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George Washington University

The Reluctant Adonis: Titian and Shakespeare

Author(s): John Doebler
Source: Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Winter, 1982), pp. 480-490
Published by: Folger Shakespeare Library in association with George Washington University
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The ReluctantAdonis:
Titianand Shakespeare
Dost thoulove pictures?We will fetchtheestraight
Adonis paintedby a runningbrook,
And Cythereaall in sedges hid.

THESE WORDSDESCRIBEONE OF THE "WANTON"pictures the drunkentinker

fromThe Tamingof the Shrew (1593-94) can expectto enjoy as a lord

(Induction,ii. 49-51). The subjectof thisarticleis Shakespeare'sVenusand
Adonis (1593), wheretheparagonof male beautybetraysno moreinterestin
Sly. Althe goddess of love thanhe does in the pictureofferedChristopher
thoughCythereais hiddenfromview in thepainting,she is anythingbut unrevealedwhenshe turnsup as Venus in thenarrativepoem. The reluctanceof
Adonis in the poem to pityso ravishinga Venus has challengedthose who
have studiedShakespeare'ssources. The major source,universallyaccepted,
is Ovid's celebrationof the contentedlove of Venus and Adonis (Metamorof
phoses, X). The usual explanationforthereluctantAdonisis theconflation
one or two otherstoriesfromOvid.'
The tale of Salmacis andHermaphroditus
(Met., IV) is mostfrequently
but the tale of Echo and Narcissus(Met., III) is also mentioned.In bothof
or sixteen-yearfifteenthesestoriesdeathconcludestherefusalof an attractive
old male to answerthe eroticpleas of a woman. Echo is too shy to initiate
(as we areled to expectfromhername);she neveractuallytouches
Narcissus;and, once rejected,she hidesin shame.But Salmacisstealsreluctant
and clings to him in the wateruntilhe drowns.
kisses fromHermaphroditus
brookin The TamingoftheShrew
The love-sickgoddesshidingby therunning
passage may also derivefromthe Salmacis story.
Useful summariesof scholarshipon the sourcesof the poem are HyderE. Rollins,ed., New
VariorumPoems (Philadelphia:J. B. Lippincott,1938), pp. 390-405; and T. W. Baldwin,On the
LiteraryGeneticsof Shakespeare'sPoems and Sonnets(Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1950),
pp. 1-93 (the reluctanceof Adonis, pp. 87-92). GeoffreyBullough,Narrativeand Dramatic
Sources of Shakespeare,8 vols. (London: Routledgeand Kegan Paul, 1957-75), I, 161-76, confinesthe sourcesto Ovid.
2 vols. (London: William
The editionused forOvid in thisarticleis theLoeb Metamorphoses,
Heinemann,1916); thetextI quote forVenusand Adonisis theNew Ardeneditionof thePoems,
ed. F. T. Prince,3rd ed. (London: Methuen,1960).

JOHN DOEBLER, Professorof Englishat Arizona State University,is the authorof

in severaloftheplays.
Shakespeare'sSpeakingPictures,a studyof stageiconography

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In Venusand AdonisShakespearelowerstheage of Ovid's Adonis(iam vir)

to thatof a bare adolescent:"red for shame, but frostyin desire" (1. 36).
Adoniseven comes close to sayingthathe is notyetcapable of theact of love.
He tells Venus to measurehis "unripeyears," comparableto a greenplum,
to pluck and sourto thetaste(11.524-28). WhenVenus finallydrags
Adonis on top of her, "All is imaginary"(1. 597). Shakespearestressesthe
and underlineshererotic
of Venus in her size and strength
overMars. Despiteinvincibility
experiencein thepassage recallinghermastery
at theend of a red-rosechain
in war,Mars is thefoolishcaptiveled in triumph
by love and beauty(11.97-114).



Mars and VenusSurprisedbY Vulcan(ca. 1545). Pinakothek,Munich.

Figure1 Tintoretto,

Venus, the misleaderof grownmanhood,is all the moredangerousas the

of youth.AmongShakespeare'smostcomic effects,oftenobserved
by critics,is a Venus who tucksa "tenderboy" underherarmafterplucking
himfromhis horse(11.30-32).2 Ovid describesthecomedyof Venus,forthat
2 The comedy in the behaviorof both Venus and Adonis is stressedby RufusPutneyin two
articles:"Venus and Adonis: AmourwithHumor," Philological Quarterlv,20 (1941), 533-48,
of Colorado Studiesin Language and Literature,4 (1953),
and "Venus Agonistes," University
52-66. For Adonis as the primaryobject of Shakespeare'sridicule,compareJ. D. Jahn,"The
Lamb of Lust: The Role of Adonis in Shakespeare'sVenusand Adonis," ShakespeareStudies,6
(1970), 11-25.
by J. W. Lever, "The
debateaboutthetoneof Venusand Adonisis summarized
The continuing
Poems," ShakespeareSurvey,15 (1962), 19-22; and NormanRabkin,"Venus and Adonis and
the Mythof Love," in Pacific Coast Studiesin Shakespeare,ed. Waldo F. McNeirand Thelma
N. Greenfield(Eugene: Univ. of OregonPress, 1966), pp. 20-32. The criticalconsensusseems
to be thatthe poem combinesa seriousmoralcontentwithamusingsexuality,and thatthe two

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matter,not in the episode withAdonis, but in her adulterywithMars, cited

by Venus in Shakespeare.WhatShakespeare'sVenus leaves out, however,is
the well-knownconclusionto the story:the exposureof both lovers to the
laughterof thegods by herhusbandVulcan (Met., IV). Renaissancevariations
comicridiculeofVulcan, more
on thestoryofthattriangleincludeTintoretto's
in the medievaltraditionof theMerchant'sTale of Januaryand May thanthat
of the classical sources beginningin Homer (Odyssey,VIII)., The Tintoretto
painting(Figure 1) createsa dramaticscene, witha dog barkingat thepoorly
The emblemtraditionof Venus as temptress
of youth,furthermore,
thatstrikingdisparityof scale thatprovidesShakespearewithso manycomic
possibilities.See, forinstance,the woodcutin Guillaumede la Perriere'sLa
Morosophie(Lyons, 1553), no. 3 (Figure2).4 The accompanying
underscorestheidea thattheyoungmanis just comingintoadolescence. Don
CameronAllen, who writesof Adonisas caughtbetweenthehardhuntof life
and thesofthuntof love, calls Shakespeare'sVenus "a forty-year-old
witha tasteforChapel Royal altos." Referring
back to Ovid, Allen says "that
in tone,purpose,and structure
thetwo poemshave littleto share. . . . Shakefromthatof Ovid as his Venus . . .
speare's intentand plan are as different
is fromthe eternalgirl of the Velia.
is in the restrainedsexualityof the Venus in Ovid.
The greatestdifference
Dressed as a virginalDiana huntingharmlessgame, she is contentto hauntthe
presenceof Adonis. They finallysit upon the lawn in the shade of a treeso
thatshe maytellhimthecautionary
tale of Atalantaand Hippomenes.Her head
restinggentlyupon his breast,Venus combineswords withkisses. The tale
over, she leaves at once, believingAdonis fullyconvincedof the dangersof
huntingsavage prey.The digressiontold by Venus is a double warning.Atalanta and Hippomenes,drivenwild by luston consecratedground,are turned
by the offendedCybele intoraginglions. The lions are yokedto the chariot
she rides as the Great Motherof all creatures.Shakespeareeliminatesthis
aspects are not necessarilyreconciled."Ambivalence" has been the criticaltermapplied with
I The canvas by Tintoretto,
Mars and VenusSurprisedby Vulcan, was owned by the English
painterSir PeterLely (d. 1682), who probablyacquiredit fromtheestateof theEarl of Arundel.
Boughtby theBavarianstatein 1925, it now hangsat thePinakothek.See Wolf-DieterDube, The
Pinakothek,Munich(New York: HarryN. Abrams,1970), p. 174. ThomasHoward,Second Earl
of Arundeland Surrey(1586-1646), was the firstgreatEnglishartcollectorand patron.
The Mars and Venus mythis a good exampleof how theclassical storieswereinterpreted
in malo and in bono. In bono is one of the versionssuitableto Antonyand Cleopatra and The
Faerie Queene, esp. Bk. II, wheretheloverssymbolizediscordiaconcors.See RaymondB. Waddington,"Antonyand Cleopatra:'What Venus Did withMars,"' ShakespeareStudies,2 (1966),
210-27; and RobertKellogg and Oliver Steele, eds., Books I and II of "The Faerie Queene,"
the "MutabilityCantos" and SelectionsfromtheMinorPoetry(New York:OdysseyPress, 1965).
The storyin malo, withmoralizedEnglishcommentary
was pubtradition,
lished a year beforeVenus and Adonis: AbrahamFraunce,The ThirdPart of the Countessof
(1592; rpt.New York: GarlandPress, 1976), fols. 31v-32r.
4 Arthur
Henkel and AlbrechtSch6ne, Emblemata:Handbuchzur Sinnbildkunst
des XVI. und
XVII. Jahrhunderts
J. B. Metzler,1967), col. 1751, illustratethisemblem.
5Don CameronAllen, Image and Meaning:MetaphoricTraditionsin RenaissancePoetry,2nd
ed. (Baltimore:The JohnsHopkinsPress, 1968), pp. 42-43. (Allen's essay on Venusand Adonis
firstappearedin 1959.)
A usefulcriticalarticleon thegeneralsubjectof Ovid and Elizabethanpoetryis CarolineJameson, "Ovid in the SixteenthCentury,"in Ovid, ed. J. W. Binns (London: Routledgeand Kegan
Paul, 1973), pp. 210-43.

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digressionforthesake of describingtheanticsof a stallionand a marein heat,

an episode used by Shakespeare'sVenus to endorseeroticfulfillment.
sets thetoneforthetragedyby a recounting
of Adonis'
Ovid, furthermore,
incestuousancestryas thechildof Myrrhaand Cinyras.Adonisis theoffspring
a seductionof fatherby daughter,the son
of his sisterand his grandfather,
conceivedin darkness,cursed,and weptover. The fateof Adoniscompletes
a cycle of retribution
arisingfromillicitpassion. Venus, morethananything,

LenlfntcroissantviclitC., ;a1dolCscCtuC,

LUquclVcnus la dc'cssc(cOl(dluit:

Lors le sang bouilt,ct lors croistIa scI)cIncc,

"aI'I;))otircLx dcuiult.
Qui Ie rend protuj.t
Venus Leading a Youth." fromGuillaumede la
Figure 2.
Perriere,La Morosophie(Lyons. 1553), no. 3.

is tryingto arrestthe fatefulprocess. Her love is protective,reserved,and

maternal,in no way rapacious. Ovid's Venus, dressedas a chaste Diana, is
closer to the HeavenlyVenus in The Symposium,
the Celestial Venus of the
Neoplatonists,and even the idealized Venus in Titian's Sacred and Profane
Love6 thanshe is to the heavingcreaturewe findat the beginningof Shake6
See ErwinPanofsky,Studiesin Iconology:HumanisticThemesin theArtof theRenaissance
(1939; rpt.New York: HarperTorchbook,1967), esp. pp. 129-69. PanofskyarguesthattheTitian
shouldbe retitled'The Twin Venuses," the nude one on the rightCelestial,theclothedone on
the lefta Venus Genetrix.Venus Genetrixis thehonorableprocreative
love called amor vulgaria
by Ficino in his Convito.Ficino thinkslusta madnessand unworthy
of the nameof Venus.
FranklinM. Dickey, Not Wisel' But Too Well: Shakespeare'sLove Tragedies (San Marino,
Calif.: Huntington
Library,1957), pp. 47-48, arguesstrongly
thatShakespeare'sVenus is in part
Ficino's amor vulgaria,but Dickey thinkshervulgarin the commonsense as well. Dickey concludes: "Adonis is notripeforeithersortof passion.'"The fourth
poemin ThePassionatePilgrim,
whetherby Shakespeareor not, probablydescribesthe situationintendedin Venusand Adonisas

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speare's poem. Whetherhe wouldwishto do so we have no way of knowing,

but the Adonis in Ovid has no need to protecthis chastity.
of Shakespeare'sart,therefore,
is not
The criticalissue in ourunderstanding
so muchthe reluctanceof his Adonis as it is the rapacityof his Venus. The
but noteven Ovid's Salmacis
painfullyshy Echo in Ovid is totallydifferent,
can accountforthe degreeof change Shakespeareis makingwhen he casts
Venus as a frenziedolderwomandrivenby comic lustfora veryyoungman


Figure3. Titian,Venusand Adonis(1554). Prado,Madrid.

A numberof othersuggestionsforthe changeshave been made by literary

scholars.Oftencitedare two songs fromworksby RobertGreene:Perimedes
theBlack-Smith(1588) andNeverToo Late (1590). The songs,bothsaccharine
and mildlycomic, stressa naive, indeedcallow, Adonis. In the one, Venus
well as any otherattempt:"But whetherunripeyearsdid wantconceit,/Or he refusedto take
her figuredproffer,"he "would nottouchthe bait."
of Shakespeare'sVenus to procreate,it is probablymeantto be viewed as
As forthe argument
hypocrisy(in sharpcontrastto thesame themein thefirstseventeenSonnets).Venus is drivenby
simplelust at thispointin thepoem.

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pleads forthepityof a beloved who dares noteven look at her; in the other,
"WantonAdonis" sits "toyingon herknee," he blusheswhenshe kisseshim,
and she arguesthathis youthjustifiestakingpleasurein love.
It is morelikelythatShakespearedeferredto Spenserratherthanto Greene,
of Wit(1592). The firstthreebooks
who attackedShakespearein Groatsworth
just threeyearsbeforeShake1590,
of The
speare's poem. Spenser's descriptionof The Gardenof Adonis (FQ,
who stressedthe resff.) owes much to the traditionof the mythographers,
of Adonisin thespringby Venus as an EarthMother,afterhis death
caused by theboar as a symbolof winter.7Earlierin Book Threeis Spenser's
accountof the tapestriesin."Castle Ioyeous" (FQ, III.i.34-38).-The costly
"clothes ofArrasandof Toure," hangingin thelongchamber,depicta number
of scenes: Venus overcomewithdesire, Venus wooing Adonis, "the boy"
asleep in a bowerand bathingin a fountain,herplea to forgothehunt,Venus
into "a daintieflowre." Spenser
mourninghis death,and his metamorphosis
says thatVenus "EntysttheBoy" with"sleightsand sweetallurements,"but
the poet concludes that she "did . . . steale his heedelesse hart away."

Anotherreferenceto Venus and Adonisbased on visual representation,
on the sleeve
renderedin cloth,is the fleetingdescriptionof the embroidery
of Hero in Marlowe's epyllion:
witha grove,
WhereVenusin hernakedglorystrove
To pleasethecarelessanddisdainful
Of proudAdonisthatbeforeherlies.
(I. 11-14)
Hero and Leander was writtenin 1593, theyear Venusand Adoniswas published,and a numberof scholarshave conjecturedthatShakespearemighthave
the Marlowepoem, so like his own in genre.
seen in manuscript
scholarsthata considerableamount
Norhas itescapedtheattention
of Renaissance art is devotedto Shakespeare'ssubject. Paintersand graphic
of thegoddessof beautyto one of the
artistswho have renderedtheattraction
(1518-94), Cambiaso(1527includeTintoretto
menin mythology
85), and Veronese(1528-88),8 to say nothingof thecountlessrepresentations
of Venus alone or withher othercompanions.
and Representedin FigEnglished,Mythologized,
7See GeorgeSandys,Ovid's Metamorphoses
ures, ed. of 1632, ed. Karl K. Hulley and StanleyT. Vandersall(Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska
Press, 1970), pp. 490-94.
(1567), but Sandys is an important
Shakespeare,of course, used ArthurGolding's translation
withboth Golding and Shakespeare.Most
recordof iconographiccommonplacescontemporary
scholarsseem to agree thatShakespeareknewbothOvid's Latin and Golding'stranslation.I rely
betweenthetwo butalso because Ovid
on Ovid, notonlybecause I findno significant
is the source sharedby all the RenaissanceartistsI discuss.
see Don CameronAllen, Mysteriously
For an accountof Ovid and the mythographers,
in theRenaissance(Baltimore:
and AllegoricalInterpretation
TheRediscoveryofPagan Symbolism
JohnsHopkinsUniv. Press, 1970), Chap. 7. Allen (p. 186) calls AbrahamFraunce(note 3 above)
the "conspicuous Englishprecursorof Sandys." Fraunce'saccountof the meaningof the Venus
the same as Sandys': a fertility
and Adonis story(fols. 43v-45r) is substantially
in termsotherthanthefertility
An articlerelatingthepoem to themythographic
of Venus and Adonisis S. ClarkHulse, "Shakespeare's Mythof Venus and Adonis," PMLA, 93
(1978), 95-105.
zur Ikonographiedes 17.
8 See AndorPigler,Barockthemen:
Eine Auswahlvon Verzeichnissen
2 vols. (Budapest:Verlag der UngarischenAkademieder Wissenschaften,
und 18. Jahrhunderts,

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The artistmostfrequently
by studentsof Venusand Adonis,however, is Titian. He treatedthe subjectbothin thePardo Venusat theLouvre
and in thePrado Venusand Adonis.In theLouvrecanvasAdonishuntsa gentle
stag while Venus appears to be sleeping. The Prado paintingshows Adonis
tryingto break away froma clingingVenus (Figure 3), and it is thusmore
closelyrelatedto thecircumstances
of Shakespeare'spoem. The firstto suggest
a parallel betweenthe Prado versionand Shakespeare'sreluctantAdonis-was
the editorA. H. Bullen, in 1905; butthepaintinghas been mentionedby studentsof literature
a numberof timessince, and it is extensivelydiscussedas
a source by Erwin Panofskyin his posthumousProblemsin Titian (1969).9
Panofskycitesa letterwritten
by theartistto Philipof Spain in 1554, reporting
the shipmentof Venusand Adonis. The paintingwas sentby way of Madrid
to London, wherePhilipwas livingbrieflyas theconsortto MaryTudor,and
thecanvas stayedin EnglandformanyyearsafterPhilipleftfortheContinent
in 1555. The originalfinallyended up at the Prado, but manycontemporary
copies were made on canvas. One of the earliest,whichmay have been the
copy Titiankeptforhimself,is now in London, at theNationalGallerysince
1824. The originalapparently
stayedin theRoyal Collectionof Englanduntil
afterthe writingof Venus and Adonis. It was perhapsthereeven as late as
1636, whenit is firstreportedin Spain. Even if Shakespeare,whoseplayswere
honoredby commandperformances
at court,had no access to the
originalcanvas, he may have knownone of the severalcopies, or at least the
prints.Printswere executedby bothGuilio Sanuto (dated
1559) and MartinoRota (ca. 1520-83).1o
In theletterfromTitian,theartistsuggestedthathis royalpatronhangVenus
and Adonisas a companionpiece toDanaie in a ShowerofGold, also by Titian
and alreadyin Philip's collection.The artistobservedthatthe femalenude is
seen fromthefrontin his Danae and fromtheback in his Venusand Adonis.
Otheraspectsof thefemalebodyare promisedin twoprojectedpaintings,one
of Perseus and Andromedaand the otherof Jasonand Medea. Accordingto
Panofsky,Titian's turningaboutof his nude in Venusand Adonisforthesake
of delightingin a woman's back meanta rewriting
of themyth,forwhichhe
was criticizedby RaffaelloBorghiniin 1584. In Ovid's account,it is onlyafter
thehuntingof dangerousanimals.He does it afterherback is turnedin another
1956), II, 239-40. Piglerlists at least fiveversionsof the subjectby Cambiaso, six by Veronese
or atelier,etc.
9 Bullen (1905) is quoted in Rollins' Variorumed.: "Titian's famouspicture.. . affordssufficientproofthatShakespearewas not the firstto depictAdonis' coldness" (p. 397). The two
Titian paintingsare discussed, amongothers,by T. W. Baldwin (note 1 above), p. 92; and by
Eugene B. Cantelupe,"An IconographicalInterpretation
of Venusand Adonis,Shakespeare'sOvidian Comedy," ShakespeareQuarterly,14 (1963), 141. The fullestapplicationof Titianthusfar,
however,is Erwin Panofsky,Problemsin Titian,MostlyIconographic(New York: New York
Univ. Press, 1969), pp. 150-55. PanofskycitestheVariorum,buthe leaves theverystrongimpression thathe is thefirstto mentionTitianas an explanationof thereluctant
Adonisin Shakespeare
(p. 153). The Panofskytheoryis cited as if seminalby JudithDundas, but rejected:"Style and
the Mind's Eye," The Journalof Aestheticsand ArtCriticism,37 (1979), 327.
10An extantcopy of the printby Sanuto is in the PrintCollectionof the BritishMuseum,in
the Titian (Myth)portfolio(Sloane Collection,XI-93), along withcontemporary
graphicsof the
same Titianby at least two otherRenaissanceprint-makers
(Sloane Collection,XI-95; and 19502-11-156). The Rota is listedin Adam Bartsch,Le Peintre-graveur,
21 vols. in 17 (Vienne: J.
V. Degan, 1803-13), XVI, 282.108.

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OtherRenaissancepicturesusuallyshow one of two scenes: Adonis happy

in the lap of Venus, as in the Veroneseat the Prado (Figure4); and Venus
lamentinghis death,as in severalworksby Cambiaso."1The mutualattraction
stressedin an engravingby JacobMatham(1571of theloversis particularly

Venusand Adonis(ca. 1580-85).Prado,Madrid.

Figure4. Veronese,

1631). In the Matham(Figure 5), Venus wears the magic girdlethatmakes

In theepisodepaintedby Titian,however,Adonistearshimherirresistible.'II
self away fromthe embraceof Venus in orderto pursuethe hunt.The artist
hererevivesa motifof antiqueartknownas theLeave-Takingof Adonis. This
l Panofsky,Problems(note9 above), p. 152, and Baldwin,p. 13. The worksby Cambiasoare
by BertinaSuida Manningand WilliamSuida, Luca Cambiaso: la vitae le opere (Milan:
Casa EditriceCeschina, 1958), figs. 121, 123, 124, and 128.
The Jacob Mathamis listedby Bartsch,III, 229.16.

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motifoccurs,forinstance,in thehighrelieffroma secondcentury

A.D. Roman
sarcophagusin theLateranMuseum.3 The Ovidianepisodeof theLeave-Taking of Venus is thus convertedand dramatizedby Titian into the Flightof
Adonis, withCupid impotently
asleep. PanofskyconcludesthatTitian's Prado
versionof Venusand Adonisis thesourcethatinspiredShakespeare'sreluctant
But Titianis also consistentwithOvid in a way thatShakespeareis not. He
retainstheemphasisupontheconflictas vocationalratherthanerotic.The hunt
is thecenterof disagreement,
as in Ovid. Titianrewrites
his mythonlyslightly.
He extendsthe visit of the goddess of beautyuntilher conflictwithAdonis
can becomephysicalas well as verbal.Titianprovidesthebasis fora Mannerist
stressingphysicalmovement,ratherthana High Renaissancepresentationof staticloveliness.As fortheback of Venus,thesorelydisappointed


JacobMatham(1575-1631), "Venus and Adonis." Engraving.

Philip complainedto the artistof the way its paintwas damagedin transit.
Titian's own interestin this detail of anatomyprobablyreflectsin part his
sculpture.In severalof his otherpicturesTitiangoes to considerablelengths
to answerthe claim of the sculptorsthattheyalone can rendera figurefrom
severalpointsof view."4
13 William Keach, ElizabethanErotic Narratives:Ironyand Pathos in the Ovidian Poetryof
Shakespeare,Marlowe, and theirContemporaries
(New Brunswick:RutgersUniv. Press, 1977),
p. 55, ill. p. 57. Keach is correcting
Panofsky,who statesthatTitianis the firstartistto render
Adonis leaving Venus. Titian,at least, seems to have been the firstartistin the Renaissanceto
revivetheclassical motif,and he establishesthehighlydramaticprototype
includingRubens.(Keach reports1636 as theyearof thefirst
in Spain, p. 242, n. 12.)
'4 See especiallyTitian's Saint Sebastian (Brescia), whereboththe front
of the body and the

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An aspect of the paintingseeminglyoverlookedby arthistorians,but suggestingcomparisonwithShakespeare'spoem, is theuse of animalsas a symbolic commenton the centralfigures.The threedogs tied to the leftarm of
Adonisseemto restatetheconflictimpliedwithinhim.His powerfultorsotwists
fromtheembraceof Venus,;buthis expressiveeyes are turnedback upon her
pleadingbeauty.Two of thedogs, fangsbared,strainon theircords,eager for
the hunt;but the thirdturnsin hesitation,as if unsureof the day's plan. The
conflictsare bothinternaland externalin moreways thanone. The righthand
thedogs. In commonwith
of Adonisgripstheboarspear;thelefthandrestrains
of Adonis is the way Titiancombines
almostall Renaissancerepresentations
an athleticmale body witha head erringtowardsoftfemininity.
retainsthis conventionaltensionbetweenmale firmnessand an undercutting'
aestheticappeal,15buthe forgoesconflictwithinAdonisforthesake of external
debate. The closest Shakespearecomes to creatingthe narrativemomentrenof
dered by Titian is in the lines immediatelyfollowingAdonis' refutation
Venus' deliberateconfusionbetweenprocreativelove and merelust:
Withthishe breakethfromthe sweetembrace
Of thosefairarmswhichboundhimto herbreast,
And homewardthroughthe darklaundrunsapace;
Leaves love upon herback deeplydistress'd.

Shakespearedoes use the techniqueof animalsas a commenton the main

action,butin otherthana subjectiveway. In thedigressionof thestallionand
thebreedingjennet,animalactivityparallelsor contrastswiththeexternalbehaviorof the goddess and her beloved. Insteadof Ovid's elaboratestoryof
Atalantaand Hippomenes,whichconcludeswitha brieftransition
back into
oftheloversintosavage lions,
a consistently
relevantbut muchshorterepisode. The
preciserelevanceof thestallionand thebreedingjennetto Venus and Adonis,
however,has been much debated. One criticthinksthe unbridledstalliona
symbolof theanimallustwhichAdoniswiselyrejects;anotherfindsa parallel
betweenthejennetand Adonisas a male coquette.But mostinterpreters
thatthe digressioncorrectsor mirrorsthemainnarrativeactionin some way;
andno one has suggested
a conflict
by David Rosand, Titian(New
entireback of the shouldersare shown.The paintingis illustrated
York: HarryN. Abrams,1978), pp. 92-93. The standardcatalogueraisonn6is HaroldE. Wethey,
about the
The Paintingsof Titian, 3 vols. (London: Phaidon Press, 1969-75). For information
Londonversionof Venusand Adonis,see Cecil Gould,NationalGalleryCatalogues: The Sixteenth
CenturyVenetianSchool (London: The NationalGallery,1959), pp. 98-102.
amid hardships,but
15 The conceptof vigorousyoungmanhooddestinedfor accomplishment
it exertsuponothers,is a themeshared
by thepowerfulaestheticattraction
or threatened
by thepaintingsof Venus and Adonis (or Mars), Shakespeare'snarrativepoem, and his Sonnets.
16 RobertP. Miller, "Venus, Adonis, and theHorses," ELH, 19 (1952), 249-64, believesthat
the comic ridiculeof the romanticlove claimedby Venus
the digressionservesthreeintentions:
by usingthehorsesto reveal such courtshipas merelust; a contrastof therun-awaystallionwith
Adonis,to themoraladvantageof Adonis;and a contrastof thebreedingjennet,servingthenatural
law of propagation,withthebase motivesof Venus, who seeks onlypleasure.A similarapproach
is thatof Panofsky(Problems,p. 118 andn.), whobelievesthatthedigressionequatestheunbridled
horseto unbridledpassion. In sharpcontrastis Jahn(note2 above, pp. 21-22), who calls Adonis
a coquette,to whomthejennetis at firstsimilar.In theend, however,she is more"honest" than
Adonis forrelentingto the sexual excitementshe has arousedin the stallion.

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Perhaps Shakespearehimselfprovidesthe clearestartisticlink betweenthis

digressionand the restof the poem. Venus uses the exampleof the runaway
stallionto encourageAdonisin love: "Let me excuse thycourser,gentleboy, /
And learn of him, I heartilybeseech thee,/ . . . / 0 learn to love . . ."' (11.
of the horsesto his own
the maturity
403-7). Adonis replies by contrasting
youth,comparableto ". . . the bud beforeone leaf" unfolds(1. 416). The
rhetoricis pointedtowardthefactualsurfaceratherthantowardpsychological
or philosophicaldepths.The poem is morematerialthanthepainting,and the
paintingmoresubjectivethanthe poem.
We will probablyneverknowwhetherShakespeareknewtheTitiandesign.
Even if it could be documentedthathe did, we would stilldebatewhetheror
not the paintingshould be elevatedinto a source forthe poem. What we do
know is thattwo Renaissanceartistsof the firstrankchose the same subject:
the explicitrejectionof Venus by Adonis. A comparisonof poem and painting-analogues at least-brings us to a numberof conclusions.
Neitherartistshowsany hesitationin alteringthedetailsof theoriginalnarrativein Ovid in orderto servea new artisticeffect.Each drawsupon a form
outsideof Ovid, in the case of Shakespearetheepyllion,used by Lodge only
a fewyearsearlier,and in thecase of TitiantheLeave-Takingof Adonis,found
in antiquedesigns.17 Titianseems to have introduceda conflictwithinAdonis
to augmentthephysicaltearingaway fromVenus. Shakespearedrawsuponthe
thatless towardthecoyness
comedyassociatedwiththenameof Venus,turning
Adonisthanin thedirectionof a frenziedVenus,whoseemotions
of a reluctant
are drivenfirstby lustand thenby grief.Bothartistsare "Mannerist" in their
focusupon conflict.The conflictin Titiantwistsbodies and communicatesirresolution;the moretheatricalconflictin Shakespearepitsbody againstbody
and rhetoricagainstrhetoric.
See ElizabethStoryDonno, ed., ElizabethanMinorEpics (New York: ColumbiaUniv. Press,
1963), "Introduction."Donno (p. 6, n. 3) suggeststhat "epyllion" is primarilya nineteenthcentury(ratherthana classical) term,but she acknowledgesits usefulnessin describingthe Reverse narrative"as a minorepic.
naissance "erotic-mythological

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