May 07, 2010

Venus and Adonis essay building

In today's session, I encouraged you in small groups to respond to an essay-style question:

How persuasive are Venus' and Adonis' arguments?

I asked you to contextualise this in the light of the debates we've been covering during the course about love, lust, beauty, procreation and time, as a framework within which you can think about the question.

In an open question like this, the important things are to establish what the parameters of the question are, and what you feel is important to discuss. Particular to this one, of course, is the question of who is to be persuaded by each: each other within the context of the poem, or the reader in terms of a wider educational or subversive context - a good essay could be constructed around either or both, as long as you identify the kind of essay you're writing. You also need to establish what arguments you're discussing: obviously, the issue at hand is whether or not they're going to have sex. From there, you can then consider what angle you want to take on the question and construct your thesis statement.

Here are three groups' notes, all of which build towards a slightly different argument, but all of which could lead towards an excellent exam-style essay. I hope these are useful!


Chastity + procreation = mutually exclusive?
Free will --- overcome by Venus' immortality.
Hierarchy of desire over purity of love.
Inaction of poem proves priority of free will
- He doesn't succumb to her desires.
At the end, Adonis is turned to a flower, still inactive.
Although Venus is a goddess, she never gets what she wants (sexual pleasure)
She can only do what she wants to do to Adonis (ie possess him) in death.

This essay chooses to view the words spoken retrospectively through the subsequent actions of the poem. Ideas of fate and destiny are subverted by the fact that Adonis' own choice is actually realised, though not in the way he anticipated. The arguments of Venus would, in this reading, be argued to be ultimately less persuasive than Adonis' as it is his that are borne out in practice.


Are love and lust compatible?
Love = duty to mankind.
Chastity leads to Death.
Conservative vs. Progressive

These notes tackle the core issues head on, positioning Venus' protestations of love versus Adonis' complaint that her arguments are in favour of lust, not love. Building on ideas raised by Spenser in the Garden of Adonis, as well as the argument of the sonnets, love and procreation are seen as a duty to mankind which Adonis fails to fulfill, and his death might be seen as a reassertion of natural order: a kind of karmic punishment or natural selection. The essay then goes on to ask if this is an essentially conservative or progressive poem, and the arguments will be more or less persuasive accordingly.


Familiar morals and arguments are misapplied here.
Venus' lust makes her disingenuous.
Perversion of the characters' roles - Venus is here not encouraging conservative married "love"
Arguments are familiar to us and would resonate with audience BUT here are illogical.
Urgency of the bloodline is particuarly important under Queen Elizabeth I.

This essay argues that, while the arguments may be persuasive in a wider Elizabethan context, and bear on contemporary political and national concerns regarding the succession, their placing in the mouths of these characters renders them incongruous and comic. Rooted around the essential incongruity of these arguments in these mouths, the contextualisation in contemporary culture allows for an exploration of why the arguments are here "misapplied": is Shakespeare sending up the serious use of these arguments elsewhere?

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This blog is a resource for students in Peter Kirwan’s seminar groups for Medieval to Renaissance English Literature.

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