By Bill Walthall

OK, so it’s been a while… and I can’t vouch for the quality of today’s discussion, but we’ve got to get back to the matters at hand, the matter being Adonis and the hands being those of Venus, in the poem Venus and Adonis.

When we last left our not-yet-(ever?)-lovers, after Adonis has broken free from Venus, his horse breaks away from his reins and runs off to dally with a female horse; Venus corners Adonis again, and tells him that he should make like the horses do, and learn to love.

His three-stanza response is a jumble of rationalization: he doesn’t know what love it (and claims he will never know it, unless it’s hunting); he sees love as an obligation, one that he will not “owe” (411); his only love is the love he has disgracing love itself; he is too young; he’s too tough for her. And he ends this unwieldy response with “Dismiss your vows, your feigned tears, your flatt’ry; / For where a heart is hard they make no batt’ry” (425-6).

And this satisfies Venus and she goes off alone.

Who are we kidding here? No, she responds first with the wonderfully comic, “What, canst thou talk? … hast thou a tongue?” (427). Nothing like some good ol’ flirtatious mockery. She likens him to a mermaid who has seduced her, and then she works her way through the fives senses and how each yearns for him:

“Had I no eyes but ears, my ears would love
That inward beauty and invisible.
Or were I deaf, thy outward parts would move
Each part in me that were but sensible.
Though neither eyes, nor ears, to hear nor see,
Yet should I be in love by touching thee.
“Say that the sense of feeling were bereft me,
And that I could not see, nor hear, nor touch,
And nothing but the very smell were left me,
Yet would my love to thee be still as much,
For from the stillatory of thy face excelling
Comes breath perfumed that breedeth love by smelling.
“But, O, what banquet wert thou to the taste,
Being nurse and feeder of the other four!
Would they not wish the feast might ever last,
And bid Suspicion double-lock the door,
Lest Jealousy, that sour unwelcome guest,
Should by his stealing in disturb the feast?”
  • 433-50

Sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste…man, that’s a well-constructed extended metaphor. And one, quite frankly, I don’t see any argument against (save the “no means no” that remains at the heart of all this, I suppose). And I’m betting she’s feeling the same way.

So when he opens his mouth (that “ruby-colored portal opened” [451]), “ill presage she marketh … His meaning struck her ere his words began” (457, 462). And she falls to the ground. You know, “For looks kill love” … but remember this is also Venus, who knows “love by looks reviveth” (464). And if we’re supposed to think this is real, the couplet ending that 78th stanza should clue us in: “The silly boy, believing she is dead, / Claps her pale cheek, till clapping makes it red” (467-8). If believing she’s dead is silly, we know she’s not. She does get a little karmic payback, though: in an attempt to wake her, he slaps her repeatedly, until her face turns red.

Her “cunning love” (471) is not satisfied with just stopping his rebuke, however; no, she pulls the same trick as so many have in so many bad situation comedies–she tricks him into performing a little mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on her (“For on the grass she lies as she were slain, / Till his breath breatheth life in her again” [473-4]). Of course, before that loveliness can happen, we get this comic catalog of physical abuses: “He wrings her nose, he strikes her on the cheeks, / He bends her fingers, holds her pulses hard, / He chaftes her lips” (475-7). Then he kisses her and kisses her, until she is revived and “‘O, where am I?’ quoth she” (493). She speaks of living, and dying. She then claims that he killed her: “O thou didst kill me, kill me once again” (499), but that’s okay.

And thank you, those of you bawdy enough to remember the double entendre of dying for the Elizabethans.

She then goes on to praise his kisses and their restorative value and asks for more: “a thousand … ten hundred … twenty hundred” (517, 519, 522).

To this request, he is surprisingly (to my mind anyway) kind: he simply claims that he is too young, blames his “unripe years” (524); and states–with surprising (again to me) maturity–”Before I know myself, seek not to know me” (525). Then he sees that it is now night, says he must go, but also, “Now let me say good night and so say you; / If you will say so, you shall have a kiss” (535-6). Now maybe it’s just that Venus has done a job on me, but I’m thinking this relenting is kind of nice; on the flip-side, is he just cutting his losses, giving her a smooch then getting the heck out of Dodge?

Regardless, she says good-night, throws her arms around his neck, and they kiss.


And, my friends, it’s one helluva kiss.

But honestly, this flu… I’ll continue tomorrow…

The post Venus and Adonis: stanzas 69-101, or “senses and a feigning faint” appeared first on The Bill / Shakespeare Project.

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