Shakespeare's Myths

Titus Andronicus (1594), I.i.135-39:

Demetrius: Then, madam, stand resolved; but hope withal

The selfsame gods that armed the Queen of Troy

With opportunity of sharp revenge

Upon the Thracian tyrant in his tent

May favour Tamora, the Queen of Goths


Titus Andronicus (1594), IV.i.16-21:

Young Lucius: My lord, I know not, I, nor can I guess,

Unless some fit or frenzy do possess her;

For I have heard my grandsire say full oft,

Extremity of griefs would make men mad.

And I have read that Hecuba of Troy

Ran mad for sorrow.


The Rape of Lucrece (c.1594), 1443-49:

To this well-painted piece is Lucrece come,

To find a face where all distress is stelled.

Many she sees, where cares have carvèd some,

But none where all distress and dolour dwelled;

Till she despairing Hecuba beheld,

   Staring on Priam's wounds with her old eyes,

   Which bleeding under Pyrrhus' proud foot lies.


The Rape of Lucrece (c.1594), 1457-70:

On this sad shadow Lucrece spends her eyes,

And shapes her sorrow to the beldame’s woes,

Who nothing wants to answer her but cries,

And bitter words to ban her cruel foes.

The painter was no god to lend her those;

   And therefore Lucrece swears he did her wrong,

   To give her so much grief and not a tongue.


“Poor instrument”, quoth she,”without a sound,

I'll tune thy woes with my lamenting tongue,

And drop sweet balm in Priam’s painted wound,

And rail on Pyrrhus that hath done him wrong,

And with my tears quench Troy that burns so long,

   And with my knife scratch out the angry eyes

   Of all the Greeks that are thine enemies.”


The Rape of Lucrece (c.1594) 1485-91:

“Lo, here weeps Hecuba, here Priam dies,

Here manly Hector faints, here Troilus swoons,

Here friend by friend in bloody channel lies,

And friend to friend gives unadvisèd wounds,

And one man’s lust these many lives confounds.

   Had doting Priam checked his son’s desire

   Troy had been bright with fame, and not with fire.”


2 Henry IV (c. 1597-1598, 1597), II.ii.80-83:

Page: Away, you rascally Althea’s dream, away!

Prince Harry: Instruct us, boy; what dream, boy?

Page: Marry, my lord, Althea dreamt she was delivered of a firebrand, and therefore I call him her dream.


Hamlet (c. 1600-1601, 1601), II.ii.502-21:

Hamlet: It shall to the barber’s, with your beard. (To First Player) Prithee say on. He’s for a jig or a tale of bawdry, or he sleeps. Say on, come to Hecuba.

First Player: “But who, O who had seen the mobbled queen”—

Hamlet: “The mobbled queen”?

Polonius: That's good; “mobbled queen” is good.

First Player: “Run barefoot up and down threat’ning the flames

With bisson rheum; a clout upon that head

Where late the diadem stood, and for a robe,

About her lank and all o’er-teemèd loins,

A blanket in th’alarm of fear caught up—

Who this had seen, with tongue in venom steeped,

’Gainst Fortune’s state would treason have pronounced.

But if the gods themselves did see her then,

When she saw Pyrrhus make malicious sport

In mincing with his sword her husband’s limbs,

The instant burst of clamour that she made—

Unless things mortal move them not at all—

Would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven,

And passion in the gods.”


Hamlet (c. 1600-1601, 1601), II.ii.553-64:

Hamlet: Is it not monstrous that this player here,

But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,

Could force his soul so to his whole conceit

That from her working all his visage wanned,

Tears in his eyes, distraction in ’s aspect,

A broken voice, and his whole function suiting

With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing.

For Hecuba!

What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,

That he should weep for her? What would he do,

Had he the motive and the cue for passion

That I have?


Troilus and Cressida (1602-1603, 1602), I.ii.1-4:

Cressida: Who were those went by?

Alexander:                     Queen Hecuba and Helen.

Cressida: And whither go they?

Alexander:                     Up to the eastern tower,

Whose height commands as subject all the vale,

To see the battle.


Troilus and Cressida (1602-1603, 1602), I.ii.138-41:

Pandarus: But there was such laughing! Queen Hecuba laughed that her eyes ran o’er.

Cressida: With millstones.

Pandarus: And Cassandra laughed.


Troilus and Cressida (1602-1603, 1602), V.i.34-39:

Achilles: My sweet Patroclus, I am thwarted quite

From my great purpose in tomorrow’s battle.

Here is a letter from Queen Hecuba,

A token from her daughter, my fair love,

Both taxing me, and gaging me to keep

An oath that I have sworn.


Troilus and Cressida (1602-1603, 1602), V.iii.53-60:

Troilus: Who should withhold me?

Not fate, obedience, nor the hand of Mars

Beck’ning with fiery truncheon my retire,

Not Priamus and Hecuba on knees,

Their eyes o’er-gallèd with recourse of tears,

Nor you, my brother, with your true sword drawn

Opposed to hinder me, should stop my way

But by my ruin.


Troilus and Cressida (1602-1603, 1602), V.iii.83-90:

Cassandra: O farewell, dear Hector.

Look how thou diest; look how thy eye turns pale;

Look how thy wounds do bleed at many vents.

Hark how Troy roars, how Hecuba cries out,

How poor Andromache shrills her dolours forth.

Behold: distraction, frenzy, and amazement

Like witless antics one another meet,

And all cry “Hector, Hector’s dead, O Hector!”


Troilus and Cressida (1602-1603, 1602), V.xi.11-17:

Troilus: You understand me not that tell me so.

I do not speak of flight, of fear of death,

But dare all imminence that gods and men

Address their dangers in. Hector is gone.

Who shall tell Priam so, or Hecuba?

Let him that will a screech-owl aye be called

Go into Troy and say their Hector’s dead.


Coriolanus (c. 1608), I.iii.41-46:

Volumnia: Away, you fool! It more becomes a man

Than gilt his trophy. The breasts of Hecuba

When she did suckle Hector looked not lovelier

Than Hector’s forehead when it spit forth blood

At Grecian sword, contemning.

(To the Gentlewoman)          Tell Valeria

We are fit to bid her welcome.


Cymbeline (c. 1608-1611, 1609), IV.ii.314-16:

Innogen: Murder in heaven! How? ’Tis gone. Pisanio,

All curses madded Hecuba gave the Greeks,

And mine to boot, be darted on thee!


How to cite

Tanya Pollard.  “Hecuba.”  2015.  In A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Classical Mythology 

(2009-), ed. Yves Peyré.

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