By Bill Walthall


You’ve been warned: Get out now while you can.

Germaine Greer, lecturer and author of Shakespeare’s Wife, has claimed that due to its perversity, burlesque, and eroticism, Venus and Adonis was the Fifty Shades of Gray of its day. It certainly was popular–as seen in the number of editions published (16 before 1647). And Eric Partridge, he of the great dictionary Shakespeare’s Bawdy, refers to the poem as a “cornucopia of amorous phraseology” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, Partridge, Eric. New York: Routledge Classics, 2001; page 48).

So, while the whole poem has sexual imagery (remember the few hints I mentioned on Wednesday), I’m going to focus today on stanzas 32-40, where we gets some pretty damned fine double entendre…

OK, now that the faint of heart (or is that “faint of hard-on”?) are gone, we can go deep and hit it hard…

The section opens with I’m sure is a completely clean promise by Venus of protecting Adonis from the heat of the sun: “I’ll make a shadow for thee of my hairs; / If they burn too, I’ll quench them with my tears” (lines 191-2). I’m sure the hairs to which she refers are on her head, and she’s talking about the moisture from her eyes. But still, there is a hint of [nudge-nudge wink-wink] pubes and sexual wetness. She says that she “lie[s] between that sun and [Adonis]” (194), but “lie” has a wonderful multiplicity of meanings: to recline, to tell untruths, and–of course, in the bawdier sense–to have sex…all of which either apply to the reality of the situation (or her wishes) here.

So too do her statements of his seeming uncaring, his being “obdurate, flinty, hard as steel” (199). Yes, “obdurate” could (and probably does) mean “hard-hearted” (“obdurate, adj. and n.: A.1.b” Oxford English Dictionary Online, Oxford University Press, January 2018.); but it can also mean “Physically hardened or hard” (“obdurate, adj. and n.: A.2.b” OED). And of course, we have–earlier in our project–discussed the mere mention of hard steel (as in a blade) as being phallic, so it’s quite possible that this is a flirtatious reference to something Adonis doesn’t want to admit he has, but does have: a hard-on.

While not bawdy, I do love the ending of stanza 35: “Give me one kiss, I’ll give it thee again, / And one for interest if thou wilt have twain” (209-10)…if you give me one kiss, I’ll repay that one, but add one for interest, if you’ll accept two.

But any sense of softening her attack in that stanza is obliterated by her almost Lady Macbeth-like verbal attack on his masculinity in the next stanza: “thing like a man…Thou art no man, though of a man’s complexion, / For men will kiss even by their own direction” (214-6). He’s not even a man. But if he’s not a man, then what is he? A thing like a man, but not a man, but put together and colored like a man. Damned if that doesn’t sound like a dildo. And before you say, “Wait, Bill, there were no such things, and even if there were, Shakespeare would never…” But au contraire, mon frere, the word “dildo,” does appear in print within five years of the time this poem was written (1593/1598), and Shakespeare does use that very word in The Winter’s Tale. So here Venus is telling Adonis that he’s more like an artificial cock than a man because even a man will kiss–and more–on instinct (“own directions”).

Regardless, she then is struck speechless as “swelling passion doth provoke a pause” (218)–and gee, doesn’t that sound just a little double entendre-y! Sure, her passion may be growing. But then again, Adonis–as we mentioned above–may be packing a boner; he is “obdurate” … or is he just (un)happy to see her? She weeps and shakes and stares, all the while holding him a captive in her arms (and feeling something growing between the two of them, perhaps).

And holding him in her arms seems to have an effect on her thoughts and words because the next two stanzas, the last two for today, contain some of the sweaty palm-est (read “lascivious”) in the poem:

“Fondling,” she saith, “since I have hemmed thee here
Within the circuit of this ivory pale,
I’ll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer.
Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale;
Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry,
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.

“Within this limit is relief enough,
Sweet bottom-grass and high delightful plain,
Round rising hillocks, brakes obscure and rough,
To shelter thee from tempest and from rain.
Then be my deer, since I am such a park;
No dog shall rouse thee, though a thousand bark.”
  • 229-40

Now, here, “fondling” does not mean the gerund of the verb “to fondle” (as that meaning is an eighteenth-century creation, alas); no, here it’s a kind of term of endearment, a combining of “foolish” and “darling” (but man, wouldn’t it be great if it did mean “to fondle”?). She begins then a rather wonderful extended metaphor: her arms are a white fence, “this ivory pale” (230)–with a pale being “a pointed piece of wood intended to be driven into the ground, esp. as used with others to form a fence” (“pale, n.; I.1.a.” OED), but also a great play on words (pale as in white)–and her body being the park encompassed within that fence. Another play on words follows with her equating Adonis–her dear–with a “deer” (something to be hunted… which returns us to the rather predatory tone set in the opening stanzas).

And then we get to the good stuff (yes, dear reader, all of the above was mere foreplay…).

In this park, he may “feed” … this may or may not refer to cunnilingus, but it certainly speaks to the “idea of amorous roaming” (Partridge 133)–you know: the whole “Roman (roamin’) hands” thing. And where will this amorous roaming take him? Her mountains, which could be either–to paraphrase a song from A Chorus Line–tits or ass; and the dale, or valley between hills, so this could mean the “valley between her breasts,” says Partridge, “[or] the vulva-valley; and perhaps the rearward ravine” (114). The first makes sense, the second brings in that earlier question of eating downtown (or at least fingering…or anachronistic “fondling”), and the last–well, “rearward ravine” is just a freakin’ great phrase.

She invites him to graze (which leaves his fingertips, in my opinion, to head straight to his mouth) upon her “lips,” and these, I’d wager, may be those of her mouth (though Partridge raises the interesting proposition that she may mean nipple [“pap” 203]); regardless, if those curvaceous (“hills”) items be dry, he can “stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.” And now how bawdy do you want to be? Sorta dirty–“lips” : mouth :: “fountains” : breasts. Really dirty–“lips” : nipple :: “fountains” : vulva (though the plural of “fountains” does point to the former rather than the latter, much to my scholarly chagrin and sophomoric disappointment).

Regardless, in the final stanza of the section, she continues the “my body is a park in which you are hemmed by the fencing of my arms” metaphor, saying that within this fencing (“limit”) is “relief enough.” Now I take that “relief” to mean sexual relief (or release?), but Partridge also brings in the idea of changes of topographical features, as in a relief-map. Now this last is interesting, but for me not as convincing since that meaning for “relief” becomes seen only at the beginning of the 1600s, nearly a decade after the composition of this poem (but, heck “dildo” was five years away… so, yeah, I can concede that). Interesting side-note, however: “relief” in Shakespeare’s day also had the meaning of “Of a hare or hart: the action or an act of seeking food; feeding or pasturing” (“relief, n.2; 5.a” OED), which ties back into the continued feeding/grazing deer metaphor.

She goes on to describe what he will find there in this park:

  • “sweet bottom-grass”: sure, it could mean the grass pasture of the valley; the double meaning would be of the pubic (“bottom-”) hairy (“grass”) region
  • “high delightful plain”: a plateau above the valley; her stomach or back
  • “round rising hillocks”: these hills, Partridge interprets “not [as] the breasts … but the posteriors” (154), which would bring us back down to
  • “brakes obscure and rough”: in Shakespeare’s day, “brake” could mean “A clump of bushes, brushwood, or briers; a thicket” (“brake, n.2” OED), and so I think we’re back down to the bush (as we were already near the ass)

She says that she can be that kind of park for Adonis, one that can, ahem, protect him. But more importantly, no outside force chasing him (a “dog” in chase) will be able to make him want to leave (“rouse”). In other words, taste a little of this, baby, and you’ll never want to leave for any of those other bitches.


But that, my friends, is NOT the end of bawdy in the poem. There’s more before and more after, but I felt these were the best examples to use for a single bawdy exposition…otherwise, the whole damned month would be [EXPLICIT].

Monday, back to the relatively clean in Venus and Adonis, and a look at what Nature can teach us in stanzas 41-68 (heh heh, which means Wednesday–hump day–with start with 69…funny how things work out).

The post BAWDY Venus and Adonis: stanzas 32-40, or “bottoms and hillocks and mountains, oh my!” [EXPLICIT] appeared first on The Bill / Shakespeare Project.

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