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The Poems

When an outbreak of the bubonic plague (also Black Plague or Black Death) forced London’ theaters to close to stop the spread of the disease in 1593 and 1594 Shakespeare turned his hand and his pen to the writing of poetry.


The first two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, took on erotic themes. They were dedicated to Shakespeare’s patron, Henry Wriothesely, Earl of Southampton.


An innocent Adonis refuses the sexual advances of Venus in Venus and Adonis, while the married Lucrece suffers a rape by Tarquin in the more serious of the two works, The Rape of Lucrece.


hen an outbreak of the bubonic plague (also Black Plague or Black Death) forced London’ theaters to close to stop the spread of the disease in 1593 and 1594 Shakespeare turned his hand and his pen to the writing of poetry.

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Both poems were influenced by Ovid’s Metamorphoses and examine the consequences of unbridled lust and how it weighs on the conscience.


A Lover’s Complaint, published in the first edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets in 1609, also looks at romance, this time as a woman grieves over her seduction by an impassioned gentlemen caller.


The Phoenix and the Turtle, printed in Love’s Martyr in 1601, again turns to love as its main subject, this time by mourning the death of the phoenix and his lover, the turtle dove.


Several other poems have, at various times, been ascribed to Shakespeare, but have been largely dismissed as having been inappropriately so attributed. These include the A Funeral Elegy, Shall I Die, To the Queen, The Passionate Pilgrim, and in some cases, A Lover’s Complaint.




Title page of the sixth edition of

The Rape of Lucrece.

The Rape of Lucrece, Titian, c. 1488/1490

Venus and Adonis

Venus_and_Adonis.pdf

The Rape of Lucrece

The_Rape_of_Lucrece.pdf

A Lover’s Complaint

A_Lovers_Complaint.pdf

The Phoneix and the Turtle

The_Phoenix_and_the_Turtle.pdf Home