Symbols of Lust in Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis.

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Zachary Johnson

English 4HW


Symbols of Lust in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis

Shakespeare’s Ovidian erotic poem Venus and Adonis tells the tale of a goddess, Venus, who lusts fruitlessly after a human boy, Adonis.  Although Venus relentlessly professes her love for the mortal youth, in reality she experiences only sexual desire.  The Bard utilizes scenes of consumption and eating to illustrate Venus’ intense passion and desire to control Adonis sexually.  Likewise, Shakespeare describes her sexual arousal with images of water and heat.  In Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare uses images of predation, water, and heat to illustrate the dominance of Lust over Love in Venus’ mind.

Shakespeare’s frequent passages containing images of one character literally consuming the other indicate the craving for control associated with Venus’ lust.  Shortly after Venus and Adonis’ first sight of each other, Shakespeare compares her to “an empty eagle, sharp by fast” (55), which “tires with her beak on feathers, flesh, and bone… Till either gorge be stuffed or prey be gone” (56-58).  The weak, helpless prey symbolizes Adonis, whom Venus feeds upon with her incessant kisses.  Her figurative consumption of Adonis reveals the intense physical desire she experiences.  Later, Venus tries to incite the same passions in Adonis.  After her failure to satisfy her longing by controlling the situation, Venus tries to force control on him.  She compares her body to a lush “park” and casts Adonis as a “deer” (231) within her confining arms.  Venus then commands him to “feed where thou wilt, on mountains or in dale; / Graze on my lips,” (232-233) an invitation with obvious sexual overtones.  The mountains and dale Venus refers to represent erogenous zones on her body that she wants him to “graze” upon.  Such a clear double entendre would have been considered extremely forward during Shakespeare’s time, and plainly demonstrates Venus’ lust for Adonis.  Upon realizing that she cannot win Adonis’ affection by allowing him to have power over her, Venus goes back on the offensive.  After convincing Adonis to capitulate to a single kiss, she becomes “the yielding prey” of “swift desire” (547) and kisses him again and again.  Shakespeare again employs the metaphor of eating to describe how “gluttonlike she feeds, yet never filleth” (548) – she simply cannot satiate her sexual appetite.  By immediately comparing Venus’ lips to “conquerors” who force Adonis’ lips to “obey,” (549) the author links consumption to the theme of physical control.  Shakespeare demonstrates Venus’ lust and desire to possess Adonis sexually through numerous images of eating and consumption.

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The Bard also demonstrates the goddess’ sexual hunger with the motif of water.  For example, Adonis’ “awed resistance” (69) lends him increased beauty in Venus’ eyes.  This “rain” added to an already swollen “river” (71) causes it to “overflow [its] bank” (72).  This passage describes how Adonis’ self-conscious unwillingness to cooperate turns Venus on all the more, so much so that her libido and accompanying biological responses run rampant.  Shakespeare reiterates this point as Adonis continues to shy away from her kiss.  This coyness “bathes” her in “water” (94) while the fires of her passion burn on.  The obvious interpretation ...

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