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A BLOODY QUESTION: THE POLITICS OF VENUS AND ADONIS

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In 1588, Burghley drafted a "Bloody Question" for Catholics: "If the Pope were to send over an army, whose side would you be on: the Pope's or the Queen's?" What the iconography of Venus and Adonis suggests is that the poem is a critique of the martyr's course pursued by Southwell and also of the persecution brought on by Queen Elizabeth. Southwell was a cousin of Shakespeare and addressed his preface to St. Peter's Complaint to "Master W. S." (as only later appeared in the 1616 edition published on the continent). The preface clearly alludes to Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece and A Midsummer Night's Dream. By criticizing poets who make the "follies and fayninges of love" the subject of their poems, Southwell was urging Shakespeare to undertake some "graver labor" and a dangerous course of life which potentially might have led to martyrdom. As its elaborate phraseology shows, Venus and Adonis is an encoded reply in which Elizabeth is the predatory tyrannical Venus and Burghley is the boar who kills Adonis.

Affiliations: 1: Lancaster University

10.1163/15685290152813671
/content/journals/10.1163/15685290152813671
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/content/journals/10.1163/15685290152813671
2001-08-01
2016-12-10

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