On the Literary Genetics of Shakspere's Poems & Sonnets

By T. W. Baldwin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
Shaping-Ideas in Venus and Adonis: Platonic Love

As we have seen, the theme of Shakspere's Venus is taken from Buchanan's Venus, but with Beauty emphasized instead of Love. This is, of course, the proper emphasis. For as Ficino says, "When we say love . . . one must understand the desire for beauty, for this is the definition of love among all philosophers . . . . Love has the enjoyment of beauty as its end."1 Though the borrowed lines from Buchanan be but two, they are in fact the principal shaping source of Shakspere's Venus and Adonis. For they generate the Platonic argument which occupies most of the poem. Adonis is Love and Beauty, and when he dies Chaos is come again. Consequently, Venus argues for procreation that Love-Beauty-Adonis may not die.

Venus proceeds immediately to the assault by the five degrees of love à la Terence, and then continues with her assault by the regular degrees of the Platonic system. She shows at once the quality of her pretended love by her lust to touch the body of Adonis-Beauty in kisses, which she hopes will lead to the extrema lines of coitus. Here we may take Ficino as a standard, merely because his was the shaping influence for literary Platonism in the sixteenth century.

In conclusion, what do these lovers seek when they love mutually? They seek beauty, for love is the desire of enjoying beauty. But beauty is a certain splendor, attracting the human soul to itself. Certainly bodily beauty is nothing but splendor in the ornament of colors and lines. Beauty of the soul also is splendor in a harmony of knowledge and morals. That bodily glow, neither the ears, nor the sense of smell, nor taste, nor touch perceives, but only the eye. If the eye alone recognizes, it alone enjoys. Therefore, the eye alone enjoys the beauty of the body. Since love is nothing more than the desire of enjoying beauty, and beauty is perceived by the eyes alone, the lover of the body is content with the sight alone. Indeed the lust to touch the body is not a part of love, nor is it the [natural tendency] of the lover, but rather a kind of wantonness and the derangement of a servile man.

Further, we comprehend that light (and beauty) of the soul with the mind alone. Therefore, he who loves the beauty of the soul is content with

____________________
1
Kristeller, P. O., The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino, p. 263. Cf. Vives, J. L., De Anima & vita Libri tres ( Lugduni, 1555), pp. 161-62.

-73-

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