Thursday, August 11, 2016

Venus and Adonis - meh

I finally got around to reading Shakespeare's epic poem VENUS & ADONIS, and I have to say, I'm not especially impressed. I mean, sure, he keeps the poetry going at a roiling boil, but the story itself is quite tiresome.


Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love (known as Aphrodite to the Greeks) spies the beautiful young Adonis and jumps on him. She smooches him all up and talks dirty to him and he makes ew yuck faces at her. Then he tries to get away but his horse, seeing a hot mare, takes off without him. Venus jumps on him again, and tells him he should learn from his horse's example. Adonis finally says love is icky and he's too young and he wants to go boar hunting with his friends. Venus flips out, afraid that he's going to get killed. Which his does. His blood lands on a flower. Venus vows to kiss that kind of flower every day.

This is, according to Wikipedia, "It is a complex, kaleidoscopic work, using constantly shifting tone and perspective to present contrasting views of the nature of love."

I didn't see that. At all. For the first 184 lines it's either Venus telling Adonis how hot he is, or the omniscient narrator telling us how hot Venus or Adonis is. Then finally at line 185 Adonis speaks:

  And now Adonis with a lazy spright,
     And with a heavy, dark, disliking eye,
     His louring brows o'erwhelming his fair sight,
     Like misty vapours when they blot the sky,           184
       Souring his cheeks, cries, 'Fie! no more of love:
       The sun doth burn my face; I must remove.'

And apparently Venus can do nothing about it. That's a pretty poor excuse for a goddess that she can't just magically make him desire her. And her father Jove certainly never bothered with getting permission from anybody.

Also this verse reminds us that English is not pronounced the same as in Shakespeare's day, with the rhyme of "love" and "remove."

For two verses Shakespeare belabors the wonder of Adonis' dimples.

  At this Adonis smiles as in disdain,
     That in each cheek appears a pretty dimple:
     Love made those hollows, if himself were slain,
     He might be buried in a tomb so simple;              244
       Foreknowing well, if there he came to lie,
       Why, there Love liv'd, and there he could not die.

     These lovely caves, these round enchanting pits,
     Open'd their mouths to swallow Venus' liking.        248
     Being mad before, how doth she now for wits?
     Struck dead at first, what needs a second striking?
       Poor queen of love, in thine own law forlorn,
       To love a cheek that smiles at thee in scorn!      252

Then starting with the next verse we get, I kid you not, twelve verses of equine love. Adonis' horse has run away and left him, so Venus resumes pestering him. So after all this pestering, Adonis gives in and gives Venus a single kiss, and that's all she gets. Some goddess of love she is. 

There are of course some nice turns of phrase but over all the content doesn't deserve all that effort.

I've been giving it some thought lately and the reason that HAMLET is widely considered the best play by Shakespeare is because the plot just hums along. Sure, there are some great soliloquies too, but it's the almost perfect plot (I have issues with Act V) that makes it so great.