On the Literary Genetics of Shakspere's Poems & Sonnets

By T. W. Baldwin | Go to book overview
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Shaping-Ideas in Venus and Adonis: Chaos to Cosmos Through Love

As we look at the structure of Venus and Adonis, it becomes evident that there are certain fundamental and genetic ideas which have shaped it to its present form. Some very general features of the "plan and framework" of Venus and Adonis and similar poems have been noticed by Pooler.

In fact, this story of Greene which he entitled A Princelie Mirrour of Peereles Modestie, is especially interesting in this connection; for, not being derived from any of the usual sources, it bears no traces of its peculiar origin, and might stand as a typical novel of the time. Its resemblances to Luerece will be noticed hereafter. What concerns us here is the plan and framework. It seems not to have been noticed that in these respects Elizabethan novels and Elizabethan narrative poems are precisely similar. In both, the plot is of the slightest. The few incidents are held apart by soliloquies, or by debates or conversations usually confined to two persons, and consisting of set speeches. Soliloquies and speeches alike are for the most part loci communes, their subjects being love, time, death, friendship, etc. The simplest assertion is copiously illustrated by parallels from history and tradition, or by similes invented or borrowed from the animal, vegetable, and mineral worlds. The style is animated by figures of speech, and the alliterations are elaborate and frequent. Such is Greene Mirrour of Modestie, and such in great measure is Shakespeare Venus and Adonis. But in other writers the elements are more obtrusive than in Shakespeare. What in others is visible padding, or affectation, is in him natural growth, for he makes us feel and see; and to the motive power of imagination and sympathy he has added the rarer virtues of discretion and restraint. Thus, in illustrating concealed sorrow, he contents himself with two examples, the oven stopped and the river stayed, whereas Lily in a similar passage has four. It must, however, be admitted that he sometimes yields to the prevailing taste, as in ll. 415-420 and 458-462. Ovid offends in the same way, but in comparison with the Euphuists both he and Shakespeare are miracles of temperance.1

Such are some of the devices, indeed, by which Renaissance literary artists had been taught to procure copia rerum ac verborum.2

Pooler, C. Knox, Shakespeare's Poem ( Arden ed.), p. xxvii.
See Smell Latine, for details on their training.


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