Shakespeare's Myths


Boccacio, De Casibus Virorum Illustrium [Illustrious Men], I, xiii:

[Briefly describes Hecuba and her suffering in the context of presenting Priam and Troy]


Boccacio, De Mulieribus Claris [Famous Women], XXXIV:

[Describes Hecuba’s lineage and her children, especially Hector; notes that she is famous for suffering the losses of Troy, her husband, and her children; and describes different accounts of her end]


Dante, Inferno, XXX, 13-21:

[Describes Hecuba going mad with sorrow and barking like a dog after seeing Polyxena die and discovering Polydorus’s corpse]


John Lydgate. Troy Book (1420). IV, 572-81, 626-36, 723-45, 770-77, 820-25:

[Describes Hecuba with Polyxena, Achilles seeing Polyxena and falling in love with her, asking Hecuba to give Polyxena in marriage to Achilles]


John Lydgate. Troy Book (1420). IV, 6894-6907, 6921-30:

The deth of whom whan Eccuba the Quene

Hath seyn, allas, as she beside stood,

For verray wo gan to wexe wood,

And for sorwe oute of hir wit she went,

And hir clothes and hir heer she rent

Al in a rage, and wot nat what she doth,

But gan anoon with hondis and with to the

In her furie cracchen and eke byte,

Stonys caste, and with fistes smyte

Whom she mette; til Grekis made her binde,

And sent hir forthe, also, as I fynde,

Into an ile to Troye pertenent,

Wher she was slayn only by jugement

Of the Grekis and stonyd to the deth.


And thus the quene only for sorwe wood,

Whan hir doughter hadde shad hir blood,

Of Grekis stonyd dide hir ende make,

As ye han herde, pleinly for the sake

Of Polycene, whilom by Calchas

Unto Appollo falsly offrid was,

By Pirrus swerd Achilles avengynge,

To make the se calm and blawndisshinge,

That the goddes take no vengaunce

Upon Grekis.


Lodovico Ariosto. Orlando Furioso (1532) X, xxxiv:

[Ariosto compares the grief of Olympia, forsaken by her lover on an island, to Hecuba]

She to the shore’s extremest verge anew,

Tossing her head, with hair dishevelled, run;

And seemed like maid beside herself, and who

Was by ten fiends possessed, instead of one;

Of like the frantic Hecuba, at view

Of murdered Polydore, her infant son;

Fixed on a stone she gazed upon the sea,

Nor less than real stone seemed stone to be.

[Trans. W. S. Rose]


Lodovico Ariosto. Orlando Furioso, in English heroical verse [Trans. by Sir John Harington, 1591] (STC 746), X, xxxii, p. 75:

[Harington’s translation reworks Ariosto’s text, emphasising Hecuba’s grief]

And even as Hecuba fell raging mad,

With grief of mind and sorrow sore oppressed,

To see her Polydorus, little lad,

By kinsman’s fraud and cruelty distressed:

So raved Olympia fair, as though she had

With twenty thousand devils been possessed;

At last she sitteth on the rocks alone

And seems as senseless as the senseless stone.


Francois Rabelais. The Third Book of Pantagruel (1546), XIV, 122-27; XXI, 39-44; XLVIII.105-06:

[Refers to Hecuba’s dream, and subsequent loss of husband, children, and city; as example of legendary figure’s response to death of figures from legend; and as example of parental grief on losing a child.]


Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, Gorboduc (1562, printed 1565) (STC 18684), III.i.11-15, sig. Ci v:

Oh no man happy, till his end be seen

If any flowing wealth and seeming joy

In present years might make a happy wight,

Happy was Hecuba the woefulest wretch

That ever lived to make a mirror of.


Christopher Marlowe. Dido, Queen of Carthage (c. 1586-1589, 1586) (STC 853/06), II.i.226-28:

[Pyrrhus is about to kill Priam,]

About whose withered neck hung Hecuba,

Folding his hand in hers, and jointly both

Beating their breasts and falling on the ground.


George Peele, Tale of Troy (printed 1589) (STC 19537), p. 8:

Under a prince whom, for his happy state,

That age surnamed Priam the Fortunate,

So honoured for his royal progeny,

Blest in his queen, his offspring, and his country:

Y-clypped stately Hecuba was she,

A goodly creature of such majesty

As well became her princely personage;

And long before she tasted fortune’s rage,

With many sons and daughters, wondrous thing,

This lusty lady did enrich her King,

Fruit not unlike the tree from whence they sprung,

The daughters lovely, modest, fair, and young.


George Peele, Tale of Troy (printed 1589) (STC 19537), p. 8-9:

[Hecuba’s dream, the birth and exposure of Paris]

Alack that happiness may not long last

That all these braveries been so brief a blast.

’Til one, I say, avenging power or other,

Buzzed in the brain of the unhappy mother,

A dreadful dream, and as it did befall,

To Priam’s Troy, a dream deadly and fatal.

   For when the time of mother’s pain drew nigh

And now the load that in her womb did lie

Began to stir and move with proper strength,

Ready to leave his place, behold at length

She dreams and gives her Lord to understand

That she should soon bring forth a firebrand

Whose hot and climbing flame should grow so great

That Neptune’s Troy it would consume with heat.

And council taken of this troublous dream,

The soothsayers said that not swift Sinois’ stream

Might serve to quench that fierce devouring fire,

That did this brand ’gainst town of Troy conspire.

Which to prevent—a piteous tale to tell—

Both sire and dame ’gainst law and kind rebel,

And that this fear might so be overblown,

This babe from Troy withouten ruth is thrown.


George Peele, Tale of Troy (printed 1589) (STC 19537), p. 16:

The Mother Queene withouten more adoe,

’Gan whet her wits to wreak this malice done,

And traitorous murther of her valiant son.


George Peele, Tale of Troy (printed 1589) (STC 19537), p. 19-20:

But she alas that bare the fatal brand

That fired the town, the most unhappy Queene,

Whose like for wretchedness was never seen,

Said “leave my Lord, becomes not us to strive,

Whom would no morning sun might see alive”.


George Peele, Tale of Troy (printed 1589) (STC 19537), p. 20:

My pen forbear to write of Hecuba,

That made the Sun his glistering Chariot stay,

And raining tears his golden face to hide,

For ruth of that did after her betide,

Sith this thrice-wretched lady lived the last,

Till fortune’s spight and malice all was past.

And worn with sorrows, wexen fell and mad.


Thomas Fenne. Hecuba’s mishaps in Fenne’s Fruits (1590) (STC 10763), sigs. Bb3v-Gg3v:

[On this poem, see Douglas Bush, Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition in English Poetry (1932; New York: Norton, 1963, pp. 129-30); Götz Schmitz, The Fall of Women in Early English Narrative Verse (Tübingen, 1984; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 73-76).]


Michael Drayton. Piers Gaveston Earl of Cornwall (1594) (STC 7214), stanzas 240-41, sig. H4v:

[King Edward compared to Orlando and to Hecuba]

Like as the furious paladine of France,

Forsaken of Angelica the fair,

So like a bedlam in the fields doth dance,

With shouts and clamours filling all the air,

Or when the woeful Thrace-born Hecuba

Saw Troy on fire and Priam’s fatal doom,

Her sons all slain, her dear Polyxena

There sacrificed on Achilles’ tomb,

Even like a boar her angry tusks doth wet,

Scratching and biting all that e’er she met. 


How to cite

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

(2009-), ed. Yves Peyré.

<< back to top >>