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VENUS AND ADONIS'
Vilia miretur vulgus; mihi flavus Apollo
* This poem, the earliest of Shakespeare's works to be published, was first issued in Quarto in 1593. Another Quarto edition appeared in 1594, and there were octavo reprints of 1596, 1599, 1600, 1602 (two issues), 1617, 1620, 1627 (Edinburgh), 1630 (two issues), 1636; a chap-book reissue came out in 1675.
• Ovid, Amores, Lib. I. elegy xv, 11. 35–36. An English verse translation of selections from Ovid's Amores appeared in a volume entitled “Epigrammes and Elegies. By Isohn] D[avies) and Christopher] M[arlowe]." Though undated, the book seems to have been published about 1597. The rendering of Ovid's Amores is there assigned to Marlowe, and Shakespeare's quotation is there translated thus:
Let base conceited wits admire vile things;
Fair Phoebus lead me to the Muses' springs. Marlowe died June 1, 1593, and this rendering must, on the supposition of his authorship, have anticipated the composition of Venus and Adonis. A revised and corrected version of the same translation of the elegy is placed on the lips of the character called Ovid, at the close of the first scene of Ben Jonson's Poetaster, 1602. Jonson was doubtless responsible for the revised version, in which Shakespeare's motto is rendered quite differently, thus:
Kneele hindes to trash: me let bright Phoebus swell,
RIGHT HONORABLE HENRIE WRIOTHESLEY,
EARLE OF SOUTHAMPTON, AND BARON OF TITCHFIELD.'
I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolisht lines to your Lordship, nor how the worlde will censure me for choosing so strong a proppe to support 80 weake a burthen, onelye if your Honour seeme but pleased, I account my selfe highly praised, and vowe to take aduantage of all idle houres, till I haue honoured you with some grauer labour.? But if the first heire of my inuention proue deformed, I shall be sorie it had 80 noble a god-father: and neuer after eare“ so barren a land, for fear it yeeld me still so bad a haruest, I leaue it to your Honourable suruey, and your Honor to your hearts content which I wish may alwaies answere your owne wish, and the worlds hopefull expectation.
Your Honors in all dutie,
William Shakespeare. Lord Southampton, born on October 6, 1578, succeeded his father, the second Earl of Southampton, just before his eighth birthday, and was nineteen and a half years old when Shakespeare addressed this letter to him. An intimate associate of the Earl of Essex from youth upwards, he was already prominent in court circles, where his handsome person and brilliant accomplishments brought him the favour of Queen Elizabeth. From 1593 onwards numerous dedications attest his devotion to literature and its authors, with whom he lived on great terms of intimacy. He suffered imprisonment from 1601 to 1603 owing to his complicity in Essex's rebellion, but was restored to favour by King James I. He died on November 10, 1624.
* This vow was fulfilled by the production a year later in 1594 of Shakespeare's second narrative poem, The Rape of Lucrece, which was also dedicated to the Earl of Southampton.
: These words can only mean that this poem was Shakespeare's first literary design. It was certainly the first work of his to be published. But before its publication he had written at least four original plays, viz.: Love's Labour's Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Comedy of Errors, and Romeo and Juliet, and had revised as many more by other hands, viz., Titus Andronicus, and the three parts of Henry VI.
eare) plough; cf. Sonnet iii, 5: "unear'd.” • A reference to the Earl of Southampton's youthful promise.
3 VEN AS THE SUN WITH
Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him,
And like a bold-faced suitor 'gins to woo him.
“Thrice fairer than myself,"
thus she began, “The field's chief flower, sweet above compare, Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man, More white and red than doves or roses are;
1-2 Even as the sun . . . the weeping morn] These lines are quoted derisively by the love-sick Gullio in the first part of The Returne
Nature that made thee, with herself at strife,
Saith that the world hath ending with thy life.
Here come and sit, where never serpent hisses,
And being set, I'll smother thee with kisses;
A summer's day will seem an hour but short,
from Parnassus (c. 1600), III, I, 1053-1054. The last couplet of this stanza and the last four lines of the next stanza are similarly cited by the same writer in the same scene, lines 1006–1008 and
1020-1023. 2 weeping] This epithet suggests the dew of dawn. 3 Rose-cheek'd] This epithet was first applied to Adonis in Marlowe's
Hero and Leander, line 93. Cf. Tim. of Athens, IV, iii, 86:
cheeked youth.” 9 Stain to all nymphs] Disgrace to all nymphs by the comparison. Cf.
Sonnet xxxiii, 14: Suns of the world may stain when heaven's
sun staineth.” 11 Nature . . . at strife] This comparison of art and nature is a con
ceit characteristic of the poetry of all countries in the sixteenth century. Shakespeare constantly employs it. Cf. line 291, infra; Lucrece, 1374, and note; and Tim. of Ath., I, I, 40–41 (of a portrait): “It tutors nature; artificial strife Lives in these touches livelier than life.”