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Contents:
  1. National Centre for Early Music
  2. About the Play | Venus and Adonis | Royal Shakespeare Company
  3. Explore the ways this myth connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop

Venus and Adonis: A Love Story. Venus and Adonis was painted by French artist Simon Vouet in about This work of art lives at the Getty Center. Find out if it's on view.


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What makes for a good story? Love, adventure, and tragedy make a story exciting. The story of Venus and Adonis is one such tale. She desires him to get off his horse, and speak to her. Adonis doesn't want to talk to any woman, not even a goddess. So she forces him, and then lies down beside him, gazes at him, and talks of love.

She craves a kiss; he wants to leave and go hunting. He manages to get away, and he goes to get his horse.

National Centre for Early Music

At that moment, his horse becomes enamored of another horse, who at first resists, but soon the two animals gallop off together, which keeps Adonis from going hunting. Venus approaches him, and continues to speak to him of love. He listens for a bit, then turns away scornfully. This pains her, and she faints. Afraid he might have killed her, Adonis kneels beside her, strokes and kisses her.

Venus recovers and requests one last kiss. He reluctantly gives in.

William Shakespeare's Venus & Adonis

Venus wants to see him again; Adonis tells her that he cannot tomorrow, because he is going to hunt the wild boar. Venus has a vision, and warns him that if he does so, he will be killed by a boar.


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She then flings herself on him, tackling him to the ground. He pries himself loose, and lectures her on the topic of lust versus love. He then leaves; she cries. The next morning Venus roams the woods searching for Adonis.

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She hears dogs and hunters in the distance. Thinking of her vision that he will be killed by the boar, she is afraid, and hurries to catch up with the hunt.

About the Play | Venus and Adonis | Royal Shakespeare Company

She comes across hunting dogs that are injured. Then she finds Adonis, killed by a wild boar.

Venus is devastated. Because this loss occurred to the goddess of love, she decrees that love will henceforth be mixed with suspicion, fear, and sadness. Adonis' body has grown cold and pale.

Explore the ways this myth connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop

Characters in a minor epic usually come from the periphery of myth or legend; its interest is in eroticism, sophistication, and wit. Within this genre, Venus and Adonis was so successful that it was Shakespeare's most popular published work throughout his lifetime. Shakespeare has Adonis reject Venus—an ironic and comic development for early readers. Venus endlessly argues for making love, with Adonis uttering petulant protests.

For modern readers who might forget that Venus is a goddess, it is easy to focus on Adonis as the uneasy object of desire by a matron. In its terms, however, the poem is a deliberately artificial retelling of a then-familiar myth, playing with the notion of what would happen if the goddess of love were refused. Although minor epics fell out of fashion long ago, Venus and Adonis commands appreciation for its dazzling verbal surface, as a piece of fine baroque art. It also lets us see the young Shakespeare exploring love in a way that later yielded his romantic comedies.