Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Shakespeare's Poetry

Allie is hosting a Shakespeare Reading Month, so it seemed like a good time for me to finish reading the complete works of Shakespeare! In planning my trip to England last year, I told myself I couldn't visit Stratford-Upon-Avon until I'd read all his plays, so I finished those last year, but I couldn't finish up his long poems. Now seemed like a good time to remedy that, especially since I've been in more of a poetry mood this year.

I'm not sure why I dreaded reading Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece so much. I like epic poems like the Illiad and the Odyessey, the Aeneid, the Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost. And I like Shakespeare! But still, I dreaded reading these.

I'll admit I didn't get a lot out of Venus and Adonis. I think it can be read on two levels, as a poem of lust or a poem of love. I noticed a lot of the sweet phrases could also have a dirtier meaning! :) I kept stopping and going, "Um, does he mean what I think he means or is my mind in the gutter???" It was kind of funny.

My favorite lines were probably these:
"Love comforteth like sunshine after rain,
But Lust's effect is tempest after sun;
Love's gentle spring doth always fresh remain,
Lust's winter comes ere summer half be done;
Love surfeits not, Lust like a glutton dies;
Love is all truth, Lust full of forged lies." 799-804

Apparently this poem was very popular during Shakespeare's life, which now that I think about it, makes me think that's pretty good evidence of Shakespeare writing the plays. Edward de Vere or Bacon could have realeased this poem without a problem, so why would they have put it out under Shakespeare's name? And if Shakespeare can write this and The Rape of Lucrece, why can't he have written the plays? They clearly seem to have been written by the same person. Hmmm.

As for The Rape of Lucrece, a 30-page poem about a rape doesn't sound that great, but I actually really liked the poem. It has a fantastically horrible villain that definitely seems similar to Richard III or some of the other great villains. Lucrece is so pure and focused on her love of her husband, like some of his later female characters, like Isabella from Measure to Measure. Tarquin offers Lucrece a choice - have sex with me willingly or I'll rape you, kill you, and kill another man and make it look like you two were doing it and I killed you both in defense of your husband. How evil is that?

The language Shakespeare uses when Tarquin first enters Lucrece's room is wonderful:
"Into the chamber wickedly he stalks,
And gazeth on her yet unstained bed.
The curatins being close, about he walks,
Rolling his greedy eyeballs in his head.
By their high treason is his heart misled,
Which gives the watch-word to his hand full swoon
To draw the cloud that hides the silver moon." 365-371

Both poems were surprisingly readable. I'm not sure if that's because by this point I'm fairly used to Shakespeare's language or if they may actually be a good starting point for someone who wants to read more Shakespeare but has trouble following all the plot in some of the plays because of the language. Both poems have fairly basic plots, so you can just soak in the language. I'm very excited to have finally read all of the works currently ascribed to Shakespeare!!!


  1. Congratulations! Awhile ago I read all the plays, but just couldn't find the steel within to attempt these two poems. Now, I'm wondering whether I should just do it!

    Interesting observation on Venus and Adonis (i.e., lust vs love), and even more interesting observation on poetry author vs play author. I am a believer of Shakespeare as author, and that is even more fuel for the fire, so to speak.

  2. You should definitely read them so you can brag that you've read the whole works. Although I'm not sure that many people care, it's definitely a great feeling. :) And, they weren't that bad. You just have to be the mood though, because when I tried them last summer after finishing the plays my eyes just glazed over. It didn't take me too much time this time and I actually enjoyed them!