Venus and Adonis, by Shakespeare, suggests that love makes fools of us all. No one is above it, or beyond its reach. Shakespeare really explores the many facets of love in all of his plays and poems, but he is persistent always in his overreaching thesis of the power of love to transform the people who are in love. And Venus and Adonis is one of only the works of Shakespeare’s that shows an intention towards publication.
According to just about everything that Shakespeare ever wrote, love has magical abilities. And through his characters he tends to make very good arguments for this.
Venus just wants to take Adonis, “Under her other was the tender boy,” but Adonis is not into her at all though. “He red for shame, but frosty in desire.” But she wants more, “Backward she pushed him, as she would be thrust, and govern’d him in strength, though, not, in lust.”
Venus is the Queen of Love, and yet she is held captive to it. She says to Adonis that he doesn’t have to be this way, to just kiss her. Don’t you think I’m pretty? Close your eyes and kiss me. She is making a fool of herself in her desire for him. She seems compelled.
Venus does not understand why he will not submit to her. (Reminds me of Helena when she is making her case to Demetrius by saying that the strongest men on earth have begged for what she would freely give to him). “And begg’d for that which thou unask’d shalt have.”
The whole stanza, lines 133-138 is about how convinced that Venus is that her beauty alone should be reason enough for Adonis to want to be with her. “Having no defects, why does abhor me?
One of the more interesting parts of the poem is when Venus questions how Adonis can come from a woman, but not know how a woman feels. “Art thou a woman’s son and canst not feel what ‘tis to love, how want of love tormenteth? And again in line 214, “Thing like a man, but of no woman bred.”
It is truly a battle of the sexes and therefore Shakespeare delights in bawdy humor, “Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry, stray lower where the pleasant fountains lie.”
Finally, Venus gets Adonis to kiss her by pretending to be dead. While she is faking to be dead Adonis is doing all sorts of things to revive her lifeless corpse. It’s quite necromantic in a way, which is a preoccupation of Shakespeare: He eroticized the death of Ophelia, Desdemona, and Juliet, to name but a few of the most popular.
Finally, Adonis tells it to Venus straight, “Your treatise make me like you worse and worse”
In other words, the more you beg for me to like you, the less I like you. And then he tells her that he’s better off without her, “But soundly sleeps, while now it sleeps alone.”
Then there’s the whole beautiful Love vs. Lust stanza.
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 is done;
Love surfeits not, Lust like a glutton dies;
Love is all truth, Lust full of forged lies. (799-804)
And then Adonis leaves Venus and she cries all night. So we are to gather that theirs was not love, but something else.
What is love not returned?
Shakespeare was cautioning that even Love (Venus) herself can get confused by the true nature of love. When love is one sided it is lust, it is obsession, and the nature of THOSE TWO THINGS is what makes the nature of love so endlessly entertaining in terms of theater and poetry.
It is the duplicitous nature of the transformative magic. It is the danger. It is the fun.
And then Adonis dies. So the moral of the story is, “They that love best, their loves shall not enjoy.” (1164)
Well, WoW! Shakespeare! You are killing me, here. What are you saying? Are you saying that if you love something too much it will be taken away from you? Are you cautioning, caution? But that would not have gotten Helena anywhere, and her story turned out marvelously. It is the same with Rosalind and Portia and those girls from the Twelfth Night.
In the end, we are left with Venus in seclusion. No one is answering any of the hard questions today it seems.
Happy Valentines Day…