How is love represented in "Venus and Adonis?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's representation of love in "Venus and Adonis," distance is an intrinsic part of the experience.  To be in love necessitates being in love with something separate from the individual.  Shakespeare represents love in this way, where individuals are not content with what is in front of them, but rather set their sights on something far in the distance.  Love is thus a horizon that is impossible to attain, but one that seems to make the journey necessary to endure.

The equating of love and distance to one another is evident in the opening lines of the poem.  Adonis is described as one who is wedded to the "chase" of hunting.  In this light, hunting is Adonis's love.  Shakespeare constructs love for Adonis as something that is in the distance, and captures his fancy.  He is in love with something that he wishes to have, but is denied to him at the moment.  It is for this reason that the idea of love is represented as something afar from the individual.  Even though Venus is near him and throwing herself at him, his construction of love does not acknowledge that which is near him:

And now Adonis with a lazy spright,/ And with a heavy, dark, disliking eye,/ His louring brows o'erwhelming his fair sight,/ Like misty vapours when they blot the sky,/ Souring his cheeks, cries 'Fie!  no more of love./  The sun doth burn my face; I must remove.

In these lines, love is represented in a paradoxical manner.  What is in front and within reach is of no use, and yet it is the only thing that can be possessed.  What lies outside of us is where our love lies. Adonis embodies this when he rejects the love that Venus offers him, with his complaint of sunburn.  It is only when Adonis sees what lies beyond his grasp, almost as a horizon, is love evident. This same analysis can be seen in Venus's characterization in the poem.  Adonis lies outside Venus's reach.  This helps to accentuate her love of him.  Whether or not Venus loves Adonis, or simply is infatuated with his beauty, she pursues him.  Even though it is quite clear that he has no interest in her, it is this "chase" that helps to define the love that she displays in the poem.   In this light, Shakespeare represents love as something that is not meant to be in the grasp of the individual.  Rather, it lies outside their reach.  Interestingly enough, Shakespeare shows that animals do not necessarily love in the same manner.  Adonis's frustration at what he loves and cannot have is matched by his stallion's embrace of that which is near him precisely so that he can love: "And this I do to captivate the eye/ Of the fair breeder that is standing by." The stallion is able to find happiness through love that is near to him.

The varying degrees of this emotional reality is critical to Shakespeare's representation of love.  Along these lines is a sexual dimension to love.  Venus's pursuit of Adonis is an example of this.  The desire to appropriate that which is separate from the individual is part of the sexual landscape that Shakespeare uses to represent love.  It is for this reason that Shakespeare shows love and its extension of sex are pursuits where individuals are willing to do whatever they can to find happiness, only to find a sense of despair awaits.  Venus finds herself heartbroken at Adonis's dead body.  Adonis has died as a result of seeking to move closer to his love.  In the end, love exists outside the individual, compelling them to do whatever is in their agency to merge with it.  The result is futility and failure.  Pain is the only tangible result of love.  In this light, love is represented in a distinctively complex and intricate manner in Shakespeare's poem.