Venus and Adonis by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Shakespeare's 1200 line poem, 6 lines per stanza, seems meant to explain why love is so bittersweet.
Venus seduces Adonis but after almost giving in, he resists and wants to go hunting. She is afraid he will be killed by a boar, and he is. In her grief, Venus prophesies, "Sorrow on love hereafter shall attend; It shall be waited on with jealousy, Find sweet beginning but unsavoury end... all love's pleasure shall not match his woe" (lines 1135-40).
The first half contains Shakespeare's strongest sexual language. It isn't pornographic, but the innuendo is clear (see below, or not, for an example). It is fascinating that Venus the goddess of love is repulsed in love, after this description of beauty and her enticing words and arguments to Adonis to give in. "She's Love, she loves, and yet she is not lov'd" (610).
Shakespeare seems to be showing us the limits and unmanageable nature of romance and lust.
"Now is she in the very lists of love,
Her champion mounted for the hot encounter:
All is imaginary she doth prove,
He will not manage her, although he mount her;
That worse than Tantalus' is her annoy,
To clip Elysium, and to lack her joy." (594-600)
It isn't all this crass, and much of it is edifying. I'll end with a good example, as Adonis speaks to and rejects Venus.
"I hate not love, but your device in love...
Call it not love,... since sweating lust on earth usurp'd his name;....
Love comforteth like sunshine after rain,
But lust's effect is tempest after sun;
Love's gentle spring doth always fresh remain,
Lust's winter comes ere summer half be done.
Love surfeits not; lust like a glutton dies:
Love is all truth; lust full of forged lies." (789-804)
Consistent with Shakespeare in his plays, he depicts the thing he later rejects. In this case, lust.
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