Characters Discussed

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Venus (VEE-nuhs), the goddess of love and beauty. Voluptuous and fierily passionate, she is greedy for the love of young Adonis and immodestly thrusts her attentions on him. His shyness and sullenness increase her desire. She is a master of Renaissance rhetoric and delivers a stream of oratorical debate to convince Adonis of the importance of fertility. Her knowledge of the English countryside and hunting makes for particularly graphic and poetic descriptions. Her grief at the death of Adonis is as passionate as her love. There have been some scholarly arguments that hold her to be an allegorical Platonic figure rather than the erotic creation she appears to most readers to be.


Adonis (uh-DON-ihs), a shy, handsome young hunter. Venus’ lavish wooing drives him into sullen obstinacy. He too is well trained in rhetoric and carries his side of the debate with rebukes for her lustful behavior. He is, however, tenderhearted and softens considerably when she swoons. He does not yield completely to her importunities and stubbornly goes ahead with his plans to hunt the boar. His death results. Those who hold that the poem is an expression of the Renaissance ideal of love compare Adonis with the fair young man of the sonnets and indicate that his death is justly the result of his rejection of love and beauty and his consequent failure to reproduce his kind.


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Beauregard, David N. “Venus and Adonis.” In Shakespeare Studies. Vol 8. Edited by J. Leeds Barroll. New York: Burt Franklin, 1975. Considers critical studies of the story that range from classical interpretations of the original myth to twentieth century analyses of Shakespeare’s poem.

Bullough, Geoffrey, ed. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966. Part of a six-volume series of critical essays on the sources of Shakespeare’s works. Included in the discussion of Venus and Adonis is a 1575 translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Arthur Golding.

Jahn, J. D. “The Lamb of Lust: The Role of Adonis in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis.” In Shakespeare Studies. Vol. 6. Edited by J. Leeds Barroll. Dubuque, Iowa: William C. Brown, 1970. An intense study of the personality of Adonis that Shakespeare creates in his poem.

Muir, Kenneth. “Venus and Adonis: Comedy or Tragedy?” In Shakespearean Essays. Vol 2. Edited by Alwin Thaler and Norman Sanders. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1974. Considers the way in which the myth of Venus and Adonis has been interpreted by various authors and how Shakespeare’s own audience might have interpreted the poem.

Prince, Frank Templeton. Introduction to The Poems, by William Shakespeare. London: Routledge, 1990. Provides more than forty pages of introductory material, in which Prince discusses the text and provides critical interpretations of the works. Also includes appendixes with information about the sources of the Shakespeare’s poems, with particular emphasis on Venus and Adonis.

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Critical Essays