Shakespeare Study Guides in Kindle Format
With Complete Annotated Texts
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J.
Cummings © 2003
Revised in 2010.©
Type of Work
Venus and Adonis is
narrative poem—that is, a poem that tells a
story—about the infatuation of Venus, the
goddess of love, with a young mortal named
Adonis. The poem contains 1,194 lines.
Shakespeare dedicated Venus
and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley, the
Third Earl of Southampton. Wriothesley
(1573-1624) was a patron of Shakespeare and
other writers of the time. Although
Wriothesley was a favorite at the court of
Queen Elizabeth I, his association with the
headstrong Robert Devereux, the Second Earl of
Essex—another fixture at court—led him to take
part in Devereux’s 1601 rebellion against the
queen. Wriothesley was sentenced to life
Metamorphoses, by the
Roman poet Ovid (full name, Publius Ovidius
Naso) is the main source for the poem.
Shakespeare may also have used Scilla’s
Metamorphosis (1589), by Thomas Lodge,
and Book III of The Faerie Queene
(1591), by Edmund Spenser.
On May 18, 1593, the poem was
entered in the Hall Book of the Worshipful
Company of Stationers, the English
government's pre-publication registry. It was
published in a quarto
edition in 1593 by Richard Field, a printer.
Shakespeare sets the story in
a rural locale in ancient Greece in the age of
myth, when the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus
frequently interacted with human beings.
The rhyme scheme is ababcc in
a six-line stanza, as demonstrated in the
opening stanza of the poem:
as the sun with purple-colour'd face
ta'en his last leave of the weeping morn,
Adonis hied him to the chase;
he loved, but love he laugh'd to scorn;
Venus makes amain unto him,
like a bold-faced suitor 'gins to woo him.
Most of the lines in the poem
are in iambic
pentameter, with five pairs of
syllables (five feet) per line. Each pair
consists of an unaccented syllable followed by
an accented syllable The following lines
(379-384) demonstrate this metric pattern.
.... ...2........... ....3...............4...............5
In form and feature, Adonis has
no earthly equal. Although he is but a boy, such
is his masculine allure that even Venus, the
goddess of love, covets him. Pursuing him while
he hunts on horseback, she tells him that he is
“Thrice fairer than myself” (7). He is, she
says, “The field’s chief flower, sweet above
compare” (8). When she invites him to sit with
her to receive her smothering kisses, he
refuses, for he is “frosty in desire” (36).
Summary of the Poem
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003,
Venus unhorses him, so that they
lie side by side, and she strokes his cheek.
Whatever words of protest he musters, “she
murders with a kiss” (54). When he breathes,
“She feedeth on the steam as on a prey” (63).
She woos him further—on and on,
relentlessly—with honey-coated words, all the
while grasping his hand. But Adonis does not
respond. He says, “Fie, no more of love! / The
sun doth burn my face: I must remove” (185-186).
After his horse runs off to woo a jennet, Adonis
scolds the love goddess:
he cries, "let go, and let me go;
His only desire is to hunt, to
chase a boar, and he begs release. He promises a
kiss if she allows him to go his way. When they
embrace, “face grows to face” (540). When he
draws backward, she presses in. He yields for a
time, like wax, as she makes impressions. But by
and by, as day succumbs to evening, he resists
again and she no longer restrains him, saying:
My day's delight is past, my
horse is gone,
And 'tis your fault I am
bereft him so:
I pray you hence, and leave me
For all my mind, my thought,
my busy care,
Is how to get my palfrey from
the mare." (379-384)
"Sweet boy," she says, "this night
I'll waste in sorrow,
He leaves, disappearing into the
my sick heart commands mine eyes to watch.
me, Love's master, shall we meet to-morrow?
shall we? shall we? wilt thou make the match?'
tells her, no; to-morrow he intends
hunt the boar with certain of his friends."
the morning, the hunt is on. Hounds bark and bay.
Attracted by the din, Venus spies the boar “whose
frothy mouth [is] bepainted all with red, / Like
milk and blood being mingled both together”
(901-902). The dogs run about in a frenzy,
bleeding. And Adonis? Where is Adonis? She fears
the worst. When a “merry horn” (1025) sounds, her
heart quickens with hope and
As falcon to the lure, away she
Adonis has been gored. He is dead.
Venus is devastated. She says:
grass stoops not, she treads on it so light;
in her haste unfortunately spies
foul boar's conquest on her fair delight;
seen, her eyes, as murder'd with the view,
stars ashamed of day, themselves withdrew.
"Alas, poor world, what treasure
hast thou lost!
From his blood,
she causes a purple flower to grow. Then, tired
and careworn, she hies away in her chariot,
drawn by silver doves, “to immure herself and
not be seen” (1194).
face remains alive that's worth the viewing?
tongue is music now? what canst thou boast
things long since, or any thing ensuing?
flowers are sweet, their colours fresh and trim;
true-sweet beauty lived and died with him."
The climax occurs when Venus
discovers the body of Adonis, who has been
gored to death by the boar.
When he wrote the poem,
Shakespeare was attempting to establish his
reputation as a writer of merit. Consequently,
he exhibited considerable technical skill in
figures of speech describing the passion of
Venus, the allure of the countryside, and the
grisly aftermath of the boar's encounter with
Adonis and the hunting dogs.
In many stanzas, Shakespeare
charged his words with chaste and innocent
denotations and sensual and suggestive
connotations. Some modern interpreters of the
poem read much into these words while
speculating on Shakespeare's own sexuality.
Following are examples of
figures of speech in the poem. For definitions
of figures of speech, click here.
With this she
seizeth on his sweating palm (25)
He burns with bashful shame (49)
Rain added to a river that is rank (71)
Seeds spring from seeds, and beauty breedeth beauty (67)
Strong-temper'd steel his stronger strength obey'd (111)
his cheek, now
Still she entreats, and prettily
For to a pretty ear she tunes
Still is he sullen, still he lours and frets, (73-75)
Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds (264)
Poor queen of
love, in thine own law forlorn,
To love a cheek that smiles at
thee in scorn! (251-252)
of love fails at love.
He saith she
is immodest, blames her
follows more she murders with a kiss. (54-55)
of Venus's kiss, which silences Adonis, to
Look! how a
bird lies tangled in a net,
fasten’d in her arms Adonis lies. (67-68)
of Adonis to as bird
Love is a
spirit all compact of fire,
gross to sink, but light, and will aspire.
of love to a spirit of fire
that shines from heaven shines but warm,
I lie between that sun and thee:
heat I have from thence doth little harm,
eye darts forth the fire that burneth me;
were I not immortal, life were done
this heavenly and earthly sun. (193-198)
of Adonis's eye to an "earthly sun"
I'll be a
park, and thou shalt be my deer;
where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale
of Venus to a park and Adonis to a deer
now she takes him by the hand,
prison'd in a gaol of snow (361-362)
of Adonis to a lily
of Venus to a jail (gaol)
tired in the mid-day heat
burning eye did hotly overlook them
of Titan, a Greek god also known as
Helios, to the sun
of the sun to an eye
For I have
heard it is a life in death,
laughs and weeps, and all but with a breath.
is death; laughing is weeping.)
so himself himself forsook,
died to kiss his shadow in the brook.
a mythological personage who fell in love
with his own image, forsakes himself—an
with purple-colour'd face
his last leave of the weeping morn (1-2)
of the sun and the morning to persons
made thee, with herself at strife,
that the world hath ending with thy life.
of nature to a person
She red and
hot as coals of glowing fire (35)
Vocabulary and Allusions From the Poem
of Venus's complexion to glowing coals
Even as an
empty eagle, sharp by fast,
with her beak on feathers, flesh and
her wings, devouring all in
either gorge be stuff’d or prey be
she kiss’d his brow, his cheek, his
where she ends she doth anew begin. (55-60)
of Venus to a hungry eagle
promise did he raise his chin
dive-dapper peering through a wave (85-86)
of Adonis to a bird called a dive-dapper,
also known as a dabchick and a grebe
These forceless flowers like
sturdy trees support me. (152)
Comparison of flowers to
tears began to turn their tide,
prisoned in her eye like pearls in glass.
of tears to pearls
are explanations of words and phrases in the
poem. The line number follows the word or
agues (739): Fevers.
amain (5): Forcefully.
anon (279): Soon.
battery (426): Breach,
miss (53): Adonis's complaints (blames)
miss Venus (fail to register).
brake (876): Clump of
caitiff (914): Hound
filled with fear or intimidation.
carry-tale (657): Tale
clepes (995): Calls by
clip Elysium (600): Gain
contemn (205): Despise,
Cupid (581): God of love.
He was the son of Venus
curvet (279): Movement in
which a horse raises its forelegs and then
springs forward. The hind legs rise while the
Dian (725): Diana, goddess
of the hunt.
dive-dapper (86): Bird
also known as a dabchick or grebe.
fain (221): Eager,
fetlock (295): Tuft of
hair above and behind the hoof of a horse.
flap-mouthed mourner (920):
Yelping or crying dog with floppy skin on the
flint (95): Very hard
four such lamps (489):
froward 562): Hard to
gaol (362): Jail.
glister (275): Glisten.
heart's attorney (335):
Tongue. The tongue speaks for the heart.
jade (391: Worn-out horse;
jennet (260): Female
laund (813): Open field;
limning (290): Drawing,
lour (183): Scowl,
maw (602): Stomach.
meed (15): Prize,
mermaid's voice (429):
Allusion to the Sirens,sea nymphs in
Homer's Odyssey. They sang a song so
alluring that it attracted to their shore all
passing sailors who heard it—and then they sat,
transfixed by the song, until they died.
milch doe (875): Doe that
Narcissus (161): In Greek
mythology, handsome young man who fell in love
with his own image reflected in a pool
no fisher but the ungrown fry
forbears (526): No fisherman keeps
ungrown (small) fish. He throws them back.
palfrey (384): Gentle
Paphos (1193): Ancient
city in Cyprus.
pine the maw (602): Deny
or deprive the stomach.
purblind hare (679):
repine (490): Unhappy, not
saddle-bow (14) : Upward
projection on the front part of a saddle;
shag (295): Shaggy.
singled with much ado the cold
fault (693-694): Singled out or found
the lost scent.
sovereign plaster (916):
spleens (907): Impulses;
stillitory (443): Still,
used to vaporize, distill.
Tantalus (599): In Greek
mythology, King of Sipylus, Lydia. He was a
favorite of the gods until he attempted to
deceive them. For his offense, they condemned
him to eternal punishment in Hades. There,
Tantalus thirsted for water that always
receded when he tried to drink it and desired
fruit on a tree branch that was always out of
Titan (177): Another name
for Helios, a sun god.
tushes (617): Tusks of a
twain (123): Two.
'twixt (76): Betwixt,
vestals (752): Vestal
welkin (921): Sky;