On the Literary Genetics of Shakspere's Poems & Sonnets

By T. W. Baldwin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
The Construction of Venus and Adonis

As early as 1598, Francis Meres, wrote, "As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to liue in Pythagoras: so the sweete wittie soule of Ouid liues in mellifluous & holly-tongued Shakespeare, witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his priuate friends, &c."1For, Shakspere himself had, as it were, taken publicly the oath of allegiance. On the title page of "the first heire of my inuention," Venus and Adonis, appear two lines from Ovid's Amores,

Vilia miretur vulgus: mihi flauus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua
.2

Shakspere sets sail with the flag of Ovid nailed to his masthead, whether he himself nailed it there or not. If he has always been considered an Ovidian, he has only himself to blame.

One hopes, of course, that Shakspere himself chose those lines. In his time they were well known to most learned grammarians.

At the gateway of this final form [of Mirandula Flores, a fundamental grammar school anthology of poetry] we find a long passage from Ovid headed, "In prais of song, and that the fame of the poet is perennial, from Ovid, Elegies, Book I," and ending with the two lines which Shakspere chose as a prefix to Venus and Adonis

Vilia miretur populus, mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua
.

It has been pointed out that Shakspere was aware of the context and significance of these two lines.3 If Mirandula had not pointed out the significance of them to Shakspere, at least it was not his fault, for the whole

____________________
1
Meres, Francis Palladis Tamia ( 1598), pp. 281v-82r.
2
"Let what is cheap excite the marvel of the crowd; for me may golden Apollo minister full cups from the Castalian fount" ( Showerman, G., Ovid [Loeb], Haroides and Amores, I, xv, 35-36, p. 379). translation attributed to Marlowe runs,

Let base conciepted admire vilde things,
Faire Phoebus, laed to the Mum springs.

B. I ( Ben Jonson) renders,

Kneele hindes to trash: me let bright Phoebus swell,
With cups full flowing from the Muses well.

( Brooke, T., Marlowe, pp. 580-81.)

3
Baynes, T. S., Shakespeare Studies, pp. 207 ff. But Shakspere quotes these lines accurately, as it will be seen that Mirandula does not; they are much more appropriate to Shakspere's amatory poem.

-1-

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