Shakespeare is best known today for his dramatic works. In the early modern period, however, his bestselling work was Venus and Adonis (1593), a long narrative poem adapted from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Venus and Adonis was more alluded to than any other work of Shakespeare’s before 1700, and it was never out of print before 1675. “By any standards Venus and Adonis was a success,” writes Catherine Bates, “and it is worth reminding ourselves–especially given the tendency to award greater precedence to the plays–that in his own time Shakespeare’s poems were held in this highest esteem and that, to his contemporaries at least, the figure they praised as the ‘mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare’ was a poet as much as anything else.”
This course is meant to serve as a general introduction to Shakespeare, and the six plays we read will span Shakespeare’s dramatic career and include examples from each of the four major genres of Shakespearean drama (Comedy, History, Tragedy, and Romance). With Shakespeare’s reputation and talent as a poet in mind, however, our semester-long study will pay special attention to lyric as it appears in both plays and verse. Thus, we’ll also read Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, poems by and attributed to Shakespeare in The Passionate Pilgrim, The Phoenix and the Turtle, The Lover’s Complaint, and portions of the 1609 Sonnets. We’ll move mostly chronologically, mixing genres as we go and making brief forays into our own time to study the lingering influence of Shakespeare’s lyric sensibility.