Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, printed by The Barbarian Press

An earlier review I had done on LibraryThing back in 2007, edited and posted here to test out the review section of The Whole Book Experience.

According to Crispin Elsted, of the Barbarian Press, Venus & Adonis is one of two lengthy narrative poems written by Shakespeare early in his career, when plague forced the closure of the theatres and he took the opportunity to write something non-theatrical. This poem, The Rape of Lucrece, and probably the sonnets – or at least a good many of them – date from the early 1590s.

Having recently read Lysistrata, I was struck by the two different approaches taken by the women in these two books. In Lysistrata, the women refuse to have sex with the men until they end a senseless war (Hmmmm…are you reading this Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Cheney?); while in Venus & Adonis the heroine tries to keep Adonis from dangerous boar hunting with all that her love can offer. It worked for Lysistrata but not for Venus.

I love Shakespeare’s use of natural imagery in the verse:

Fondling, she saith, since I have hemd thee here
Within the circuit of this ivorie pale,
Ile be a parke, and thou shalt be my deare:
Feed where thou wilt, on mountaine, or in dale;
Graze on my lips, and if those hils be drie,
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountaines lie.

As for this edition from Barbarian Press, it is out of this world. The illustrations by Andy English are absolutely beautiful. The setting and choice of type and the binding make the book a joy to hold and read. This was my first book from the Barbarian Press and I highly recommend a look by those interested in small private presses. The proprietor’s are delightful and knowledgeable as well.

Venus & Adonis was shortlisted for the first Gregynog Prize for Letterpress Book Design, Oxford, 2005.

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