By the late s, he had already brought enough French into his plays to attest to his competence in that tongue notably in the locutions of Dr Caius in Merry Wives of Windsor and in the language lesson scenes of Henry V. Venus and Adonis Shakespeares familiarity with French and Italian texts proves difficult to estimate, but his experience with classical Latin texts, especially with Ovids poetry, is evident. We do not know whether Venus and Adonis or Marlowes Hero and Leander came first in composition, but it seems clear that one poem alludes to the other and that both share a playful, cheeky, tone-shifting attitude to the mode.
Shakespeare magnifies his brief Latin source in Ovids Metamorphoses From this derives the odd naturalism of Adonis ivory hand and his stony silence , , of Venuss maternalistic and vaguely incestuous solicitude toward him , and perhaps of the sheer mismatch between the goddesss physical strength and the young mans diminutive stature , , playing on the etymology of Pygmalions name Greek pygmaios pigmy, measuring a cubit or eighteen inches in length, the size of a well-endowed phallus.
Such was the verse that had tickled the elite at court, at university, among the wealthy gentry of London, and among the legaltraining societies populated by Gentlemen of the Innes of Court and Chauncerie. To the latter, Greenes friend Thomas Lodge had dedicated his Ovidian poem Scillaes Metamorphosis in Englands first major example of this In Petrarchan terms, but notably inverting the gendered parallels between himself and female speakers, Lodges Glaucus compares his unrequited love for Scylla to Venuss for Adonis stanzas , As lurid as any overwrought Petrarchist, he blazons Scilla from head to crotch stanzas and he sings of his despair Dead alas still I live, At length, Cupid heals him and punishes Scilla so that when the poem closes, Glaucus enjoys his sexual vindication at her expense.
So no doubt did those worldly connoisseurs of Ovidian erotica and Petrarchan amours who had constituted Lodges readership. Shakespeare knew he could do better. If Lodge had tapped Ronsards poetry for some Petrarchan figurations, Shakespeare would tap the work of Englands own Edmund Spenser for more powerful ones. The latters Complaints Stationers Register, 29 December showed that Petrarchism held a greater potential for serious verse than any contemporary English sonneteer had yet imagined.
Approaching Venus and Adonis from this Spenserian perspective, we find that Venuss address to Death, Imperious supreme of all mortal things , her discovery of Adonis Where, lo, two lamps burnt out in darkness lies , and her account of how Loves contrarieties Pluck down the rich, enrich the poor with treasures resonate deeply with figurations of mortality in Complaints. Midway through the Legend of Chastity, the Garden of Adonis 3. Before our eyes, Spenser is reversing and correcting earlier valuations attached to the goddesss passionate inclinations. Spenser plays upon the etymology of Adoniss name as related to eden Hebrew garden as well as to hedone Greek pleasure.
The young man now presides over a locale where he dwells eterne in mutabilitie and will forever be called father of all formes Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman language, myth, and literary allusion conspire to edit, revise, supplement, and magnify Spensers initial representation of Venus. Upon the goddesss apprehension of Adoniss untimely death, a sharp tonal change unearths variable passions in the contrarious Petrarchan manner.
Fear, confidence, guilt, denial, hope, despair, compromise, self-assertion each by turns overtakes Venus until her eyes shirk their duty and multiply her grief Her account of how contrariety originates in erotic turmoil extends the Petrarchan antagonisms of her complaint. Her retreat to Paphos consequently ends the poem on a note of suspension and dissolution, emulating the resistance to closure in Book 3 of The Faerie Queene.
Shakespeare learned more from Spenser than versification or poetic technique: he learned principles of figurative repetition and thematic revision as well. The Rape of Lucrece Shakespeares next poem, The Rape of Lucrece, likewise ends on a note of suspension, and it is one that portends a defining moment in Roman history when the aristocracy supplanted a tyrannical monarchy with limited republican rule.
The poems ancient sources derive chiefly from Ovids poetic account of Lucrece in Fasti 2.
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Greene and Nashe had implied that Shakespeare possessed only a tyros grasp of classical rhetoric. The formal declamations of Lucrece allow him to display his control over suasoriae and sententiae and to criticize stylistic assumptions subtending their development in English literary history. For Each of these predecessors undercuts celebratory versions of the past with a tragic or at least ironic view of human self-deception.
So too does Shakespeare, but with a richness of texture and allusion that ranges over the entire canon of Tudor and Elizabethan literature. The moral sophistry of John Lylys witty hero in Euphues subtends the rapists decision to proceed with his act All orators are dumb when beauty pleadeth, , just as the Petrarchan blazon of the victims body suppositiously strengthens his resolve.
Shakespeare goes out of his way to fashion a distinctly performative rhetoric for Lucrece as well, enabling her to plan for action but also requiring her to confront its socially and politically gendered consequences. But like the advice proffered by Mores spokesperson and by the royal counsellors in both plays, it fails to deter the aggressors wilful behaviour. Nor does she trust the power of rhetoric to defend her chastity in the eyes of others.
Lucrece convinces herself that only suicide can prove her innocence and perhaps motivate a change in social values To see sad sights moves more than hear them told , The poems outcome provides a staging ground to test the power of argument itself and the self-deluding, self-dividing bases on which it stands. To no avail his advisors warn him of dangers to the state that will result from His lawless and unbridled vein in love; happily, the queen foils his attempt and restores order to the kingdom in the end.
Nashes narrative recounts a brutal rape whose victim fails to deter the deed with her classical rhetoric How thinkest thou, is there a power above thy power? Here, too, Lucrece bears traces of Spensers and Marlowes influence. Still others recall Marlowes effort around to translate into blank verse Lucans late Roman epic, De bello civili also known as the Pharsalia , about conflicts that followed upon the assassination of Julius Caesar. The result, LUCANS firste booke of the famous Civill warr translated line for line by Christopher Marlowe, depicts outrage strangling law and people strong 2 amid rhetorical representations of duplicitous motives.
Lucrece ends as the tyrants kinsman Junius Brutus Latin brutus dullard casts off his formerly doltish demeanour Wherein deep policy did him disguise and issues an unexpected plea for public action. This bravura display of cunning is not unlike that of Marlowes dramatic Tamburlane and Barabas and is pregnant with anticipations of later cunning in Shakespeares own dramatic Hamlet, Hal, Duke Vincentio, and Edgar.
In Lucrece, Shakespeare moves beyond his earlier representation of Roman history in Titus Andronicus toward the later effects of his mature tragedies. Poetry in Shakespeares plays The success of Venus and Adonis sixteen editions before and Lucrece eight editions before gave Shakespeare the assurance of being a published author, and empowered him toward further poetry in the plays of his middle period after the theatres reopened in June Here we find him experimenting with the sonnet form in Loves Labours Lost and Romeo and Juliet, where it is applied to comic, dramatic, and romantic situations.
Earlier in Two Gentlemen of Verona 3. The plays of Shakespeares extended middle period make distinct and explicit allusions to lyrics from an earlier generation. After the Nurse When Benedick attempts to sing, he begins a popular ballad The god of love, whose simple rhyme eludes him Much Ado 5. In Merry Wives of Windsor, the Welsh parson Sir Hugh Evans twists lines from Marlowes Come live with me and be my love and further contaminates them with metrical verses from Psalm 3.
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In Twelfth Night, Feste sings two traditional love ballads 2. From the same anthology, the Gravedigger in Hamlet sings In youth when I did love 5. This creative melding of echoes from Watson, Marlowe, Sidney, and various anthologies displaying their roots in Wyatt and Lord Vaux, reminds us of Shakespeares role as an active reader who absorbed the major poetic currents of his time. This anthologizing spirit reaches its height in As You Like It, which offers a wide range of amatory and other modes, from Amienss pastoral 2. As the shepherdess Phebe falls madly in love with Rosalind, her quotation of line from Hero and Leander, Who ever lovd that lovd not at first sight As You Like It 3.
Referring to the latter in reverent terms as dead shepherd 3. By now, Shakespeare The Phoenix and Turtle The anthologizing tenor of these plays corresponds to two publishing ventures that involved Shakespeare just before and after the turn of the century. The first is The Passionate Pilgrim, printed by T. Judson for William Jaggard probably in , an anthology of twenty poems that opens with two of the poet-playwrights yet unpublished Sonnets numbers and , along with versions of three sonnets from Loves Labours Lost.
The second is Robert Chesters Loves Martyr Stationers Register , a long poem about Natures plea for the phoenix to reproduce by mating with a turtledove in Wales, to which was appended Shakespeares The Phoenix and Turtle along with shorter poems on the same theme by John Marston, George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and anonymous others. Dedicated to the Welshborn John Salusbury, the volume presumably celebrates the latters recent elevation to knighthood. But Shakespeares contribution, framed in a deflationary trochaic tetrameter to express the willingness of the phoenix and turtledove to immolate themselves, and then in a jangling monorhyme to express Reasons lament, seems an implausible attempt at commemoration.
Shakespeares motivation may well have been commercial and even selfpromotional. Just as Shakespeare might have enjoyed sharing the company of young, rising poets at the turn of the new century, so might they have hoped to gain from sharing his company. Chapmans Peristeros, or the Male Turtle seemingly echoes Shakespearean topoi when it emblematizes the bird as a figure of truth eternizd.
More complicated is Shakespeares relationship with Ben Jonson, for whom the year marked a turning point. And Jonsons next play, Poetaster , dramatizes his new literary preferences by depicting the banishment from Augustuss Rome of Ovid, the exemplar of an old-fashioned courtly style in his amatory elegies, here a stand-in for Petrarchan verse, and by exalting the success of Horace, the master of a renovated plain style in his satires, epistles, and commendatory epigrams.
Shakespeare would find Jonsons posture pallid and parched when measured against the development of English poetry. It is perhaps no accident that his figure of the phoenix evokes Matthew Roydens nostalgic lament for Philip Sidney, An Elegie, first printed in the anthology The Phoenix Nest , and then re-printed along with Spensers lament for Sidney, Astrophel, in the volume that features Colin Clouts Come Home Again It is possible too that Shakespeares figuration of the phoenix owes something in a countervalent way to Sidneys deflated version of phenix Stellas state in Sonnet 92 of Astrophil and Stella, as well as to other representations of the phoenix in Petrarchan sonnets by Lodge, William Smith, Giles Fletcher the Elder, and Michael Drayton.
Unlike the playwright of Poetaster, Shakespeare would never banish Ovid or Petrarch from his poetic pantheon. Shakespeare in fact defiantly reprises the tetrameter and Elizabethan ballad forms of his early-middle plays and imbues them with self-parody in his later plays. The Fools gnomic songs in King Lear deploy the trochaic tetrameter couplet form used for fairy spells, charms, incantations, and adjurations in Midsummer Nights Dream, as do Autolycuss sales-pitches in Winters Tale 4.
In King Lear 3. A similar desolation pervades Desdemonas Willow Song in Othello 4.
Guiderius and Arviraguss Fear no more the heat oth sun functions as a requiem for Innogen in Cymbeline 4. And when in Winters Tale Shakespeare finally makes his peace with Greene by using the latters romance novel Pandosto for his plot, he assigns Autolycus an old-fashioned ballad, When daffodils begin to peer 4. In these final stages of his career, the poet-playwright continues to inhabit a literary world that Jonson and others had repudiated.
It is no anomaly that he agreed at least tacitly, and perhaps with real enthusiasm, to the publication in of sonnets that he had drafted a decade and a half earlier. Certainly they illustrate Shakespeares abiding interest in and allegiance to the motifs, forms, and modes of the early s.
He had likely drafted the majority of his Sonnets in , revising and augmenting them during the intervening period, and circulating them in manuscript among readers who transcribed and expressed their delight in them. In Thomas Newmans piratical edition of Sidneys Astrophil and Stella with an introduction by the self-promoting Nashe , ignited a sonnet-craze that burned for three years. Daniels Delia, published piratically with Astrophil and Stella and then revised in and in subsequent editions, refers to poems by Petrarch, Tasso, Desportes, and others.
Lodges Phyllis offers direct translations from Petrarch, Ronsard, Desportes, and others. Twenty homoerotic sonnets addressed to a young man in Richard Barnfields Cynthia gesture toward Ronsards anacreontic verse. Shakespeare also had the precedent of Watsons above mentioned Hekatompathia , a volume of translations from Petrarch, Serafino, Ariosto, Ronsard, and others, which includes snatches from the original Italian and French texts as well as commentaries on their sources, analogues, and moral import. And if he could keep his sides from splitting while reading it, he had the lumbering, unintentionally funny precedent of John Swootherns Pandora with its hendecasyllabic translations of poems from Ronsard, Du Bellay, and Desportes.
Daniel, Watson, Lodge, Barnfield, and Swoothern serve their Petrarchism straight up with results that elicit curiosity, admiration, and occasional laughter. Astrophil and Stella and the Petrarchan poems distributed So what did Shakespeare do? Shakespeare largely avoided these models. But he might have gone to a younger, lesser known, often irreverent member of the French Pleiade who had fashioned his own dark lady in a clever send-up of his elders Petrarchan sonneteering. Etienne Jodelle in his aptly and provocatively titled Contramours published , a mini-sequence of seven poems ripe enough for quick and greedy plucking, offered just such a palinodic representation of adulterous love gone awry, one capable of winning the approval of Londons savvy readership.
But a parallel and more ambitious series seems to have followed closely upon it. The year marked the publication not only of Sidneys and Daniels sequences, but also of Spensers Complaints, which, as we have seen, offered English readers a view of Petrarch and Du Bellay as poets with more than amatory interests, and as poets whose meditations on past, present, and future history drew as well upon classical texts from Virgil, Horace, and Ovid. Even Daniel had incorporated Horatian and Ovidian eternizing motifs into his sonnets about Delia.
And so would Shakespeare in his eternizing sonnets in the procreation group and in Sonnets Behind them looms the Spenserian precedent in Complaints and possibly some encounter with the Italian and French poets who showed Spenser how to cross-pollinate Petrarchan forms with the matter of classical elegy.
Such poems as Sonnets 65 and 74 display Shakespeares skills in using Ovidian materials, but they also display his skills in appropriating continental Petrarchism. In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio jabs at the numbers that Petrarch flowed in 2. Weve already noted one of Petrarchs most famous poems, Sonnet , as the model for Sidneys Sonnet 71, which dispenses with the Italian poets memento mori warning and poetic boast.
Shakespeares Sonnets 65 and 74 echo this theme while reinstating Petrarchs admonition How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea and poetic challenge My life hath in this line some interest. But these sonnets go beyond any simple debt to Petrarch. Ronsard, too, had used the Italian poem as a model for the first sonnet of Les amours, Qui voudra voyr comme un Dieu me surmonte.
Praised by his compatriots as the prince of poets and the poet of princes, Ronsard attracted celebrity in England, if not widespread imitation there. What if Shakespeare, like his worldly, university-educated contemporaries, had dipped into Ronsards poetry, not as a scholar hunting for sources, but as a gifted wordsmith or as an ambitious and cosmopolitan author curious about literary production beyond the Channel?
No convincing evidence exists that Shakespeare directly imitated an entire poem in any foreign tongue. But tantalizing hints suggest that Shakespeare conducts a dialogue with continental authors and with English counterparts who professed to borrow from them. Elusive echoes, strategically placed, remind us that Greenes upstart Crow might just have sought out more bounty in alien tongues than even his contemporaries credited him with. When at the turn of the century Shakespeare revisited his Sonnets, elite literary taste was changing.
The Phoenix and Turtle summons the state of poetry at this pivotal moment, and the Sonnets that Shakespeare likely wrote at this time address the situation. Sonnet , Alas tis true, I have gone here and there, concurs with a sort of newly fashioned flaneur verse that positions the speaker as a witty observer of his own and others misconduct. Sonnet records his perceptions of fawning behaviour in high places, typifying the sycophancy and factionalism of James Is nascent court.
Sonnets and contrast such policy and outward honouring with the speakers avowal of his own constancy. These poems slyly undercut Jonsons famous proclamation to dwell as in my Centre, as I can, a boast made even as the latters compass gravitated more and more toward the preferences of his patrons. One sign of its steadiness is his use of the sonnet form itself, varied yet unvarying, and endorsed by him even and especially when it had fallen out of favour. Viewed from this perspective, the final revised form of the first sixty Sonnets concurs with the aesthetic trajectory traced above.
If Sonnets And if Shakespeare had earlier acknowledged the preeminence of Sidney and Spenser in conferring such continental sophistication upon English poetry, he now affirms their pre-eminence by sharpening his echoes of their sonnets. References to Spensers mature sonnets prove equally compelling. Shakespeares effort to fashion a natural analogue in Sonnet 18, Shall I compare thee to a summers day, replicates Spensers Amoretti 9, Long-while I sought to what I might compare; his effort to sustain a figuration of the young man as a rose in Sonnet 54, The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem, recalls Amoretti 26, Sweet is the rose, but growes upon a brere; and his effort to eternize the young mans worth amid the mutable tides of Sonnet 60, Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, addresses Amoretti 75, One day I wrote her name upon the strand.
The concentration of these echoes among the first sixty Sonnets should give us pause. Spensers Amoretti did not appear in print until , two years after the poet-playwright had likely drafted the first hundred or so of his own Sonnets. Even if by Shakespeare had access to some of Spensers early sonnets in manuscript, he still took materials from later poems in Amoretti which celebrate the poets marriage in June These materials re-appear in sonnets that Shakespeare likely composed after the turn of the century, and they also influence his revisions of Sonnets at that time or later.
For example, Sonnet , When in the chronicle of wasted time, echoes Sonnet 69 in the Amoretti, The famous warriors of the anticke world. But the distinctive quality of Amoretti, followed by Epithalamion, is that it celebrates Shakespeare in his Sonnets faces the challenge of confronting this Spenserian precedent and adapting it to his sequence about love between men marred by the younger mans self-absorption and by their mutually sordid relationship with a dark lady.
Shakespeare redeems this experience with poetry that expresses the profoundest longing and desire, self-loathing and self-doubt, and persistent moral contradiction amid all the exaltation or aversion that the situation might evoke. It makes dramatic turmoil the very stuff of his Sonnets. Cast in the stanzaic form of Lucrece, the poem abounds in archaisms that evoke Spensers diction, if not exactly his lyric style. It tells of a young woman seduced by an appealing but curiously androgenous young man. In this way, the poem links a female complaint of ruin and abandonment to a male complaint of frustration and unrequited love.
For his part, the young man remains coolly detached as he describes how he thwarted the longing of women whose deep-brained sonnets fell on his deaf ears, even as he heats up the urgency of his own plea to the woman who is rejecting him now. Its conclusion can be thought of as both a homage to and a resistance against Spenser, an anti-epithalamion that expresses the frank and unrepentant acceptance of an intolerable, transgressive love experienced at great expense, a triumph of the flesh reined in by the acknowledgement of the pain and vexation that accompany it.
Conclusion Shakespeares poetic achievement, then, mirrors the development of English poetry in his time. Yet side by side with this fashionable form, the lyrics of his major plays from Taming of the Shrew and Midsummer Nights Dream to King Lear, The Winters Tale and The Tempest abound in trochaic tetrameter, the meter of popular old-style ballads as well as of Sidneys experiments in the songs of Astrophil and Stella.
Early in his poetic career, Shakespeare established his credentials with Venus and Adonis by appropriating the Ovidian narrative form pioneered by Lodge and by developing it with stylistic features culled from Spenser and Marlowe.
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In The Rape of Lucrece, he reinforced these credentials by wedding the rhyme royal of the complaint mode from Chaucer to Daniel to rhetorical topoi drawn from Tudor treatises and political drama as well as from a range of texts by Greene, Nashe, Spenser, and Marlowe. In The Phoenix and Turtle, Shakespeare entered into the company of and competition with a generation of rising poets that included Jonson, Marston, and Chapman. When finally in he acquiesced to the publication of his Sonnets, he did so with the confidence of a body of work composed over a long period and brought to a finish in an era of divergent literary values.
The Sonnets deliberate echoes of Sidney, Spenser, other Elizabethan forerunners, and possibly of some continental poets as well, proclaim Shakespeares deepest literary values and his recurrent aesthetic convictions. For Shakespeares contact with them, see William J. For Ovidianism in Renaissance poetry, see C.
Quotations from Spenser refer to Poetical Works, ed. Smith and E. Thomas H. Dickinson New York: Scribners, , 2. The parallels continue. Upon sating his lust, Nashes rapist sinks into depravity, echoing the rape of Lavinia in Titus Andronicus Her husbands dead body he made a pillow to his abomination, Titus Andronicus 2. Fredson Bowers, 2 vols. Cambridge University Press, , II: The quotations that follow refer to Watson, The Hekatompathia, or Passionate Centurie of Love, facsimile of edition, introd.
Hyder Edward Rollins, 2 vols. Alexander B. Grosart London, , here cited from p. The Phoenix Nest, ed. Further comparisons with the paradoxes of two-in-one in such poems by John Donne as The Canonization and The Dreame seem too inexact to claim the latters influence, though as Bednarz speculates in this volume, it may be possible that Donne echoes Shakespeare. See A. Studies in Philology 88 , ; Shakespeares Sonnets, ed.
Colin Burrow Oxford University Press, , pp. See Thomas P. See William J. For Italian and French models mentioned in this paragraph, see Janet G. George W. Among the varied poems in Gascoignes volume are twenty-three other sonnets, including one in praise of a brown beautie whose less-than-perfect nutbrowne face deters him from the tickle track of craftie Cupides maze Poem Shakespeares Sonnet parallels Jodelles Sonnet 7, Combien de fois mes vers ont ils dore, and Sonnet carries echoes of Jodelles Sonnet 6, O traistres vers, trop traistres contre moy.
Francis Meres had compared Jodelle to Marlowe, As Iodelle, a French tragical poet, beeing an Epicure and an Atheist, made a pitifull end: so our tragical poet Marlowe for his Epicureanisme and Atheisme had a tragicall death, in Palladis Tamia London, , v. See Prescott, French Poets, pp. Paris: Gallimard, See parallels and analogues listed throughout in Fernand Baldensperger, Les Sonnets de Shakespeare traduits en vers francais et accompagnes dun commentaire continu Berkeley: University of California Press, ; and in the commentaries on Sonnets and in Shakespeare, The Sonnets and A Lovers Complaint, ed.
Cheney, Shakespeare, PoetPlaywright, pp. For the poems relationship to themes of seduction and betrayal in the Sonnets, see Poems, ed. Shakespeare and Ovid. Oxford: Clarendon Press, Bednarz, James P. Shakespeare and the Poets War. New York: Columbia University Press, Dubrow, Heather. Echoes of Desire: English Petrarchism and its Counterdiscourses.
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, Hieatt, A. PMLA 98 , William Shakespeare: Sonnets and Poems. London: Prentice Hall, Kennedy, William J. Zachary Lesser and Benedict Robinson. Aldershot: Ashgate, , pp. Miola, Robert. Shakespeares Reading. Oxford University Press, Prescott, Anne Lake.
French Poets and the English Renaissance. New Haven: Yale University Press, Roche, Thomas P. Petrarch and the English Sonnet Sequences. Rhetoric matters in Shakespeares poems not least because it is the principal means of creating variety. For instance, his two narrative poems are best distinguished from each other in terms of pace; Venus and Adonis being swift-footed throughout, whereas The Rape of Lucrece, despite Tarquins initial eagerness to encounter the woman whose description has enthralled him, moves with deliberate inevitability, like Gods grinding mills.
Within themselves the two poems observe a larger number of differences of stylistic effect, so that the pleasure each affords consists of any number of local peculiarities. Differences within similarity, similarity within difference, all based on the primary and underlying principle of antithesis, constitute their main appeal to the readers imagination. Sonnet rhetoric conforms to this process in terms both of overall structural antithesis and incidental pleasure or colouring. Otherwise a sonnet sequence lacks a consistent narrative, and instead makes use of a fractured or interrupted narrative development.
In Shakespeares case this creates endless problems of interpretation and evaluation. In this chapter, I shall focus on the narrative poems, but will refer to the Sonnets under the general topic of rhetoric. We need to use the word pleasure advisedly, since from the time of the narrative poems first composition the question of the ethical purpose, or indeed ethical justification, of such literature has contributed in large measure to the kinds of debate they engender. In some respects, Venus and Adonis is the easier of the two poems to discuss in terms of pleasure for the simple reason that it aims throughout to delight readers with its mischievous presentation of the predicament of love.
Yet the history of its reception, particularly in recent times, makes it by no means straightforward. Despite the poems lightness of touch, it seems to have raised any number of issues that readers have felt require serious deliberation. By contrast, The Rape of Lucrece insists on its seriousness from the outset; the antithesis, which unites the two poems by opposition, is anticipated in Venus and Adonis by the dedicatory letters reference to some graver labour. The Rape of Lucrece in its turn worries away at the old philosophical problem: what sort of delight can be taken in a work that depicts the infliction of suffering as a result of the loss of human control.
We can say that both poems in their different ways afford pleasure; but is that all that we can observe about the lighter poem, and is it an adequate thing to say of its darker counterpart? The subject of ethics is never far away from such questions. As Brian Vickers points out in his informative essay Rhetoric and Poetics, a concern with ethics is what brought poetics and rhetoric together, the justification for both being their ability to convey the teachings of moral philosophy with more powerful effect.
At the very least, examining the rhetorical nature of each poem ought to give us some interesting insights into such matters. Venus and Adonis This first heir of [Shakespeares] invention brings out superbly the relation of rhetoric to form. Its great principle is energy or energetic movement. Sidney is referring to the ability of a true poet to convey what a passion such as love really feels like, as opposed to what it might seem to be from external observation or academic discussion. Since we mention energia, we might bear in mind its counterpart, often confused with it, enargia.
That first qualitie the Greekes called Enargia, of this word argos, because it geveth a glorious lustre and light. This latter they called Energia, of ergon, because it wrought with a strong and vertuous operation. When Francis Meres paid his handsome tribute to Shakespeares poetic genius he spoke in terms that correspond most nearly with enargia: the English tongue is mightily enriched in and gorgeously invested in rare ornaments and resplendent abiliments by Sir Philip Sidney, Spencer, Daniel, Drayton, Warner, Shakespeare, Marlow and Chapman.
It is important to try and get a sense of how contemporaries received the poem, especially since, in an evolving culture, subsequent generations have inevitably brought to the poem readings that speak more about their own time than Shakespeares. Which is not to say that such readings indeed all readings are wrong or irrelevant. When it comes to the substance of Venus and Adonis any number of interpretations have been advanced, and the least we can say is that we should be wary of all of them.
The most reliable are those which try to derive their understanding of the poem from its form, or at least make it consistent with its form, in the manner that Aristotle, the prime champion of form, always insisted we must. For her part, Heather Dubrow makes an important distinction between form and behaviour or substance when, on the Aristotelian topic of mimesis she reminds us that in pulling Adonis from his horse l. The stanza form of Venus and Adonis is the sixain, i. The lines of This last effect is most important because it enables the poem eventually to achieve closure in a purely structural manner while allowing any thematic questions that it generates to remain open or unresolved.
That too reflects the antithetical nature of the poetic enterprise. When Aristotle brings together his three components, metaphor, antithesis, and energia, he makes the point that the first two reflect each other: metaphor works antithetically. They form part of the same process rather than co-existing separately. In the sixain everything is balanced in an interdependent way; the principle of equation means that opposition can be replaced with similarity yet the effect of antithesis maintains itself.
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The four lines of the quatrain and the two of the couplet stand in a ratio of to each other. The couplet summarizes and resolves the antithesis that marks the quatrain but can also produce an antithesis of its own. We can demonstrate these characteristics from the opening stanza, distinguished like so many of the narrative units of the poem by its energetic pace: Even as the sun with purple-coloured face Had tane his last leave of the weeping morn, Rose-cheeked Adonis hied him to the chase; Hunting he loved, but love he laughed to scorn.
Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him, And like a bold-faced suitor gins to woo him. We might take first the compound epithets, for which Shakespeare may have found a source of inspiration in Marlowe, who himself furnished the combination Rose-cheeked Adonis,9 but he may have just as easily got such compounds as purple-coloured 1 , made conventional by Homer, from the Iliad or from a Homer-derived text. There are four such compounds see also sick-thoughted, bold-faced , which occur across the face of the stanza, in lines 1, 3, 5, and 6, establishing a pattern of contrast and balance in conformity with its other operations.
But most importantly the stanza has movement: as the sun takes its leave, Adonis sets off on his mission. The stasis of contrast is beautifully offset by contrast as motion, so that the pace never threatens to flag. When it does slow down, as happens at critical moments, the mood develops appropriately, with the result that changes of speed signal transitions from one state of mind or expectation to another.
The opening stanza also effectively establishes the themes that are going to dominate the poem, and that will produce the conflict between the two lovers unlike his counterpart in Ovids Metamorphoses, Shakespeares Adonis never reciprocates Venuss feelings, and so the term lovers can only Take the compound epithets first: purple-coloured referring to the sun as red and blushing, both in the literal sense of the suns redness and in the more figurative one of blushing guiltily, as he abandons the weeping morn.
Nature thus enacts the trials that human lovers undergo, love being such a perilous occupation. Venus as both goddess and woman as the poem portrays her serves as a link between the natural world rendered by classical tradition as continuously manifesting divine intention and the human world, subject to divine will and powerless to affect it. The poetic narrative casts Venus appropriately as both an agency of power her divine status and yet helpless to control her situation her human side.
Sick-thoughted and bold-faced furthermore summarize her alternating suffering and determination. Rose-cheeked Adonis brings out the soft feminine in a boy who immediately and contrastingly shows a vigorous, masculine scorn of the effeminate occupation of love-making: Hunting he loved, but love he laughed to scorn. It is most important, when we try to account for the terms of opposition between the two principal figures, that we remember all these contrasts, which assert themselves repeatedly in terms of the controlling antithesis that is the poems style.
It is impossible to reduce either the goddess or the youth to a single interpretation, particularly a psychologically verifiable one, though an extraordinary amount of criticism has attempted to do precisely that. Overall they are distinguished by two main and opposing characteristics, her eagerness for love and his unwillingness; everything else is a sub-category of this conflict between them. In his Directions for Speech and Style, the Elizabethan critic of rhetoric John Hoskins insisted on an important point of decorum that none of his contemporaries would have disputed: that a character should always behave in character.
An heroic man is always heroic, a fool is always foolish, a wife exposed by her waywardness should be distraught with guilt, and so on. Hoskins takes most of his examples from the Arcadia of Sidney, and applying his observations we may see how at their trial the princes show an overpowering nobility, despite all the charges levelled against them, how the foolish Dametas displays throughout an appropriate cowardice, and how the would-be adulterous Gynecia expresses a remorseful anguish.
Accordingly, in Romeo and Juliet the devil-may-care jocular Mercutio dies making an off-hand jest: Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man 3. When Othello makes his final declaration of love for the wife he has killed, and takes his own life in remorse, it is again Any number of critics, since the days of T.
Eliot and F. Leavis, have disapproved of Othellos state of mind on various grounds. Generally, Othello is found to be suffering from a delusion of one kind or another, the usual analytical practice being to observe a subtle Jamesian distinction between author and speaker, so that whatever the critic feels about such vehement outbursts can safely be ascribed to Shakespeares purpose.
Eliot, for examples, observes: I do not believe that any writer has ever exposed this bovarysme, the human will to see things as they are not, more clearly than Shakespeare. What the tragedy requires for it to work is both a release in the Aristotelian understanding of that term and an affirmation that he truly loved Desdemona. Anything less than that, and the whole ending to say nothing of all that has gone before falls flat.
Othello cannot crawl about the stage whimpering like a cur; even less so can the audience harbour doubts as to his true motives.
The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeares Poetry
Besides, he has acquired enough humility moments earlier when confronting the fact that he has deprived himself of his wife. If affirmation is to be achieved, it must occur plausibly, and the heroic, manly way is what comes most naturally to this particular hero, whatever reservations we may now, outside our character as audience, entertain about both the military and the masculine disposition.
If Othello is essentially bravery, then Venus is all love. The poem notes this with sympathetic yet mischievous irony when Shakespeare says of her: Shes love, she loves, and yet she is not loved Whereas Othello is intense and concentrated in his role as the soldier-lover, Venus is characterized by variety, indeed infinite variety, as Enobarbus remarks of the dramatic persona who most resembles her, Cleopatra. The mistake that commentators, bent on interpretation, make is to choose one or other aspect of her behaviour and decide that this is what she means. Either that or to deplore her different attempts at wooing Adonis as so many underhand stratagems even to the point of adopting Adoniss objection that she wilfully confuses love with lust But as Belsey points out, it is not Venuss business to distinguish love from lust.
They are difficult to For Venus love is everything, as the poems rhetoric demonstrates: every possible manifestation from tender concern to voracious appetite finds expression through her; and all of this is according to nature. What you will not find in her is anything so artificial as the identification of love with a man-made principle such as chastity.
In this respect the world of nature Venus is in permanent conflict with that of reason or rational restraint partly represented by Adonis. Unlike Marlowes poem, Hero and Leander, only one of the lovers is as we have remarked mortal. Venus varies between the mortal and the immortal according to what task Shakespeare at any moment asks her to perform. In her he demonstrates nature in its plenitude, as various examples illustrate.
Venus gives the poet every opportunity to demonstrate what Erasmus called copia or the amplification of stylistic effect creating richness of eloquence and what Meres describes in terms approximating to enargia as discussed above. Everything in the narrative sparkles with Venuss love of him, and as that love is denied, so the frustrations in love are rendered beautiful. Shakespeare adapts the truth of a traditional Petrarchan sonnet in describing how anger or contempt registers itself as becoming for the lover who suffers it mercilessly: At this Adonis smiles as in disdain, That in each cheek appears a pretty dimple; Love made those hollows, if himself were slain He might be buried in a tomb so simple, Foreknowing well, if there he came to lie, Why there love lived, and there he could not die.
We are invited to dwell on local details such as these in and for themselves, they being what the Elizabethans were pleased to call pretty conceits. They would threaten to detract from the narrative were it not that they scrupulously follow the same antithetical structure that informs the poem in every aspect. Thematically the stanza just quoted has an interesting displacing effect in that it touches, however lightly, on the subject of mortality, which will contribute significantly to the poems denouement, and varies the antithesis which is largely and amusingly played out between improbable male chastity and unusual female importunity by alerting us to the greater and more poignant, eventual conflict of death and love.
In the meantime, the poem intends to amuse, especially throughout this early stage. As well as doing this by wordplay, it achieves the effect by inverting the customary Petrarchan mode, whereby the lady torments the lover, and has her suffer The poems use of Petrarchism, which, despite the antithetical style, often receives less critical attention than Ovid as an influence, reminds us that Adonis is constructed according to the terms of Petrarchan love: in him Shakespeare has fashioned a woman insisting on chastity in the guise of a man.
We come back now to the question of ethics which we raised at the beginning. As Vickers observes, rhetoric is closely involved with ethics: speaking well is speaking true. In Venus and Adonis therefore, we weigh the sense of Adoniss attack on lust but we know that that is just one argument among many, and that several of Venuss debates, such as her argument for preferring procreativity over abstinence, can be put forward against it, as indeed happens in the poem continuously.
Unlike the plays, where arguments come to a head, we are never obliged to choose, or more precisely, face the consequences of choice. On the contrary, to make a choice would be to destroy the antithetical structure on which everything in the poem is so finely balanced. The poignancy of the end is a way of closing the poem on an appropriate note of sorrow, but it does nothing to resolve the various arguments, for and against love, that its speakers advance throughout.
It is quite wrong therefore to read the boars killing of Adonis as symbolic of Venuss immoderate desire, as many critics have assumed. According to Hoskins, everything must be in character: it is entirely in Venuss character, as the principle of love, that she cannot imagine the boars attentions to Adonis as being other than amorous: Tis, true, tis true, thus was Adonis slain: He ran upon the boar with his sharp spear, Who did not whet his teeth at him again, But by a kiss thought to persuade him there; And nuzzling in his flank, the loving swine Sheathed unaware the tusk in his soft groin.
Need we point out that at this moment Venuss feelings are not immoderately sexual, even if sex markedly defines them, but tender and maternal, and prepare us subtly for the poems final transition to a vision of Venus as mother-figure at the close? At present a number of critics are reluctant to observe the lessons of rhetoric and seek interpretation of various kinds. In his chapter on Sexual Poetry, for example, Jonathan Bate makes much of the issue of incest in Shakespeares Ovidian source and sees the fate of Myrrha, whose illicit desire Not only that but to insist on one aspect of Ovid, an aspect which doubtless appeals to the sensibility of today, ignores the more positive qualities that can also be gleaned in the Roman original.
Shakespeare, a typical Elizabethan poet, tended to hold such things in balance, as his poem testifies. The Rape of Lucrece If the question of ethics is managed discreetly in Venus and Adonis, the reason for this is that no character performs an action that is truly culpable. Venus might be inclined towards promiscuity or lasciviousness in the eyes of some readers but she does nothing to harm Adonis.
On the contrary, she does everything to protect him from danger, and his death results from his own determination to hunt the boar a point that those who see her as symbolically destroying him need to bear in mind. The Rape of Lucrece contrasts greatly with the situation in the earlier poem, in that it contains two actions that may be regarded as morally culpable, and each of the major characters performs one of them. Tarquin is guilty of raping Lucrece, while she is guilty of taking her own life, suicide being regarded as sinful in the Christian culture in which Shakespeare writes the poem.
Although the poem tells a Roman tale, it is clear from the way in which Lucrece reasons, both with herself and with her family who try to stay her hand, that she knows that her suicide will be judged adversely. Against this she shows a strong concern for her posthumous reputation as a chaste woman. The conflict accords with and indeed reinforces the poems antithetical style.
Within Roman society the blame attaching to her self-slaughter was outweighed by admiration of her stoical purpose, since stoicism made suicide morally acceptable. Furthermore, in the story as Livy tells it, she proves an honourable sacrifice to the cause of republicanism. But Shakespeares version of the legend came with disapproving comments by St Augustine, who insisted that no woman whose conscience was clear need fear the stigma of physical violation.
Just as she is about to die, she shows perhaps greater concern for her responsibility for the good name of women than for her obligations to God: No, no, quoth she, no dame hereafter living By my excuse shall claim excuses giving. All of this makes the second of Shakespeares two long narrative poems a more sombre affair by far than the first. In Lucrece the erotic is entwined with guilt in a deep and pervasive way, compared with the comically guilty eroticism that appears in Venus and Adonis. We must ask ourselves what, in terms of rhetorical style, is the topic of The Rape of Lucrece.
That is to say, what gives the poem its life, or calls upon its energia? The answer is quite clear: the focus is on Lucrece herself and on her suffering.
Shakespeare may, if he had access to a manuscript of Sidneys Apology for Poetry it was not published till , a year after the poem , have found his cue in the description of her given memorably there: the constant though lamenting look of Lucretia, when she punished in herself anothers fault.
The form of the book as published in the first quarto of provides sufficient evidence. The title-page reads simply Lucrece, whereas The Rape of Lucrece appears as the running-title, editors being thus divided over whether to give the one title or the other to the poem.
In the first part of the narrative roughly one third of its length she is subject to unbearable strain as the threat of rape is held over her; in the second part of the poem she suffers, if anything, the even more unbearable strain of having to endure its consequences. The chief of these is the fear that for as long as she lives she will seem guilty by association.
The Augustinian insistence on clarity of conscience over bodily defilement does not help her. She is a Roman matron depicted by a poet of a Christian culture, but what emerges in Shakespeares treatment is that her sense of herself and that means our sense of ourselves is not determined only by religious doctrine. The human includes the spiritual but in Shakespeares view it is something more.
This we can deduce from the fact that he, like various poets before him Chaucer being one of the chief of these , obviously expected his audience to sympathize with his heroine and not condemn her for heresy. The artistic problem facing the poet was how to maintain interest in a theme that for all its seriousness is poetically a good deal narrower than that of Venus and Adonis, and that does not admit of the variety of register, change of tone, and so on, that contribute to the vivacity of the earlier poem.
Shakespeares We need to look at those features of the poem that show how he plans to do this; many of them indeed bear a structural similarity to those of Venus and Adonis. The stanza form that Shakespeare opted for is that of rhyme royal, which Chaucer used for Troilus and Criseyde; it differs from that of the sixain, as used for the earlier narrative poem, in having one extra line. Of the seven, the fifth line, joining the quatrain to the end couplet, is pivotal.
This not only makes the stanza slightly more spacious, it also gives a more reflective and ruminative dimension, as befits a poem whose subject, as well as its main speaker, is given to brooding on fate. Along with the structural diversity that the metrical scheme allows, the poem also makes effective use once more of the Erasmian concept of copia see above , a key characteristic of which is to vary and diversify the presentation of a topic in as many ways as possible in order to make the argument compelling. Trousdale gives an example from Hoskins on the taking of a city: For instead of saying, he put the whole town to the sword, let men reckon all ages and sorts and say: He neither saved the young men, as pitying the unripe flower of their youth, nor the aged men, as respecting their gravity, nor children, as pardoning their weakness, nor women, as having compassion upon their sex; soldier, clergyman, citizen, armed or unarmed, resisting or submitting, all within the town destroyed with the fury of that bloody execution.
Hoskins gives this passage as an example of division, following Erasmus recommendation that an idea can be made emphatic by repeating its variant possibilities. In argument, persuasion may be achieved by saying the same thing any number of ways, as if to demonstrate the inescapability of the conclusion. In this passage the horrors of war are demonstrated by vividly depicting its effect on people of all stations, age, sex, etc.
Shakespeare operates in precisely this way in Henry V, when the king gives the threatening speech to the citizens of Harfleur: Why, in a moment look to see The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters; Your fathers taken by the silver beards, And their most reverend heads dashed to the walls; Your naked infants spitted upon pikes, Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry At Herods bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
This speech includes the device of accumulation or climax, but essentially it works as division according to the principles of copia. The main idea, the horror of war, can be divided up again and again and repeated with different examples. The argument becomes irrefutable in terms of persuasiveness but it also works artistically or poetically in terms of additional colouring, according to enargia. In The Rape of Lucrece the Night, Time, Opportunity digressions and Erasmus has an important place for digression in so far as it amplifies the main argument and only departs from it in order to return as illustration all repeat and contribute to the theme of the awful inevitability of the rape.
Modern readers may well share the dismissive view of one of the poems editors, F. Prince, who deplored the excesses of rhetoric,21 but there can be no doubt that Shakespeares first audience, weaned on such recommendations for the proper use of language as those of Erasmus and Hoskins, would have got the point.
William Empson observes that [i]n a play the audience wants the story to go forward, but here the Bard could practise rhetoric like fivefinger exercises on the piano, not allowing for the fact that the speech from Henry V enacts the same rhetorical process as we find in the narrative poem. Take the description of the moment of the rape. Realistically both of these responses resisting and not resisting cannot be true at the same time, but division in accordance with copia shows them contributing to the theme in contrasting and diverse ways, rhetorically reinforcing the image of female plight.
Deeper than the theme of rape itself is that of lamentation. Lucrece keens as a woman who has suffered abuse for which there can be no redress. In suffering, Lucrece, again according to the principle of division, invokes other versions of affliction to aid the portrayal of her own.
Or rather Shakespeare does this for her. That is why she goes to look at the painting of the Fall of Troy. The true focal point of all the suffering she observes there is that of Many she sees where cares have carved some, But none where all distress and dolour dwelled; Till she despairing Hecuba beheld, Staring on Priams wounds with her old eyes, Which bleeding under Pyrrhus proud foot lies.
In her the painter had anatomised Times ruin, beautys rack, and grim cares reign; Her cheeks with chops and wrinkles were disguised; Of what she was no semblance did remain. Her blue blood turned to black in every vein, Wanting the spring that those shrunk pipes had fed, Showed life imprisoned in a body dead. The suffering of Hecuba, a matron like Lucrece but one who is older and with an even greater burden of grief to bear, helps extend the degree and significance of Lucreces own fate, as well as concentrating and intensifying the experience. The rhetorical technique of division develops the theme of rape, and shows how it can be applied to varied effect.
Although unlike Lucrece she has not been violated in her own person, Hecuba embodies the pillage and desecration of the city, which has been betrayed by Sinon, Tarquins counterpart in treachery. It is important that we should see things in their proper order as the poem presents them, for many commentators have argued that the political question, especially regarding its republican aspect, is dominant not secondary or merely illustrative.
On the contrary, the Troy scene has been in preparation for some time, purely in terms of the imagery, or enargia, which has gone into the presentation of the theme of violation, starting not just with the following lines spoken by Lucrece about her soul, Her house is sacked, her quiet interrupted, Her mansion battred by the enemy; Her sacred temple spotted, spoiled, corrupted, Grossly engirt with daring infamy,. This soul, feminized in accordance with the principle of violation to which it has been subjected, belongs not, as one might imagine, to Lucrece but to Tarquin.
Rhetorically it is possible to switch genders with the greatest of ease, just as it is possible to exercise great flexibility in the crossing from personal to political, but we have to remember the purpose that such crossings and transfiguring serve. Tarquins soul is in turmoil as he realises that his transgression could not have been greater. He has visited this violation on himself as well as on his victim. That is the point of his kingship or burgeoning kingship, as he is heir to the throne ; it serves to give the poem a greater sense of moment.
Contrary to the Empsonian view that such behaviour by a regal person calls royalty into question, the betrayal of obligation in Tarquins unkingly conduct works in the opposite way, dramatizing the enormity of the betrayal precisely by invoking the powerful and traditional belief in the duty of the monarch to his subjects. The stronger the ideal of royalty the better it works in terms of the image of treachery. A Lovers Complaint The ease with which genders may be exchanged as the example of the souls battred mansion makes clear raises a point about A Lovers Complaint.
In that poem the wronged maid, in telling her story to the father who sympathetically attends her, impersonates the voice of her abuser, so much so that she even seems to plead for him out of her own mouth. The poem performs this task according to the principle of syneciosis, whereby opposites are unexpectedly brought together, as Heather Dubrow demonstrates in her discussion of The Rape of Lucrece Dubrow, pp.
In the event, the suitor addresses the object of his attention as if he, and not she, were the passive female, besought by so many aspiring No wonder that the lady, subject to this dizzying transfer of identities, finds herself as if a male lover actively pursuing what amounts to her own destruction. The poems title, which has regularly puzzled readers and their editors, works in a dual fashion. They are both lovers: she pronounces the overall, controlling complaint, while he voices his complaint within hers. Whereas the rhetoric of The Rape of Lucrece does its best to defend the innocence of its protagonist as if she were truly uncompromised, that of A Lovers Complaint enters into the innermost core of the female psyche and argues relentlessly that the capacity for betrayal lies there.
Sonnet rhetoric The Sonnets have generated endless questions over their biographical context, the problem of identification being the chief of these. Who was the young man right fair? Who was the dark lady incidentally not a collocation that ever occurs in the sequence?
Chapter 2 Shakespeares banquet of sense. Chapter 3 Constraint and complaint in Lucrece. Chapter 4 Mysteries of the Sonnets. Chapter 5 Time and mortality in the Sonnets. Chapter 6 Friendship and love darkness and lust. Chapter 7 Solitary and mutual flames. Chapter 8 Fantasies of Shakespearean authorship. Further reading.