Shakespeare first made his name in London as the poet who wrote Venus and Adonis. Shakespeare’s poem is an erotic and ironic tale of frustrated seduction. It was printed in ten editions during the poet’s lifetime and it was an instant favourite.
In Epigrammes in the oldest cut, and newest fashion (1599) John Weever wrote a sonnet in praise of ‘honey-tongued Shakespeare’. He referred to the ‘rose-cheeked Adonis’ and ‘proud lust-stung Tarquin’ from Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece. Unfortunately, Weever had forgotten many of the characters from Shakespeare’s early dramatic works and could only recall Romeo and Richard. He admits that there are ‘more, whose names I know not’:
Honey-tongued Shakespeare, when I saw thine issue,
I swore Apollo got them, and none other;
Their rosy-tainted features, clothed in tissue,
Some heaven-born goddess said to be their mother:
Rose-cheeked Adonis, with his amber tresses,
Fair fire-hot Venus charming him to love her;
Chaste Lucretia, virgin-like her dresses,
Proud lust-stung Tarquin, seeking still to prove her;
Romeo, Richard – more, whose names I know not –
Their sugared tongues and power-attractive beauty
Say they are saints, although that saints they show not,
For thousands vows to them subjective duty;
They burn in love; thy children, Shakespeare, het them,
Go, woo thy muse, more nymphish brood beget them.
Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis is mentioned in two of the Parnassus plays which were performed at one of the colleges in Cambridge at the end of the sixteenth century. The Christmas entertainments at St John’s College included three plays, known as the Parnassus plays, based on the adventures of a couple of students as they studied in the university and as they travelled to London to find work. One of the characters in the second play, The Return from Parnassus, is a lover of poetry by the name of Gullio. He admires the poetic style of Chaucer and Spenser but ultimately prefers Shakespeare’s saucy narrative poem:
Let this duncified world esteem of Spenser and Chaucer, I’ll worship sweet Mr Shakespeare and to honour him will lay his Venus and Adonis under my pillow, as we read of one – I do not well remember his name, but I’m sure he was a king – slept with Homer under his bed’s head.
© 2017 Shakespeare’s World
To read more about this topic and other events on this day in Shakespeare’s lifetime, you can see our recommendations for further reading and visit our website to buy Shakespeare’s World App or to follow us on social media.