Author: William Shakespeare
First published: 1593
Time: Remote antiquity
Venus (VEE-nuhs), the goddess of love and beauty. Voluptuous and fierily passionate, she is greedy for the love of young Adonis and immodestly thrusts her attentions on him. His shyness and sullenness increase her desire. She is a master of Renaissance rhetoric and delivers a stream of oratorical debate to convince Adonis of the importance of fertility. Her knowledge of the English countryside and hunting makes for particularly graphic and poetic descriptions. Her grief at the death of Adonis is as passionate as her love. There have been some scholarly arguments that hold her to be an allegorical Platonic figure rather than the erotic creation she appears to most readers to be.
Adonis (uh-DON-ihs), a shy, handsome young hunter. Venus' lavish wooing drives him into sullen obstinacy. He too is well trained in rhetoric and carries his side of the debate with rebukes for her lustful behavior. He is, however, tenderhearted and softens considerably when she swoons. He does not yield completely to her importunities and stubbornly goes ahead with his plans to hunt the boar. His death results. Those who hold that the poem is an expression of the Renaissance ideal of love compare Adonis with the fair young man of the sonnets and indicate that his death is justly the result of his rejection of love and beauty and his consequent failure to reproduce his kind.