En203s British Poetry Important

venus and adonis William Shakespeare (ca. 1592) The lengthy narrative poem Venus and Adonis begins with the goddess's supplications to Adonis to grant her amorous desires; however, Venus's entreaties soon turn to frustration and questions regarding his masculinity. The two then engage in a rhetorical discourse on love, and after a great deal of pleading, Adonis grants Venus a farewell kiss that inflames her passion. Her desire quickly turns to fears for his safety when she learns that he plans to hunt boar the next day. Adonis ignores her suggestion to pursue tamer beasts such as the hare. The next day, hearing the furious baying of the hounds, Venus runs out to discover Adonis's lifeless, bloody body. She laments his death but soon observes his body "melt" and marvels that from his blood, "A purple flow'r sprung up, check'red with white" (l. 1168). Plucking the flower and wearing it near her heart to observe her lover's memory, Venus then departs dejectedly for her home in Paphos.

Venus and Adonis is an ovidian mythological love poem, a style popular in Elizabethan England and well known by William Shakespeare and Henry Wriothes-ley, earl of Southhampton, Shakespeare's patron to whom the poem is dedicated. It is written in six-line verse stanzas rhyming ababcc. Several other Tudor poets wrote versions of the Venus and Adonis story. Thomas Lodge completed Scilla's Metamorphosis, Interlaced with the Unfortunate Love of Glaucus (1589), a work that comments briefly on the love between Venus and Adonis but centers on a maiden's courtship of a reluctant young man. In The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser also briefly treats the legend of Venus and Adonis. Scholars continue to debate whether either or both of these influenced Shakespeare's poem. As well, some critics believe that Shakespeare read Christopher Marlowe's Hero and Leander in draft form before its publication after Marlowe's death. Though not directly about the same subject, Marlowe's poem details the erotic love between the title characters and may have served as an inspiring model.

In 1593, Richard Field, son of a Stratford tanner and probably Shakespeare's friend, printed the first edition of Venus and Adonis. The Stationers' Register records the poem in April 1593, which means that it was probably composed sometime between August 1592 and April 1593, when the theaters were closed due to the plague. Venus and Adonis was the first poem Shakespeare published and one of the few he saw through the entire publication process, probably because of its dedication to a noble patron. It was quite popular in its own time and immediately thereafter, and by 1636, Venus and Adonis had gone through at least 20 editions.

Despite its contemporary popularity, Venus and Adonis was long overlooked critically. Like A Lover's Complaint, its place within the Shakespeare canon was often doubted based on its unique subject matter and verse form. However, most scholars now accept this poem as Shakespeare's, and its reputation has been rehabilitated. Indeed, it is now seen as a valuable glimpse into Shakespeare's early development as a poet.

Traditional critical interpretations of Venus and Adonis address Shakespeare's use of classical myth to depict Elizabethan thoughts about love, situate the context of the poem in relation to Shakespeare's efforts to secure noble patronage, or compare Shakespeare's poem to others of the same genre and era. Although modern scholars have not abandoned allegorical studies of Venus and Adonis—that is, its possible references to Queen Elizabeth—or its comparison to Shakespeare's other works, recent criticism has emphasized the Venice and Adonis's highly stylistic verse and what it reveals about Shakespeare's culture during his formative years. Some recent studies have, for instance, emphasized the importance of hunting in Venus and Adonis in relation to the context of Elizabethan England. Other studies have explored allegory outside the political, concentrating primarily on the abundant bestial imagery and allusions to numerous animals. Though the narrative presents itself as a tragedy on the surface, some recent criticism has examined the come-dic overtones of the narrative. Feminist and gender critics have also found rich subject matter within this poem, especially in examining venus's aggressive pursuit of Adonis, who seems uninterested in pursuing an affair with the beautiful goddess of love and more interested in pursuing masculine activities within a homosocial environment, and who preferred death to sexual consummation. Contextually placed within the Shakespeare canon in this manner, it provides an important view of Shakespeare's initial perspectives on relations between the sexes. See also Ovid.

further reading

Bush, Douglas. Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition. New

York: Norton, 1963. Duncan-Jones, Katherine. "Playing Fields or Killing Fields: Shakespeare's Poems and Sonnets." Shakespeare Quarterly 54, no. 2 (2003): 127-141. Kolin, Philip C. Venus and Adonis: Critical Essays. New York: Garland, 1997.

James N. ortego II

vernacular Two senses of this term are relevant to literary studies. First, vernacular generally refers to a common manner of speaking and the natural and informal figures of speech that people use in their local, everyday lives. in this sense, the term is usually employed in direct contrast to formal, polysyllabic forms of expression, sometimes for comic effect.

The other sense of vernacular refers to differences between languages and is best represented by comparing Latin and other languages. When Latin began fading after the collapse of the Roman Empire, it grew into new local languages: Italian, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Provençal, and Romanian. From this, the term vernacular broadened to include "any language that is not Latin"—but it also has connotations of folk and popular culture.

This last point is important because most vernacular languages held little or no authority or prestige during the early Middle Ages (from the fifth through the 11th centuries). Despite Latin being a "dead" language, it continued to be the only one taught in schools and was used as the official international language of church, state, law, and history throughout Europe. Occasionally, a monarch or educational reformer might try to encourage the use of a vernacular language. Alfred the Great, for example, himself translated many Latin works into old English in the second half of the ninth century. But Latin's supreme authority as a written language did not become questioned in a widespread way until the 14th century, when a number of political and intellectual changes, quickened by the upward social mobility available to survivors of the Black Death, caused people to assert their vernacular language at Latin's expense. One of the strongest allies in the rise of vernacular languages was religious reform. The Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s involved a mistrust of a Bible that very few people (including, more and more often, priests themselves) could read accurately.

See also Chaucer, Geoffrey.

further reading

Bassnett, Susan. Translation Studies. New York: Routledge,


Clanchy, Michael T. From Memory to Written Record: England

1066-1307. Oxford: Blackwell Press, 1993

Fred Porcheddu

VIRELAI (VIRELAY) The virelai is a fixed verse form established by the 14th century in French poetry, and often set to music. The poem begins with the refrain, followed by three stanzas, with the refrain occurring between each stanza and at the end. Each stanza also has three sections: Sections one and two share the same rhyme (and music), and section three shares its rhyme sound with the refrain. The structure is similar to other fixed forms such as the carol(e), ballade, and cantiga (monomorphic song). Among those English poets influenced by the pattern was Sir Thomas Wyatt.

further reading

Frangon, Marcel. "On the Nature of the Virelai." Symposium

Carol E. Harding

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