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May 21, 2010

Good luck for the exam!

Tuesday 1st June 2010 (week 6)

9:10am, Butterworth Hall

Best of luck to you all!

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?

May 05, 2010

The Little Angel Theatre's Venus and Adonis

Unfortunately there's no video footage available of this, but the RSC hosted a wonderful production of Venus and Adonis some years ago, which I've included some photos of below. It was a puppet production, performed by the Little Angel Theatre, London's premier puppet theatre company.

What was particularly wonderful was the characterisation of the two main characters. Venus was utterly flamboyant, manipulative and sexually aggressive (this puppet show, incidentally, had an age recommendation of 16+). This picture is a great image of Lines 589-94:

"The boar!" quoth she, whereat a sudden pale,
Like lawn being spread upon the blushing rose,
Usurps her cheek; she trembles at his tale,
And on his neck her yoking arms she throw.
She sinketh down, still hanging by his neck,
He on his belly falls, she on her back.

Little Angel Theatre

While the cause of her anguish is real (as real as anything is with Venus), she's also using the opportunity to faint to great advantage. Here, the puppet thrust her breasts into Venus' face and grabbed him forcibly as she fell to the ground, pulling him on top of her. The expressionless face of Adonis, of course, was particularly funny at this moment. It's a useful image and passage to pull out, too, to remind us of the physicality of Shakespeare's depiction of the two: the poetry is incredibly visual and continually evokes the sense of physical space between the two.

This picture gives you a more direct view of the two puppets.

Little Angel Theatre

Note what they've captured in Adonis' expression: that slight petulance, which when he looks away from the goddess reads as proud disdain. He's clearly a boy, but the long hair and smooth skin goes some way towards feminising him (as, indeed, was the case with Leander). Considering what I mentioned in the last seminar about ideas of classical beauty and sculpted images, a puppet is perhaps the best vessel for capturing Adonis: frozen in time and moulded in a fashion too perfectly constructed to be human, the puppet Adonis perfectly evokes, for me, that idea of the boy as object of desire, unchanging and unmoved.

April 30, 2010

Work for next week: Venus and Adonis


Venus and Adonis (available in the handouts given out in the lecture)

If you weren't in the lecture, my recommended online edition is at though there are hundreds of sites out there, so find one that reads well to you.


As revision, look back through the earlier texts we've studied (Canterbury Tales, sonnets and songs, Faerie Queene, Hero and Leander) and find as many references to the Venus and Adonis myth as you can. Think about how this myth and these characters are being used by the various authors and in different kinds of narrative, and compare this with Shakespeare's use of them in Venus and Adonis. They're two of the most important mythic figures in Renaissance literature, and this will help shape some of your revision reading.

Optional Translation

If you would like some extra translation practice, translate the following and I'll be happy to mark it and give you feedback. Either e-mail your work to me, or just bring it to next week's seminar.

Franklin's Tale 4592-4603

Now, goode men, I prey yow herkneth alle:
Lo, how Fortune turneth sodeynly
The hope and pryde eek of hir enemy!
This cok, that lay upon the foxes bak,
In al his drede unto the fox he spak,
And seyde, "Sire, if that I were as ye,
Yet sholde I seyn, as wys God helpe me,
'Turneth agayn, ye proude cherles alle!
A verray pestilence upon yow falle!
Now I am come unto the wodes syde;
Maygree youre heed, the cok shal heere abyde.
I wol hym ete, in feith, and that anon!'"

Maugree youre heed: in spite of all you can do

Hero and Leander handout


Blazon (blason)    A poetic catalogue of a woman's admirable physical features, common in Elizabethan lyric poetry: an extended example is Sidney's ‘What tongue can her perfections tell?’ The Petrarchan conventions of the blazon include a listing of parts from the hair down, and the use of hyperbole and simile in describing lips like coral, teeth like pearls, and so on. These conventions are mocked in Shakespeare's famous sonnet, ‘My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun’.

Here are full texts of the two sets of conventions noted in the definition:

Sir Philip Sidney's "What tongue can her perfections tell?" from The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia

What tongue can her perfections tell
In whose each part all pens may dwell?
Her hair fine threads of finest gold
In curled knots man's thought to hold;
But that her forehead says, 'in me
A whiter beauty you may see."
Whiter indeed; more white than snow
Which on cold winter's face doth grow.
	That doth present those even brows,
Whose equal lines their angles bows,
Like to the moon when after change
Her horned head abroad doth range;
And arches be to heav'nly lids, 
Whose wink each bold attempt forbids.
	For the black stars those spheres contain,
The matchless pair, e'en praise doth stain.
No lamp whose light by art is got,
No sun which shines, and seeth not,
Can liken them without all peer,
Save one as much as other clear;
Which only thus unhappy be
Because themselves they cannot see.
	Her cheeks with kindly claret spread,
Aurora-like new out of bed,
Or like the fresh queen-apple's side,
Blushing at sight of Phoebus' pride.
Her nose, her chin, pure ivory wears,
No purer than the pretty ears,
Save that therein appears some blood,
Like wine and milk that mingled stood.
In whose incirclets if you gaze 
Your eyes may tread a lover's maze,
But with such turns the voice to stray,
No talk untaught can find the way.
The tip no jewel needs to wear;
The tip is jewel of the ear.
	But who those ruddy lips can miss,
Which blessed still themselves do kiss?
Rubies, cherries, and roses new,
In worth, in taste, in perfect hue,
Which never part but that they show
Of precious pearl the double row,
The second sweetly-fenced ward
Her heav'nly-dewed tongue to guard,
Whence never word in vain did flow.
	Fair under these doth stately grow
The handle of this pleasant work, 
The neck, in which strange graces lurk.
Such be, I think, the sumptuous towers
Which skill doth make in princes' bowers.
	So good a say invites the eye
A little downward to espy
The lovely clusters of her breasts,
Of Venus' babe the wanton nests,
Like pommels round of marble clear,
Where azured veins well mixed appear,
With dearest tops of porphyry.
	Betwixt these two a way doth lie,
A way more worthy beauty's fame
Than that which bears the milken name. 
This leads unto the joyous field
Which only still doth lilies yield'
But lilies such whose native smell
The Indian odours doth excel.
Waist it is called, for it doth waste 
Men's lives until it be embraced.
	There may one see, and yet not see,
Her ribs in white well armed be,
More white than Neptune's foamy face
When struggling rocks he would embrace.
	In these delights the wand'ring thought
Might of each side astray be brought,
But that her navel doth unite
In curious circle busy sight,
A dainty seal of virgin wax
Where nothing but impression lacks.
	Her belly there glad sight doth fill,
Justly entitled Cupid's hill;
A hill most fit for such a master,
A spotless mine of alabaster,
Like alabaster fair and sleek,
But soft and supple, satin-like,
In that sweet seat the boy doth sport.
Loath, I must leave his chief resort;
For such an use the world hath gotten,
The best things still must be forgotten.
	Yet never shall my song omit
Those thighs (for Ovid's song more fit)
Which, flanked with two sugared flanks,
Lift up their stately swelling banks
That Albion cliffs in whiteness pass,
with haunches smooth as looking glass.
	But bow all knees, now of her knees
My tongue doth tell what fancy sees:
The knots of joy, the gems of love,
Whose motion makes all graces move;
Whose bought incaved doth yield such sight,
Like cunning painter shadowing white.
The gart'ring place with childlike sing
Shows easy print in metal fine.
	But there again the flesh doth rise
In her brave calves like crystal skies,
Whose Atlas is a smallest small,
More white than whitest bone of whale.
	There oft steals out that round clean foot,
This noble cedar's precious root;
In show and scent pale violets,
Whose step on earth all beauty sets.
	But back unto her back, my muse,
Where Leda's swan his feathers mews,
Along whose ridge such bones are met,
Like comfits round in marchpane set.
	Her shoulders be like two white doves,
Perching within square royal rooves,
Which leaded are with silver skin,
Passing the hate-spot ermelin.
	And thence those arms derived are;
The phoenix's wings be not so rare
For faultless length and stainless hue.
	Ah, woe is me, my owes renew!
Now course doth lead me to her hand,
Of my first love the fatal band,
Where whiteness doth for ever sit;
Nature herself enamelled it.
For there with strange compact doth lie
Warm snow, moist pearl, soft ivory.
There fall those sapphire-coloured brooks,
Which conduit-like, with curious crooks,
Sweet islands make in that sweet land.
As for the fingers of the hand,
The bloody shafts of Cupid's war,
With amethysts they headed are.
	Thus hath each part his beauty's part;
But how the Graces do impart
To all her limbs a special grace,
Becoming every time and place,
Which doth e'en beauty beautify,
And most bewitch the wretched eye!
How all this is but a fair inn
Of fairer guest which dwells within,
Of whose high praise, and praiseful bliss,
Goodness the pen, heav'n paper is;
The ink immortal fame doth lend.
As I began, so must I end:
	No tongue can her perfections tell
	In whose each part all pens may dwell.

Shakespeare Sonnet 130

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips; red;
If snow be white, why then her breats are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

"Blazons" in Hero and Leander

Hero: Lines 5-36
Leander: Lines 51-90


epyllion (plural -llia )    A miniature epic poem, resembling an epic in metre and/or style but not in length. The term dates from the 19th century, when it was applied to certain shorter narrative poems in Greek and Latin, usually dealing with a mythological love story in an elaborately digressive and allusive manner, as in Catullus' poem on Peleus and Thetis. The nearest equivalents in English poetry are the Elizabethan erotic narratives such as Marlowe's Hero and Leander ( 1598 ) and Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis ( 1593 ), although the term has also been applied to later non-erotic works including Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum ( 1853 ).

"epyllion"  The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Chris Baldick. Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  University of Warwick.  27 April 2010

Other references

Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, whose penultimate scene features a puppet show pastiching the story.

LEATHERHEAD (the puppeteer)
This while young Leander with fair Hero is drinking,
And Hero grown drunk, to any man's thinking!
Yet was it not three pints of Sherry could flaw her, 
Till Cupid, distinguished like Jonas the drawer,
From under his apron, where his lechery lurks,
put loue in his sack. Now mark how it workes.

O Leander, Leander, my dear, my dear Leander,
I'll forever be thy goose, so thou'lt be my gander. 

And sweetest of geese, before I go to bed,
I'll swim o'er the Thames, my goose, thee to tread.
But lest the Thames should be dark, my goose, my dear friend,
Let thy window be provided of a candle's end.

Fear not my gander, I protest I should handle
My matters very ill, if I had not a whole candle.

Well then, look to't, and kiss me to boot.

Shakespeare's As You Like It, with several references to both Marlowe and his poem

Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:
"Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight?" (III.v.80-1) (Marlowe was often referred to as a shepherd)

When a man's verses cannot be understood, nor a man's good wit seconded with the forward child, understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room. (III.iii.7-9) (widely interpreted as a reference to Marlowe's murder)

Leander, he would have lived many a fair year though Hero had turned nun, it if had not been for a hot midsummer night, for, good youth, he went but forth to wash hiim in the Hellespont and being taken with the cramp was drowned. And the foolish chroniclers of that age found it was 'Hero of Sestos'. (IV.i.68-72)

April 13, 2010

Hero and Leander

Writing about web page

Christopher Marlowe's Hero and Leander is a famously unfinished poem. While we'll only be discussing Marlowe's original fragment, as printed in the Norton anthology, Marlowe's contemporary George Chapman (himself a dramatist and poet of no mean standing) took upon himself to complete the poem, and you might find it useful. A very old, but very readable, edition from 1821 is available here on Google Books, which includes the entire "completed" poem, and some of the editions in the library also include Chapman's work. Entirely optional, but if you take a look, enjoy!

Hero and Leander

Title page of the first quarto of Hero and Leander with Chapman's editions. The poem was first published five years after Marlowe's death.

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