Venus and Adonis
A Study Guides
Home: Shakespeare Index

See Shakespeare Study Guides in Kindle Format
With Complete Annotated Texts

Table of Contents

Type of Work
Rhyme Scheme
Metric Format
Summary of the Poem
Imagery and Language
Vocabulary and Allusions
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings © 2003
Revised in 2010.©
Type of Work

Venus and Adonis is narrative poem—that is, a poem that tells a story—about the infatuation of Venus, the goddess of love, with a young mortal named Adonis. The poem contains 1,194 lines. 


Shakespeare dedicated Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton. Wriothesley (1573-1624) was a patron of Shakespeare and other writers of the time. Although Wriothesley was a favorite at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, his association with the headstrong Robert Devereux, the Second Earl of Essex—another fixture at court—led him to take part in Devereux’s 1601 rebellion against the queen. Wriothesley was sentenced to life imprisonment. 

Metamorphoses, by the Roman poet Ovid (full name, Publius Ovidius Naso) is the main source for the poem. Shakespeare may also have used Scilla’s Metamorphosis (1589), by Thomas Lodge, and Book III of The Faerie Queene (1591), by Edmund Spenser.


On May 18, 1593, the poem was entered in the Hall Book of the Worshipful Company of Stationers, the English government's pre-publication registry. It was published in a quarto edition in 1593 by Richard Field, a printer.


Shakespeare sets the story in a rural locale in ancient Greece in the age of myth, when the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus frequently interacted with human beings. 

Rhyme Scheme

The rhyme scheme is ababcc in a six-line stanza, as demonstrated in the opening stanza of the poem:

A...Even as the sun with purple-colour'd face
B...Had ta'en his last leave of the weeping morn,
A...Rose-cheek'd Adonis hied him to the chase;
B...Hunting he loved, but love he laugh'd to scorn;
C...Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him,
C...And like a bold-faced suitor 'gins to woo him.

Metric Format

Most of the lines in the poem are in iambic pentameter, with five pairs of syllables (five feet) per line. Each pair consists of an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable The following lines (379-384) demonstrate this metric pattern.

    .........1......   ....     ...2...........  ....3...............4...............5
    "For SHAME,"..|..he CRIES,..|.."let GO,..|...and LET..| GO;

    My DAY'S..| LIGHT..| PAST,..| HORSE..| GONE,

    And 'TIS..|..your FAULT..|..I AM..| REFT..|..him SO:

    I PRAY..| HENCE,..|..and LEAVE..| HERE..|..a LONE;

    For ALL..| MIND,..| THOUGHT,..| BUS..|..y CARE,

    Is HOW..| GET..| PAL..|..frey FROM..|..the MARE."

Summary of the Poem
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003, 2011.

In form and feature, Adonis has no earthly equal. Although he is but a boy, such is his masculine allure that even Venus, the goddess of love, covets him. Pursuing him while he hunts on horseback, she tells him that he is “Thrice fairer than myself” (7). He is, she says, “The field’s chief flower, sweet above compare” (8). When she invites him to sit with her to receive her smothering kisses, he refuses, for he is “frosty in desire” (36).

Venus unhorses him, so that they lie side by side, and she strokes his cheek. Whatever words of protest he musters, “she murders with a kiss” (54). When he breathes, “She feedeth on the steam as on a prey” (63). She woos him further—on and on, relentlessly—with honey-coated words, all the while grasping his hand. But Adonis does not respond. He says, “Fie, no more of love! / The sun doth burn my face: I must remove” (185-186). After his horse runs off to woo a jennet, Adonis scolds the love goddess:
"For shame," he cries, "let go, and let me go;
My day's delight is past, my horse is gone,
And 'tis your fault I am bereft him so:
I pray you hence, and leave me here alone;
For all my mind, my thought, my busy care,
Is how to get my palfrey from the mare." (379-384)
His only desire is to hunt, to chase a boar, and he begs release. He promises a kiss if she allows him to go his way. When they embrace, “face grows to face” (540). When he draws backward, she presses in. He yields for a time, like wax, as she makes impressions. But by and by, as day succumbs to evening, he resists again and she no longer restrains him, saying:
"Sweet boy," she says, "this night I'll waste in sorrow,
For my sick heart commands mine eyes to watch.
Tell me, Love's master, shall we meet to-morrow?
Say, shall we? shall we? wilt thou make the match?'
He tells her, no; to-morrow he intends
To hunt the boar with certain of his friends." (583-588)
He leaves, disappearing into the darkness. 
In the morning, the hunt is on. Hounds bark and bay. Attracted by the din, Venus spies the boar “whose frothy mouth [is] bepainted all with red, / Like milk and blood being mingled both together” (901-902). The dogs run about in a frenzy, bleeding. And Adonis? Where is Adonis? She fears the worst. When a “merry horn” (1025) sounds, her heart quickens with hope and
As falcon to the lure, away she flies;
The grass stoops not, she treads on it so light;
And in her haste unfortunately spies
The foul boar's conquest on her fair delight;
Which seen, her eyes, as murder'd with the view,
Like stars ashamed of day, themselves withdrew. (1027-1032)
Adonis has been gored. He is dead. Venus is devastated. She says:
"Alas, poor world, what treasure hast thou lost!
What face remains alive that's worth the viewing?
Whose tongue is music now? what canst thou boast
Of things long since, or any thing ensuing?
The flowers are sweet, their colours fresh and trim;
But true-sweet beauty lived and died with him." (1075-1080)
From his blood, she causes a purple flower to grow. Then, tired and careworn, she hies away in her chariot, drawn by silver doves, “to immure herself and not be seen” (1194).

Great Buys on the Following Items at

Cameras     Cell Phones and Accessories      Computers      Digital Music      Game Downloads       Jewelry
Kindle E-Readers      Musical Instruments       Men's Clothes       Women's Clothes       Handbags and Shoes 


The climax occurs when Venus discovers the body of Adonis, who has been gored to death by the boar. 
Imagery and Language

When he wrote the poem, Shakespeare was attempting to establish his reputation as a writer of merit. Consequently, he exhibited considerable technical skill in figures of speech describing the passion of Venus, the allure of the countryside, and the grisly aftermath of the boar's encounter with Adonis and the hunting dogs. 
In many stanzas, Shakespeare charged his words with chaste and innocent denotations and sensual and suggestive connotations. Some modern interpreters of the poem read much into these words while speculating on Shakespeare's own sexuality.
Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. For definitions of figures of speech, click here.


With this she seizeth on his sweating palm (25)
He burns with bashful shame (49)
Rain added to a river that is rank (71)
Seeds spring from seeds, and beauty breedeth beauty (67)

Strong-temper'd steel his stronger strength obey'd (111)

Now doth she stroke his cheek, now doth he frown (45)

Still she entreats, and prettily entreats,
For to a pretty ear she tunes her tale;
Still is he sullen, still he lours and frets, (73-75)

Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds (264)

Poor queen of love, in thine own law forlorn,
To love a cheek that smiles at thee in scorn! (251-252)
The goddess of love fails at love.
He saith she is immodest, blames her miss;  
What follows more she murders with a kiss. (54-55)
Comparison of Venus's kiss, which silences Adonis, to murder

Look! how a bird lies tangled in a net,  
So fasten’d in her arms Adonis lies. (67-68)
Comparison of Adonis to as bird

Love is a spirit all compact of fire,  
Not gross to sink, but light, and will aspire. (149-150)
Comparison of love to a spirit of fire

The sun that shines from heaven shines but warm,
And lo! I lie between that sun and thee:
The heat I have from thence doth little harm,
Thine eye darts forth the fire that burneth me;
And were I not immortal, life were done
Between this heavenly and earthly sun. (193-198)
Comparison of Adonis's eye to an "earthly sun"

I'll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;
Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale (231-232)
Comparison of Venus to a park and Adonis to a deer

Full gently now she takes him by the hand, 
A lily prison'd in a gaol of snow (361-362)
Comparison of Adonis to a lily
Comparison of Venus to a jail (gaol)

And Titan, tired in the mid-day heat
With burning eye did hotly overlook them (177-178)
Comparison of Titan, a Greek god also known as Helios, to the sun
Comparison of the sun to an eye

For I have heard it is a life in death,
That laughs and weeps, and all but with a breath. (413-414)
(Life is death; laughing is weeping.)

Narcissus so himself himself forsook,
And died to kiss his shadow in the brook.
Narcissus, a mythological personage who fell in love with his own image, forsakes himselfan impossibility.

             the sun with purple-colour'd face
Had ta'en his last leave of the weeping morn (1-2)
Comparison of the sun and the morning to persons

Nature that made thee, with herself at strife,
Saith that the world hath ending with thy life. (11-12)
Comparison of nature to a person

She red and hot as coals of glowing fire (35)
Comparison of Venus's complexion to glowing coals

Even as an empty eagle, sharp by fast,
Tires with her beak on feathers, flesh and bone,  
Shaking her wings, devouring all in haste,  
Till either gorge be stuff’d or prey be gone;  
Even so she kiss’d his brow, his cheek, his chin,  
And where she ends she doth anew begin. (55-60)
Comparison of Venus to a hungry eagle

Upon this promise did he raise his chin 
Like a dive-dapper peering through a wave (85-86)
Comparison of Adonis to a bird called a dive-dapper, also known as a dabchick and a grebe

These forceless flowers like sturdy trees support me. (152)
Comparison of flowers to trees

Whereat her tears began to turn their tide,
Being prisoned in her eye like pearls in glass. (979-980)
Comparison of tears to pearls

Vocabulary and Allusions From the Poem

Following are explanations of words and phrases in the poem. The line number follows the word or phrase.

agues (739): Fevers.
amain (5): Forcefully.
anon (279): Soon.
battery (426): Breach, entry.
blames her miss (53): Adonis's complaints (blames) miss Venus (fail to register).
bootless (422): Unproductive, useless.
brake (876): Clump of foliage; thicket.
caitiff  (914): Hound filled with fear or intimidation.
carry-tale (657): Tale bearer; gossip.
clepes (995): Calls by name; addresses.
clip Elysium (600): Gain paradise.
conies (685-687): Rabbits. 
contemn (205): Despise, scorn.
Cupid (581): God of love. He was the son of Venus 
curvet (279): Movement in which a horse raises its forelegs and then springs forward. The hind legs rise while the forelegs fall. 
defeature (736): Disfigurement.
Dian (725): Diana, goddess of the hunt.
dive-dapper (86): Bird also known as a dabchick or grebe.
fain (221): Eager, willing.
fetlock (295): Tuft of hair above and behind the hoof of a horse.
flap-mouthed mourner (920): Yelping or crying dog with floppy skin on the jowls.
flint (95): Very hard stone.
four such lamps (489): Four eyes.
froward 562): Hard to control; disobedient.
gaol (362): Jail.
glister (275): Glisten.
heart's attorney (335): Tongue. The tongue speaks for the heart.
imposthumes (743): Festers, sores.
indenting (704): Zizagging.
intendments (222): Intentions.
jade (391: Worn-out horse; worthless horse.
jennet (260): Female donkey.
laund (813): Open field; glade
limning (290): Drawing, painting, sketching.
lour (183): Scowl, grimace, frown.
maw (602): Stomach.
meed (15): Prize, recompense, reward.
mermaid's voice (429): Allusion to the Sirens,sea nymphs in Homer's Odyssey. They sang a song so alluring that it attracted to their shore all passing sailors who heard it—and then they sat, transfixed by the song, until they died.
milch doe (875): Doe that produces milk.
Narcissus (161): In Greek mythology, handsome young man who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool
no fisher but the ungrown fry forbears (526): No fisherman keeps ungrown (small) fish. He throws them back.
palfrey (384): Gentle saddle horse.
Paphos (1193): Ancient city in Cyprus.
perforce (72): Necessarily, forcibly.
pine the maw (602): Deny or deprive the stomach.
purblind hare (679): Weak-sighted hare.
repine (490): Unhappy, not contented.
saddle-bow (14) : Upward projection on the front part of a saddle; pommel.
shag (295): Shaggy.
singled with much ado the cold fault (693-694): Singled out or found the lost scent.
sovereign plaster (916): remedy.
spleens (907): Impulses; spirits.
stillitory (443): Still, used to vaporize, distill.
Tantalus (599): In Greek mythology, King of Sipylus, Lydia. He was a favorite of the gods until he attempted to deceive them. For his offense, they condemned him to eternal punishment in Hades. There, Tantalus thirsted for water that always receded when he tried to drink it and desired fruit on a tree branch that was always out of reach. 
Titan (177): Another name for Helios, a sun god.
tushes (617): Tusks of a boar.
twain (123): Two.
'twixt (76): Betwixt, meaning between.
vestals (752): Vestal virgins
welkin (921): Sky; heavenly vault.