A PATRON, POEMS, AND COMPANY WORK
How can it, O, how can love's eye be true,
That is so vexed with watching and with tears?
Well aware of a sophisticated readership among courtiers, lawyers, and others in the professional and mercantile ranks, Shakespeare published two erotic works in the plague years. These poems were meant for readers of either sex. Yet they were especially well suited to young men with leisure to admire tales of rape, seduction, and female grief told with Ovidian grace and wit. With Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, he made a strong bid to be recognized as a poet by refined society.
And the poems contrast with a bleak, plague-ridden London. Early in 1593 Shakespeare had done much. If he had suffered as an upstart 'Shake-scene', he had Chettle's apology in print. And now for a few weeks actors resumed work in London, until plague closed the theatres on 28 January. Strange's and Sussex's players lingered near a wintry city before returning to the road. In fact, Sussex's troupe did not get a Privy Council warrant to play beyond a seven-mile radius of London until 29 April. Strange's larger group had a warrant on 6 May, by which time they had left with Alleyn for Chelmsford. In the interval the acting companies prepared for hard tours, which took the likes of Kempe, Pope, Heminges, and other sharers with hired men and boys as far north as Newcastle and York.
London's streets -- in this year of Venus and Adonis -- were