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Early Editions. "Venus and Adonis " was first printed in
Vilia miretur vulgus; mihi flauus Apollo
An anchor with
Imprinted by Richard Field, and are to be sold at
The text of "Venus and Adonis" is remarkable for its accuracy, and there can be little doubt that the poet himself superintended the printing of the poem, and was responsible for the wording of the title-page. A significant fact is Shakespeare's choice of the printer: Richard Field was the son of Henry Field, a tanner of Stratford-on-Avon; he was apprenticed to a printer in London in the year 1579, and took up his freedom in 1587. Amongst his earliest enterprises was a beautiful edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses, 1589. In 1592 Shakespeare's father, at Stratford, was engaged in appraising Henry Field's goods; in 1593, in London, Richard Field was engaged in printing William Shakespeare's first poem: the copyright was registered by the printer, for himself, on April the 18th. The publisher of the first three editions was Field's friend, John Harrison. The popularity of the poem is attested by the issue of no less than twelve subsequent editions between 1593 and 1636*; of some of these editions only single copies have come down to us, and it is probable that some editions have been thumbed out of existence. The famous Isham unique copy of the 1599 issue was by mere chance discovered in 1867 +; similarly, evidence may be found of other editions, more especially between the years 1596 and 1599, 1602 and 1627.
Date of Composition. Shakespeare, in his Dedication to the Earl of Southampton‡, describes the poem of "Venus and
'1594; 1596; 1599; (?) 1600; 1602 (British Museum); 1602 (Bodleian); 1617; 1620; 1627; 1630; (?) 1630; 1636.
+ Cp. Charles Edmond's reprint of his precious "find," 1870. A fac-simile of the First Edition is among Dr Furnivall's Quarto Fac-similes (No. 12). The Earl of Southampton was at this time about twenty; he was born
Adonis as "the first heir of my invention "; some critics, taking these words in their absolutely literal sense, refer the composition of the piece to the poet's younger days at Stratford-on-Avon, but there is little to be adduced in favour of this view, and there is no need to strain the words to bear this meaning. By the term "invention " Shakespeare probably implied lyrical or epic poetry, as opposed to dramatic writings; and with reference to the latter it must be remembered that no Shakespearian play had as yet been printed*.
Venus and Adonis must be taken in close connection with such poems as Lodge's Glaucus and Scilla, and Marlowe's Hero and Leander; to the former of these small "classical epics" (1589) Shakespeare's poem seems to have been indebted for its versification, as perhaps also for much of its characteristic tone and
October 6, 1573; his father died in 1581; at the age of twelve he entered St John's College, Cambridge. Entered at Gray's Inn, London, 1589. He rose in the Queen's favour, but his love for Elizabeth Vernon (Essex's cousin) lost him the queen's interest, in 1595. He married Elizabeth Vernon in 1598. (A full biography is given in Massey's Shakespeare's Sonnets.
Chettle was probably alluding to Southampton when, in his Kind Heart's Dream (1592) he refers "to divers of worship" who report Shakespeare's "uprightness of dealing," and his "facetious grace in writing."
*Shakespeare's "affectionate love of nature and natural objects," his many vivid pictures of country life, as evidenced in Venus and Adonis, are dwelt upon by those in favour of assigning an earlier date to the poem; they point specially to the famous hunted hare; the eagle turning on her prey; the description of the horse; the signs of weather, and the closing in of the day, etc. It must be borne in mind that the theme of the poem lent itself to the introduction of these rural reminiscences, which throughout Shakespeare's career, and more especially in his early plays, exercised their attraction; many links might be pointed out connecting Venus and Adonis and Midsummer Night's Dream.
diction.* Marlowe's poem, left unfinished at its author's death on June 1, 1593, has certain points in common with Shakespeare's, but it is difficult to determine the question of priority. The famous quotation from Hero and Leander in As You Like it, was made after the posthumous publication of the poem in 1598, and there is no direct evidence of Shakespeare's knowledge of Marlowe's work before that date. Marlowe's "rose-cheek'd Adonis” was perhaps therefore a reminiscence of the opening lines of Shakespeare's poem, and the debt was not the other way, as has been suggested. There can be no question that the two poems belonged to the same time.
It is noteworthy that 1593 was a year of plague, and London was so sorely stricken that all theatrical performances were forbidden; this meant leisure for Shakespeare. The companies went on tour in the course of the year; whether Shakespeare was one of the travelling actors is not known.
Early References to "Venus and Adonis." earliest references to "the first heir" of Shakespeare's "invention" belong to 1598, when Richard Barnfield in his "Remem
* The following is a typical example of Lodge's verse :"He that hath seen the sweet Arcadian boy Wiping the purple from his forced wound, His pretty tears betokening his annoy,
His sighs, his cries, his falling on the ground,
The echoes ringing from the rocks his fall,
The trees with tears reporting of his thrall," etc.
An interesting problem is whether Shakespeare at first attempted a sonnetsequence on the subject, and subsequently rejected that form in favour of the less monumental six-line stanza (vide Passionate Pilgrim, iv. v. ix.).
brance of some English Poets," celebrates Shakespeare's "honeyflowing vein":
"Whose 'Venus' and whose Lucrece,' sweet and chaste,
Thy name in fame's immortal book have plac't;"
in the same year Francis Meres published his famous "Comparative Discourse of our English Poets with the Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets"; "as the soul of Euphorbus," he observed, "was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare; witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugared Sonnets among his private friends," etc. Again, in 1599, in John Weever's verses "Ad Gulielmum Shakespeare," the same epithet, "honey-tongued," is repeated:
"Honie-tongued Shakespeare, when I saw thine issue,
I swore Apollo got them and none other,
Their rosie-tainted features cloth'd in tissue,
Some heaven-born goddess said to be their mother;
Faire fire-hot Venus charming him to love her;
Chaste Lucretia, virgin-like her dresses,
Proud lust-stung Tarquin seeking still to prove her," etc.
Perhaps the most interesting of the early allusions to “Venus and Adonis "" are to be found in the Cambridge play, "The Return from Parnassus (the second of the three "Parnassus" plays), acted at St John's College in 1599, where Gullio's preference for "Mr Shakespeare's vein "* finds exuberant expression :
* Similarly, in Heywood's "Fair Maid of the Exchange" (1607), the lover Bowdler "never read anything but 'Venus and Adonis,"" and quotes passages, and proposes to imitate Venus in his wooing.