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Venus and Adonis

Introduction to the poem

With Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare in 1593 launches his career as a poet. The poem is a minor epic, a genre chosen by a large number of poets in the 1590s for their first efforts, each attempt at the genre self-consciously imitating the others. The genre is a marginal one, its characters usually drawn from the periphery of mythology or legendary history. Its interest is not in the matters of state that inform major epics but in eroticism, sophistication, and verbal wit. Among these poems, Venus and Adonis was such a notable success that it was, during his lifetime, Shakespeare’s most popular published work, going through 10 editions by 1616 and quoted in numerous journals, letters, and plays of the period. In 1598 a critic wrote that “the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare, witness his Venus and Adonis.”

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets and Poems

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

Affection is a coal that must be cooled;
Else, suffered, it will set the heart on fire.

Lines 387–388

What have you urged that I cannot reprove?
The path is smooth that leadeth on to danger.

Lines 787–788

Venus and Adonis in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Venus and Adonis. Find more in our digital image collection

Venus and Adonis, poems
Venus and Adonis: "Vouchsafe, thou wonder, to alight thy steed." By H. Corbould; C. Rolls
Venus and Adonis. By R.T. Bone.

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

Venus and Adonis

Learn more about Shakespeare, his poem, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

About Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis
An introduction to the myth of Venus and Adonis and Shakespeare’s interpretation of it

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and poetic techniques

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Venus and Adonis

Early printed texts

Venus and Adonis was first published in 1593, and subsequently frequently reprinted through the 17th century.

Venus and Adonis (1599)
Venus and Adonis (fragment; 1595?)