A plague

In 1592 and 1593 the plague in London was so severe that the theaters were closed. Shakespeare seems to have turned his creative energies to poetry as a result.

Poems

In 1593 he published the erotic narrative poem, Venus and Adonis*, and the following year The Rape of Lucrece* appeared.

In a play written in about 1600, one Gullio, a lovesick and rather simple-minded university student, remarks:

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.

(The Return from Parnassus, Part 2)

In Thomas Middleton's play A Mad World, My Masters, a husband, Harebrain, forbids his wife to have a copy of Venus and Adonis or Marlowe's Hero and Leander because, he thinks, those poems will incite her lust.

Close

Like Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece was printed by fellow Stratfordian Richard Field. It was popular (eight editions were printed before 1640), but was outstripped by Venus and Adonis, which had 16 editions in the same time.

Close
The Earl of Southampton

A patron

Around this time, he acquired a patron, Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton. The only clear documentation of their relationship exists in the dedications of the two poems. Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece are carefully and accurately printed, unlike the texts of his plays. There is no definite evidence that Shakespeare corrected the proofs himself (authors seldom did), but it seems likely that the poems were set from his own fair copy in each case.

A plot?

Some have read Shakespeare's Sonnets as a kind of submerged novel with a love triangle . . .

And another Renaissance Venus

Titian's Venus and Adonis has much the same erotic energy as Shakespeare's poem. Click to see the painting.

Footnotes

  1. The popularity of Venus and Adonis

    In a play written in about 1600, one Gullio, a lovesick and rather simple-minded university student, remarks:

    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.

    (The Return from Parnassus, Part 2)

    In Thomas Middleton's play A Mad World, My Masters, a husband, Harebrain, forbids his wife to have a copy of Venus and Adonis or Marlowe's Hero and Leander because, he thinks, those poems will incite her lust.

  2. The Rape of Lucrece

    Like Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece was printed by fellow Stratfordian Richard Field. It was popular (eight editions were printed before 1640), but was outstripped by Venus and Adonis, which had 16 editions in the same time.