Venus and Adonis (Shakespeare poem)
The poem tells the story of Venus, who is Goddess of Love, and her unrequited love for Adonis, an extremely handsome young man, who would rather go hunting. The poem is dramatic, pastoral, and at times erotic, comic, and tragic. It contains discourses on the nature of love, and many brilliantly described observations of nature.
It was published originally as a quarto pamphlet and published with great care. It was probably printed using Shakespeare's fair copy. The printer was Richard Field, who also, along with Shakespeare, was from Stratford. Venus and Adonis appeared in print before any of Shakespeare's plays were published, but not before some of his plays had been acted on stage. It has a lot in common with A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and Love's Labour's Lost. It was written when the London theatres were all closed for a time due to the plague.
The poem begins with a dedication to Shakespeare's patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.
The poem is inspired by and based on stories in the Metamorphoses, which is a poem written by the Latin poet, Ovid (43 BC – AD 17/18). Ovid's much briefer version of the Venus and Adonis story occurs in Book ten of his Metamorphoses. Other stories of the Metamorphoses that are considered sources, but to a lesser degree, are the tales of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, Narcissus, and Pygmalion.
Adonis is a young man renowned for his incredibly beauty. However, he is not interested at all in love; he only wants to go hunting. Venus is the goddess of love. When she sees Adonis, she falls in love with him, and comes down to earth, where she encounters him setting out on a hunt. She desires him to get off his horse, and speak to her. Adonis doesn’t want to talk to any woman, not even a goddess. So she forces him. She lays down beside him, gazes at him, and talks of love. She craves a kiss, he wants to leave and go hunting. He manages to get away, and he goes to get his horse.
At that moment his horse becomes enamored of another horse, who at first resists, but soon the two animals gallop off together. Which keeps Adonis from going hunting. Venus approaches him, and continues to speak to him of love. He listens for a bit, then turns away scornfully. This pains her, and she faints. Afraid he might have killed her, Adonis kneels beside her, strokes and kisses her. Venus recovers and requests one last kiss. He begrudgingly gives in.
Venus wants to see him again, Adonis tells her that he can’t tomorrow, because he's going to hunt the wild boar. Venus has a vision, and warns him that if he does so, he will be killed by a boar. She then flings herself on him and tackles him to the ground. He gets away from her, and lectures her on the topic of lust versus love. He then leaves, and she cries.
The next morning Venus is roaming the woods searching for Adonis. She hears dogs and hunters in the distance. Thinking of her vision that he will be killed by a boar, she is afraid, and hurries to catch up with the hunt. She comes across a hunting dog that's severely injured. Then she finds the dead body of Adonis. He has been killed by a wild boar. Venus is devastated. Because this happened to her, then for all of humankind where ever there is love, there will always be suspicion, fear, and sadness. Adonis’ body has grown cold and pale. His blood gives color to the plants all around him. A flower grows from the soil beneath him. It is white and purple, like blood on Adonis’ flesh. Venus, bereft, leaves the Earth to hide her sadness where the gods live.
- In 2004, the Royal Shakespeare Company staged Venus and Adonis with marionettes (Gregory Doran, director).
- During the 2010-2011 season, the Boston Metro Opera staged Venus and Adonis, a chamber opera in one act (duration approximately 40 mins). The libretto is Shakspeare's poem (edited by Gretchen Snedeker (1983-2008), American French horn player and adjunct professor of music at Colgate University). The music is by American composer Zachary Wadsworth (born 1983).
- Doom metal band My Dying Bride used extracts of the poem in the song For My Fallen Angel, on their 1996 album Like Gods of the Sun.
- The Lone Star Ensemble, a theatre company, has presented a fully staged performance of the poem.
- The original poem is read by several British actors (among them David Burke, Eve Best, and Benjamin Soames) on a Naxos audiobook. The audiobook also includes The Rape of Lucrece.
- Richard Burton recorded a spoken word album of the poem for Caedmon Records.
- Melbourne-based company Malthouse Theatre collaborated with Sydney's Bell Shakespeare to produce a musical adaptation of the work. Directed by Marion Potts, with music by Andree Greenwell, the work was first performed in the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne in 2008 and again in Sydney Theatre Company's Wharf 2 in February 2009. In March 2009, the show travelled to Auckland, New Zealand, and was performed in The Bruce Mason Centre as part of the 2009 Auckland Festival. It was an unusual version of Venus and Adonis starring Melissa Madden-Gray and Susan Prior, both playing the character of Venus. The Adonis character is absent from the stage and is "played" by the audience. Throughout the performance, Venus (Madden-Gray and Prior) attempts to seduce the audience. Venus & Adonis received good reviews in all of its three seasons.
- The title of the theme song for the Haunted Mansion attractions at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Tokyo Disneyland, "Grim Grinning Ghosts", is taken from a line in Venus and Adonis:
- "Hard-favour'd tyrant, ugly, meagre, lean,
- Hateful divorce of love," thus chides she Death,
- ''Grim-grinning ghost, earth's worm, what dost thou mean
- To stifle beauty and to steal his breath,
- Who when he liv'd, his breath and beauty set
- Gloss on the rose, smell to the violet?''
- A theatrical adaptation, William Shakespeare's Venus & Adonis, with an original score and songs by Christopher Reiner, was performed by Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group in North Hollywood, California, for five weeks in August and September 2006. LA Weekly described it: "six women, clothed in black, recite the poem while weaving around the stage in a sensual, interpretive dance".
- Drabble, Margaret. The Oxford Companion to English Literature, Fifth Edition. Oxford University Press (1985). ISBN 978-0198661306.
- Kolin, Philip C. Venus and Adonis: Critical Essays. Routledge (2013). ISBN 9781136744310
- Bullough, Geoffrey. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare: Early Comedies, Poems, Romeo and Juliet. Columbia University Press (1957). ISBN 9780231088916 Page 162
- Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Woudhuysen, H. R. eds. Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Poems: Third Series. Arden Shakespeare. (28 September 2007) ISBN 978-1903436875
- "Why is the RSC staging Venus and Adonis with marionettes?". the Guardian.
- Venus and Adonis at the [Boston Metro Opera] Archived 1 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
- Review by Stephanie Lysaght in LA Weekly, 31 August 2006.
- Caldecott, Harry Stratford: Our English Homer; or, the Bacon-Shakespeare Controversy (Johannesburg Times, 1895).
- Gurr, Andrew: The Shakespearean Stage: 1574–1642 (Cambridge, 1992).
- Halliday, F. E.: A Shakespeare Companion: 1564–1964. (Penguin, 1964).
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- Venus and Adonis at Project Gutenberg
- Venus and Adonis (1593)
- Venus and Adonis – Images from the Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection
- Venus and Adonis public domain audiobook at LibriVox