Venus and Adonis
The first of William Shakespeare's poems written as a minor epic, Venus and Adonis launched Shakespeare's career as a poet. The poem is a minor epic, a genre that many poets in the 1590s chose for their first efforts. Characters in a minor epic usually came from the periphery of myth or legend; its interest is in eroticism, sophistication, and wit. Within this genre, Venus and Adonis was so successful that it was Shakespeare's most popular published work throughout his lifetime.
In Ovid's Metamorphoses, the boy hunter Adonis is the willing lover of Venus, the goddess of love, and dies accidentally. Shakespeare has Adonis reject Venus—an ironic and comic development for early readers. Venus endlessly argues for making love, with Adonis uttering petulant protests.
For modern readers who might forget that Venus is a goddess, it is easy to focus on Adonis as the uneasy object of desire by a matron. In its terms, however, the poem is a deliberately artificial retelling of a then-familiar myth, playing with the notion of what would happen if the goddess of love were refused.
Although minor epics fell out of fashion long ago, Venus and Adonis commands appreciation for its dazzling verbal surface, as a piece of fine baroque art. It also lets us see the young Shakespeare exploring love in a way that later yielded his romantic comedies.
Hamnet link to Folger Edition: PR2753 .M6 2004 copy 2 v.39
The Folger owns just under 15 stand-alone translations of Venus and Adonis in various languages (not including collected works). Cataloging of these works is ongoing as of early 2015, and many have full-level catalog records, but some works still have only partial records. Translations can be found Hamnet in by searching for "Translations"in the Genre/Form Term field, or by searching the Call Number (Left-Anchored) field for call numbers starting with PR2796 (see the list of Sh.Col. translations call numbers for specific language call numbers). Since not all translations are fully cataloged, some items may only turn up in one of these searches.
Explore the curated image group for Venus and Adonis in the Folger digital image collection.
Content Advisory: this image group contains representations of nudity.
- Mowat, Barbara A., and Paul Werstine. Shakespeare's Sonnets and Poems. New York: Washington Square, 2006, 2004.