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Venus And Adonis
Biography of Shakespeare
Since William Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago, and many records from that time are lost or never existed in the first place, we don't know everything about his life. For example, we know that he was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, 100 miles northwest of London, on April 26, 1564. But we don't know his exact birthdate, which must have been a few days earlier.
We do know that Shakespeare's life revolved around two locations: Stratford and London. He grew up, had a family, and bought property in Stratford, but he worked in London, the center of English theater. As an actor, a playwright, and a partner in a leading acting company, he became both prosperous and well-known. Even without knowing everything about his life, fans of Shakespeare have imagined and reimagined him according to their own tastes, just as we see with the 19th-century portrait of Shakespeare wooing his wife at the top of this page.
William Shakespeare was probably born on about April 23, 1564, the date that is traditionally given for his birth. He was John and Mary Shakespeare's oldest surviving child; their first two children, both girls, did not live beyond infancy. Growing up as the big brother of the family, William had three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund, and two younger sisters: Anne, who died at seven, and Joan.
Their father, John Shakespeare, was a leatherworker who specialized in the soft white leather used for gloves and similar items. A prosperous businessman, he married Mary Arden, of the prominent Arden family. John rose through local offices in Stratford, becoming an alderman and eventually, when William was five, the town bailiff—much like a mayor. Not long after that, however, John Shakespeare stepped back from public life; we don't know why.
Shakespeare, as the son of a leading Stratford citizen, almost certainly attended Stratford's grammar school. Like all such schools, its curriculum consisted of an intense emphasis on the Latin classics, including memorization, writing, and acting classic Latin plays. Shakespeare most likely attended until about age 15.
For several years after Judith and Hamnet's arrival in 1585, nothing is known for certain of Shakespeare's activities: how he earned a living, when he moved from Stratford, or how he got his start in the theater.
Following this gap in the record, the first definite mention of Shakespeare is in 1592 as an established London actor and playwright, mocked by a contemporary as a "Shake-scene." The same writer alludes to one of Shakespeare's earliest history plays, Henry VI, Part 3, which must already have been performed. The next year, in 1593, Shakespeare published a long poem, Venus and Adonis. The first quarto editions of his early plays appeared in 1594. For more than two decades, Shakespeare had multiple roles in the London theater as an actor, playwright, and, in time, a business partner in a major acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men (renamed the King's Men in 1603). Over the years, he became steadily more famous in the London theater world; his name, which was not even listed on the first quartos of his plays, became a regular feature—clearly a selling point—on later title pages.
Shakespeare prospered financially from his partnership in the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later the King's Men), as well as from his writing and acting. He invested much of his wealth in real-estate purchases in Stratford and bought the second-largest house in town, New Place, in 1597.
Among the last plays that Shakespeare worked on was The Two Noble Kinsmen, which he wrote with a frequent collaborator, John Fletcher, most likely in 1613. He died on April 23, 1616—the traditional date of his birthday, though his precise birthdate is unknown. We also do not know the cause of his death. His brother-in-law had died a week earlier, which could imply infectious disease, but Shakespeare's health may have had a longer decline.
The memorial bust of Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford is considered one of two authentic likenesses, because it was approved by people who knew him. (The bust in the Folger's Paster Reading Room, shown at left, is a copy of this statue.) The other such likeness is the engraving by Martin Droeshout in the 1623 First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, produced seven years after his death by his friends and colleagues from the King's Men.
VENUS AND ADONIS
EVEN as the sun with purple-colour'd faceHad ta'en his last leave of the weeping morn,Rose-cheek'd Adonis tried him to the chase;Hunting he lov'd, but love he laugh'd to scorn; 4Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him,And like a bold-fac'd suitor 'gins to woo him.
'Thrice fairer than myself,' thus she began,'The field's chief flower, sweet above compare, 8Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man,More white and red than doves or roses are;Nature that made thee, with herself at strife,Saith that the world hath ending with thy life. 12
'Vouchsafe, thou wonder, to alight thy steed,And rein his proud head to the saddle-bow;If thou wilt deign this favour, for thy meedA thousand honey secrets shalt thou know: 16Here come and sit, where never serpent hisses;And being set, I'll smother thee with kisses:
'And yet not cloy thy lips with loath'd satiety,But rather famish them amid their plenty, 20Making them red and pale with fresh variety;Ten kisses short as one, one long as twenty:A summer's day will seem an hour but short,Being wasted in such time-beguiling sport.' 24
With this she seizeth on his sweating palm,The precedent of pith and livelihood,And, trembling in her passion, calls it balm,Earth's sovereign salve to do a goddess good: 28Being so enrag'd, desire doth lend her forceCourageously to pluck him from his horse.
Over one arm the lusty courser's reinUnder her other was the tender boy, 32Who blush'd and pouted in a dull disdain,With leaden appetite, unapt to toy;She red and hot as coals of glowing fireHe red for shame, but frosty in desire. 36
The studded bridle on a ragged boughNimbly she fastens;--O! how quick is love:--The steed is stalled up, and even nowTo tie the rider she begins to prove: 40Backward she push'd him, as she would be thrust,And govern'd him in strength, though not in lust.
So soon was she along, as he was down,Each leaning on their elbows and their hips: 44Now doth she stroke his cheek, now doth he frown,