Venus: Mother of All ‘Whores’

  • Kay Stanton
Part of the Palgrave Shakespeare Studies book series (PASHST)


Apparently one of the hottest pieces of early modern English pornography was Shakespeare’s narrative poem Venus and Adonis. Although the poem was dedicated to the 19-year-old Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, and is often regarded in commentary as written primarily to please him and his coterie, by publishing it, Shakespeare was obviously seeking a wider audience for the poem, and he certainly found it. The audience and admirers of Venus and Adonis were vastly larger, as the poem was the most popular of Shakespeare’s works in his lifetime, with ten editions issued between 1593 and 1613, six of them by 1599; 16 editions had been published by 1640.1 Centuries before the production of Viagra, Venus and Adonis was prescribed as treatment for erectile disfunction.2 As noted by Gordon Williams (1996), the poem ‘established Shakespeare’s reputation as erotic poet’ (10) — among both men and women, it seems. Richard Halpern suggests that ‘the hypothesis of a predominantly male readership is contradicted by most of the early references to Venus and Adonis’ by Shakespeare’s contemporary poets and dramatists, who ‘tended to depict Shakespeare’s poem as the reading matter of courtesans, lascivious nuns, adulterous housewives, or libidinous young girls’ (1997: 378) — in other words, pretty much the whole spectrum of women as labeled by men worried by female sexuality.


Erectile Disfunction Spell Break Reading Matter Ancient Author Male Consort 
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Copyright information

© Linda Kay Stanton 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kay Stanton
    • 1
  1. 1.California State UniversityFullertonUSA

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