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Any sections of Shakespeare’s poem Venus and Adonis in which one character addresses another at some length would lend themselves to rhetorical analysis. Consider, for example, Venus’s opening address to Adonis near the very beginning of the poem. In that address, Venus uses a number of different rhetorical techniques to woo the handsome but indifferent young man.
Thus, she begins by flattering Adonis (calling him “Thrice-fairer” than myself”), a tactic she uses throughout the speech. (Notice, however, the irony of such paradoxically egotistical flattery!). She uses hyperbole by calling Adonis three times as good-looking as she is, and then she uses metaphors (calling him the “field’s chief flower” and “Stain to all nymphs”) to flatter him again. She uses a comparison and visual imagery to offer more flattery (he is “More red and white than doves or roses are”) and then uses the technique of paradox to flatter him once more:
Nature that made thee, with herself at strife,
Saith that the world hath ending with thy life.
She uses onomatopoeia when asserting that near her, “never serpent hisses" (emphasis added), and, in general, throughout this passage she uses appeals to pathos, or the emotions of her audience (that is, Adonis). Her appeals to ethos, or her own character, consistently imply that she is powerful and capable of giving Adonis great pleasure:
If thou wilt deign this favour, for thy meed
A thousand honey secrets shalt thou know . . .
Indeed, there may even be some sexual innuendo in the reference to “honey secrets.”
There is very little appeal, in these opening lines, to logos (that is, to logic or reason), but the absence of such appeal is part of the whole point of this poem. It is possible that she appeals to a kind of self-centered logic by promising Adonis so many benefits, but mainly her appeal is to his emotion rather than his reason. She is attempting to appeal to Adonis’s physical desires (in order to satisfy her own), not to his mind. Paradoxically, she tries to appeal to his ego in order to satisfy her own egotistical yearnings. Like any good rhetorician, she employs many different rhetorical “tropes” (use of words in other than their literal senses, as in metaphors) and “schemes” (devices of sound and syntax, such as “rhyme schemes”), including numerous figures of speech. She uses all the resources of her intellect to try to satisfy the desires of her body.
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