Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Shakespeare's Poetry: Venus and Adonis

As we all know, Shakespeare’s work entails more than just his theatrical accomplishments; he was a published poet even as he penned his well-known plays. In times when the playhouses were closed due to contagious illness, Shakespeare was able to find a patron (Henry Wriothsley, Earl of Southampton) who paid well for his poetry, and, when published, garnered more publicity for the wordsmith.

This particular poem was popular with the Elizabethan crowd. It played upon their interest in Greek mythology as well as their more private appetites. While Venus and Adonis might not be of interest in full for all classrooms, it is interesting to note certain parallels between Venus’s first arguments of love (lines 90-174) and speeches made by other Shakespearean characters.

. H. Corbould ; C. Rolls. “]For example: in her attempts to woo Adonis, Venus begs him:

“Touch but my lips with those fair lips of thine,
– Though mine be not so fair, yet are they red –
The kiss shall be thine own as well as mine.
What seest thou in the ground? Hold up thy head;
Look in mine eyeballs, there thy beauty lies;
Then why not lips on lips, since eyes in eyes?”

 How much does that sound like Romeo attempting to steal a kiss from Juliet?

“My lips, two blushing pilgrims ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
[Juliet]: Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmer’s kiss.
Romeo: Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
[Juliet]: Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
Romeo: O then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do.”

Venus also makes the argument:

“By law of nature thou art bound to breed,
That thine may live when thou thyself art dead;
And so in spite of death thou dost survive,
In that thy likeness still is left alive.”

Which sounds not unlike Viola to Olivia in Twelfth Night:

“Lady, you are the cruel’st she alive
If you will lead these graces to the grave
And leave the world no copy.”

 Many of these stanzas could very easily be performed for an audience as a monologue from Shakespeare that few might recognize! Could you see using the narrative poem in your classroom? Have any ideas to share with us about that?

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