to try to save herself from him and him from himself, but in vain. After the event, she too becomes the battleground for internal debate: She is uncertain as to whether she should kill herself without telling her husband of what she considers her dishonor or to tell him all that has happened. She feels guilt in that her fear may have kept her from using all defenses possible against the ravisher. After making her decision to speak, she sends for Collatine and other Roman leaders. She wears mourning to welcome them, tells her story in full, and stabs herself.


Collatinus (koh-luh-TI-nuhs), also called Collatine (KOH-luh-tin), a noble Roman warrior. He is stunned at Lucrece’s narrative and suicide, then frantic with grief, then fiercely angry and determined to avenge her. He becomes an eager participant in the overthrow and banishment of the Tarquins (who are referred to very briefly in the final stanza of the poem).

Junius Brutus

Junius Brutus, who uses Lucrece’s body and the dagger stained with her blood to foment the revolution. He accomplishes the overthrow.