Venus and Adonis

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Poem Text



Venus and Adonis

From the June 1592 through the end of 1593, the London theatrical community was suffering through a large recession that was not brought on by financial conditions but an outbreak of plague.  Theaters and other large gathering places were always the first to close due to fear of large rioting crowds in desperate times.  In order to survive, theater companies took their shows on the road and toured the country towns, such as Stratford and other larger cities.  William Shakespeare may have traveled with his company at this time, but it appears he may have had other irons in the fire.  In April 1593, he published a long narrative poem entitled Venus and Adonis and dedicated it to the Earl of Southhampton.  For the first time since arriving in London, possibly close to a decade at this point and after writing several plays, Shakespeare tried his hand at entering a more refined arena.  Playwrights were considered hack writers leading destitute lives, but to be a "real" poet. a writer aspired to be financed by a patron of the arts.  Usually, these were noblemen or women who held acting companies or openly supported the arts.  These same patrons as well provided protection  against Puritan government officials who were always looking to stamp out what they considered dregs on society and abominations to God.  To be under the protection or auspices of one of these patrons was to be granted legitimacy.

[ Panfare 4 Ama ]


Vilia miretur vulgus : mihi flauus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua.



Imprinted by Richard Field, and are to be sold at
the signe of the white Greyhound in
Paules Church-yard.

Above, an HTML version of the title page from the original publication of Venus and Adonis.

Shakespeare dedicated Venus and Adonis to the Earl of Southhampton to which many scholars believe he began a long friendship.  He followed up this effort with The Rape of Lucrece a year later again with a dedicatory letter to Southampton.  The second dedication though seemed to strike a far more personal connection between poet and patron and is quite unique when compared to similar dedications, indicating the progression of a close friendship.  It is also believed that Shakespeare rode out the plague at Southhampton's estate Tichfield where he wrote a large share of his Sonnets and penned Love's Labours Lost,Among all of the plays Love's Labours Lost is the work most closely associated with the Sonnets, containing several similar poems and the character of Rosaline is a very close match to the Dark Lady of the Sonnets.  Venus and Adonis is based on the myth of the same name that was found the anthology Metamorphesies by Ovid, one of Shakespeare's favorite ancient authors.  The story told of the Goddess of Love, represented as an older, experienced woman, pursuing a bashful, virginal youth who refuses her advances due to his inexperience.  This overtly erotic poem became the Lady Chatterly's Lover of its day and proved to be extremely popular among the younger set, while his next poem The Rape of Lucrece was often praised by more refined tastes.  Both poems were extremely popular in their time and saw several reprints in Shakespeare's lifetime.  They only lost popularity in later times as the form of literature also faded.  Interestingly enough, both of the long poems as well the rest of Shakespeare's other non dramatic poetry carry well when presented as performance pieces. 

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To view other Venus and Adonis sections:

Main Poem Page       Poem Text         Synopsis         Commentary


To view other Poems  sections:

Poems Main Page      Venus and Adonis     The Rape of Lucrece      A Lover's Complaint     The Phoenix and the Turtle


To view other Shakespeare Library sections:

Biography     Plays     Poems     Sonnets     Theaters     Shake Links

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