I'd like to suggest an interesting parallel between Richardson's
_Clarissa_ and Thomas Middleton's Women Beware Women.
This Jacobean play is a rare bold text before Richardson dealing specifically with the issue of seduction versus rape, in which the scene is not softened by pretenses of mistaken identities in the dark (as in Otway's Orphan which Richardson, later alludes to in order to make us see in Clarissa a type of Otway's heroines). In Middleton's play the rape is not softened by having the villain use drugs or lies of various sorts. Middleton, in other words, does not load the cards in the heroine's favor. We see Brancha, the austere virgin heroine who has made the mistake of falling in love with a man who has to work for a living, bullied and isolated by her husband. She is maneuvred into the house of the Duke, manipulated cleverly and then threatened by the Duke who alternately frightens, & fascinates her; but he "seduces" her with arguments like the following:
Come play the wise wench, and provide for ever; Let storms come when they list, they find thee sheltered ...
His point (which she takes) is that silly girl, she had sold cheaply and foolishly when she married Leantio who we see is clearly not rich & worse, no fun at all. Middleton presents sex as a game for prestige and ambition, for a money, pleasure, and glittering prizes.
I have seen Women Beware Women twice and taught it once; each time audience & readers were very much engaged, particularly by the wild masque at the end where all the characters hilariously manage to kill themselves in their efforts to do away with one another. One character is actually hoist by his own petard. Clarissa is of course solemn tragedy, but in the scenes just to come where Clary tries to stab herself in lieu of Lovelace, Richardson skirts the comic, and there is somehow always an element of hysterical comedy somewhere at the heart of tragedy (for life is meaningless and nonsensical after all), and I think this old play sheds light on this novel about rape. Ellen Moody