VENUS AND ADONIS
By William Shakespeare
He sees her coming and begins to glow…
And with his bonnet hides his angry brow…
For all askance he holds her in his eye …
Now was she just before him as he sat,
And like a lowly lover down she kneels…
O what a war of looks was then between them!
Her eyes petitioners to his eyes suing,
His eyes saw her eyes as they had not seen them;
Her eyes wooed still, his eyes disdained the wooing;
And all this dumb play had his acts made plain…
Some time her arms infold him like a band.
She would, he will not in her arms be bound…
For shame, he cries, let go and let me go.
Lines 337-342; 225-6; 349-350; 355-360; 379
(My emphases in italics)
This was the only Titian painting with that detail and, during Shakespeare’s time, it could have been seen only at Titian’s home in Venice.
William of Stratford had never left England, but Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford had traveled throughout Italy during 1575-1576 (at age twenty-five), making his home base in Venice, where Titian worked until his death on August 27, 1576.
I continue to be struck by the simplicity and clarity of this piece of factual evidence presented in an article by the brilliant scholar Dr. Noemi Magri in Great Oxford: Essays on the Life and Works of Edward de Vere (2004), a collection of papers from the De Vere Society in England.
In her essay, entitled The Influence of Italian Renaissance Art on Shakespeare’s Works; Titian’s Barberini Painting: the Pictorial Source of “Venus and Adonis,” Dr. Magri writes that Titian made many replicas of his work and that Shakespeare based his poem on the only autographed replica in which Adonis wears a bonnet or hat:
“Titian’s painting was his source of inspiration, the thing that stimulated him to write a poem about this subject though he also had a thorough knowledge of Ovid … Shakespeare describes the painting in detail: he portrays the painting in words and the description is too faithful to ascribe it to mere coincidence…
“It is evident that Shakespeare’s Adonis is wearing a hat, a bonnet. The mention of the bonnet is not coincidental. This is the detail here taken as evidence of the pictorial source.”
With one fair hand she heaveth up his hat – line 351
Bonnet nor veil henceforth no creature wear – line 1081
And therefore would he put his bonnet on – line 1087
Princes, cardinals, ambassadors and the like, as well as top literary figures, “never failed to pay Titian a visit” when they came to Venice, Dr. Magri notes. His home was a kind of cultural center and such notables felt they could not leave without going to see the man who was the greatest painter of sixteenth-century Venice and, too, the first to have a mainly international clientele. To be received into his house was an honor that brought them high prestige.
“Considering de Vere’s desire for learning and his love for Italian culture, he must have felt the wish to meet him and admire his collection,” writes Dr. Magri.
(She provides evidence to confirm that the autographed copy with Adonis wearing a hat, now held in the National Gallery of Palazzo Barberini in Rome, was in fact at Titian’s house during the same time Oxford was in Venice.)
Anyone who studies even a little of Oxford’s life will conclude that he could not have failed to pay such a visit.
In the lines above, Shakespeare writes that Adonis looks at Venus all askance, which, Dr. Magri observes, “is a faithful and precise description of Adonis’ posture in the painting.” Moreover their glances are “the central motif of the painting” and Shakespeare “has retained the dramatic pictorial element” in his description of their eyes such as “Her eyes petitioners to his eyes suing,” etc.
Also Shakespeare’s reference to all this dumb play is an accurate description: the play they have performed “is a dumb one since their words are not to be heard.” The two protagonists, Venus and Adonis, “are not acting on a stage: they are painted on the canvas.”
Dr. Magri even notes how Venus, reacting angrily to Adonis’s resistance, bursts out a clear reference to the painted image of him:
Fie, lifeless picture, cold and senseless stone
So that’s Reason No. 13 why I believe Oxford was “Shakespeare.” Oxford was there, in Venice, and so was Titian and the painting with the bonnet, or hat, that “Shakespeare” describes in Venus and Adonis.
We welcome any Stratfordian to comment and present us with a counterargument.