I have his book before me. “Right Honourable,” (writes he to my lord) “I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship.”
Thus he crawls, tail a-wag and belly to the ground, as such curs do.
“Only, if your honour seem but pleased,” (which is to say: rewards me well) “I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours” (as I now take advantage of you) “till I have honoured you with some graver labour.”
Well, I hope that labour may be a grave one indeed. Whose grave, you may guess.
He changed the Adonis tale to suit hisself (as a poet should) but his embellishments are most lascivious.
Adonis, a silly boy, goes hunting. Venus, Queen of Love, calls to him, pulls him from his horse, drags him away, and flings him to the ground.
He hates her as I hate my empty bowl. And he’s not willing to scruff her. So she says he’s in love with himself like Narcissus. (Yes, he again. Can these fools write of none other?)
Adonis tries to flee, but his horse has run off after a hot mare. Venus praises his horse most high. All Adonis wants to do is catch him. And run away from Venus. He’s too young to do what she wills. His day is spoiled.
In truth, I found this tale so tedious I did but skim the rest. There was a hare that was of interest to me, and later some sorry dogs. Nowt else.
At last Adonis did go to kill a boar, but the boar killed him. All know that, because the ends of these old tales may never be changed. Up came a flower from his blood, which Venus picked. Then she flew away with two doves.
Word of doves inflamed my appetite, I do confess. By good fortune, there was baked pigeon for my supper. With gravy.
When I told of this nonsense at the Cats’ Field, the queen cats could not believe it. My sister marvelled that any hot queen would molest an innocent kitling.
Some were offended. One arrkst why Adonis had not called to his mother. She would have chased that nastie goddess off.
The Mad Cat lost no time in saying that my newes proved the wickedness of poesie. “A poet, a liar, a lecher. Who can tell one from another?” arrkst he.
That made us merry. Nero leapt up and sayt, “Friend, I fear you may be right.”
I sayt, “I fear there may be more such fooleries to come.”
“There will,” sayt Linkin the Law Cat. “Two winters more, and our young Earl will be of full age and get his claws on all his money. The starveling poets know it.”
“They’ll swoop like glutton gulls,” sayt Nero.
“And who is this upcreeping ear-licker that writ so foul?” my sister arrkst.
“I hear tell he’s a mere player,” sayt I. “One that never utters a line of his own invention, but spews forth those of others.”
“Like to the parrot my master keeps, and fowl it be,” sayt Nero.
The narrative poem Venus and Adonis was published some time after 18 April 1593 when it was entered in the Register at Stationer’s Hall. William Shakespeare’s name is not on the cover, but beneath the dedication. His first appearance in print.
It was a bestseller, and said to be very popular with the younger sort. Because Shakespeare’s Adonis sounds so young (a major change from Ovid’s version where Venus and Adonis are, briefly, a couple), modern readers are more likely to share the queen cats’ opinion. But that wouldn’t have been how most Elizabethans read it.
The plague continued in London throughout 1593, and the playhouses and other areas for public entertainment (such as bowling, and bear or bull baiting) were closed. So what was Shakespeare doing that year? Some have speculated that he may have entered the Earl’s service, and spent some time at Place House. If so, Gib hasn’t confirmed his presence there.