Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece (1594), two of William Shakespeare’s most famous nondramatic works, were probably composed during the period between June, 1592, and May, 1594, while the theaters were temporarily closed because of the plague. Venus and Adonis, the earlier of the two poems, was entered at the Stationers’ Register on April 18, 1593, and was printed shortly thereafter by Richard Field, who, incidentally, had originally come from Stratford-on-Avon. Venus and Adonis was the first work of Shakespeare ever to be printed.
It should not be supposed from the date of composition that Venus and Adonis was merely a way of passing time while the theaters were closed. All indications are that Shakespeare thought of this poem as the public commencement of his serious literary work as distinct from his quotidian employment as a dramatist. Indeed, Shakespeare never bothered to see his plays into print, a fact that has proved the bane of editors ever since. Venus and Adonis, however, was handsomely printed with an ornate dedication to the earl of Southampton in which Shakespeare speaks of the poem as his first serious literary effort. In subject and style, it is a kind of poetry that occupied most of Shakespeare’s serious contemporaries.
Although the poem has been transmitted in only a few manuscripts, there is ample evidence that it was extremely popular in its own day. By...
(The entire section is 931 words.)
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