Shakespeare and Ovid: A Literary Tale of Love and Metamorphosis - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  9
Wordcount:  2256 Words
Date:  2023-03-21


Ovid's Metamorphoses and Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis are among the most prominent literary works of all time (Anderson, 1997). Published in 1953, Venus and Adonis is thought to have been Shakespeare's first publication. The poem narrates the story of the goddess of love, Venus, her unrequited love, as well as her attempts to seduce Adonis (Hunter, 2019). The poem is highly versatile with comic, erotic, and tragic parts. Interestingly, the poem is based on Ovid's Metamorphoses. Ovid was a Latin poet who lived between 43BC and 17/18 AD (Anderson, 1997). Metamorphoses comprise of 15 books, 11,995 lines, and more than 250 myths (Anderson, 1997). The poem chronicles the world's history right from creation to the period of Julius Caesar. Ovid's version of Venus and Adonis is much shorter than Shakespeare's. However, regardless of the differences in length and time of publication, the two bear several similarities. This paper seeks to discuss the love and lust similarities between the two works.

Trust banner

Is your time best spent reading someone else’s essay? Get a 100% original essay FROM A CERTIFIED WRITER!

Love and Lust

Love and lust are the major themes in Venus and Adonis. Venus herself was the goddess of love, and hence her mention in the poem introduces the theme of love. However, as the poem progresses, the line separating love from lust gets increasingly blurred, and the reader is left wondering whether the poem is really about love or lust. The questions of whether Venus understands the difference between the two also arise. Similarly, the theme of love and lust is very prominent in Metamorphoses. The characters undergo various transformations in the course of the book. For instance, girls turn into trees or stars, boys become flowers or newts, rocks turn to men, and women become rivers. However, the most powerful of the transformations occur when erotic desire, whether love or lust, is involved.

Generally, the treatment and tone of love in Venus and Adonis is mocking and borders on bitter. The comparison between love and murder towards the end of the poem is a testament to this (Cater, 2015). This starkly differs from Metamorphosis, where love is mainly depicted positively. It is also shown as something that arises naturally between two people. Evidently, there is nothing natural about Venus and Adonis' love. Furthermore, in Metamorphoses, when two people are in love, they cannot stand being apart from each other. For instance, Baucis and Philemon, as well as Deucalion and Pyrrha, express their desire to die if their partners die. This is a direct opposite of the relationship between Venus and Adonis where Adonis wants to be left alone. However, the dark side of love that is so prominent in Venus and Adonis is also insinuated in Metamorphoses. For instance, Pyramus and Thisbe's obsession with each other leads to suicide. Moreover, the extreme possessiveness portrayed by Apollo makes him murder Coronis when he discovers that she has cheated on him. Also, Medea considers murdering Jason to avoid falling in love with him.

Lust and Rape

While Venus thinks her pursuit of Adonis is love, he sees her advances as lustful and not inspired by love (Hunter, 2019). However, this angle is not seen in Metamorphoses. In Ovid's version, Adonis happily responds to the advances made by Venus and even enjoys having an affair with her. This contradicts Shakespeare's version where Adonis remains angry and offended by her pursuits. In his works, Shakespeare often represented a kind of love that does not take no for an answer. This element is echoed in works, such as Titus and the Two Gentlemen, as well as in The Rape of Lucrece. However, Venus' pursuits do not reach levels reached by Shakespeare's other characters. It is argued that this is because Venus being female would not have raped Adonis. This notwithstanding, her love for Adonis can be described as irrational at best. Looking at it from Adonis' perspective, it also looks like pure lust. Moreover, just like in Shakespeare's poem, there are lover and rapist characters in Metamorphoses. For instance, Jove rapes Io, the daughter of Inachus, the god of the river (Sawyer, 2019). Jove also rapes Callisto, one of Diana's handmaids.

Lust as Irrational Love

The love portrayed by Venus in Venus and Adonis is termed as irrational for various reasons. One, for love to be rational, some level of conscious reasoning must be involved. This, however, is only true regarding the love of the mind. Love of the body, which will also be termed as lust in this paper, is only concerned with pleasure regardless of rationality. Lust, therefore, can be termed as irrational since no conscious thought guides arousal or attraction. This is the kind of love that Venus has for Adonis. In no instance in the poem does she claim to love Adonis in a non-sexual way. Moreover, she does not demonstrate any kind of restraint when seducing Adonis. Even when she sees that Adonis is unresponsive, she persists. A rational person would undoubtedly have exercised some restraint, especially after the other party appears uninterested. She also seems to be completely oblivious of Adonis wants as seen when she tries to entice Adonis to bed even after all the resistance he put up. Therefore, this proves that it was lust and not love. Also, even after he dies, Venus only mourns the loss of Adonis' attractive appearance. Her irrationality can also be seen when she changes her dressing to resemble Diana, the goddess of the hunt, thinking that the move would change Adonis' stand.

Loss of rational control is also present in Metamorphoses. Apollo exhibits various irrational characteristics just like Venus does. Both protagonists are love-struck and have lost all control over their behavior. The fact that both writers used mythical gods to represent irrational love shows that no one is immune to the effects of love.

The Thin Line Between Love and Lust

However, as stated earlier, the line between love and lust is very thin in Venus and Adonis. After Adonis is killed by the boar, Venus acts as one who was really in love. She curses herself as well as the world she would live without Adonis. In this light, she appears to have loved Adonis for more than his physical appearance. Unfortunately, her lust had blinded and paralyzed her, hence she could not rationally express her love when he was still alive. This revelation also shows that love and lust can co-exist. However, both cannot be expressed at the same time. One must be suppressed for the other to show. Venus failed to suppress her lust while Adonis was living. After he was dead, she could no longer lust over his attractive appearance giving way for the love that had been suppressed all along to become dominant (Adams, 2017). The instance where Venus warns Adonis against hunting dangerous animals can also be seen as an expression of love. After ignoring her warning and being killed by a boar, Venus turns his blood into a crimson flower as a show of love.

Symbols Used to Represent Lust

Shakespeare uses various symbols to represent the lust that Venus has for Adonis. Her intense desires and passion to sexually control Adonis are compared to the act of eating and consumption. This serves to show that Venus is only sexually attracted to Adonis and does not love him. Her sexual arousal is compared to images of heat and water to show that unlike love, her lust would not last. Her forceful nature is depicted using images of heat and prediction to show her desire to completely dominate Adonis. The images of one of the characters consuming another represent Venus' uncontrollable lust. Her predatory nature is compared to that of an eagle when she first saw Adonis. Symbols are also used to describe how Adonis' resistance increased Venus' sexual desire. It is compared to the effect of rain on an already swollen river. The writer says that such an event would cause the river to overflow. The poem is also ironic in various ways. First, Venus, the goddess of love, is incapable of loving right. It also sounds ironic that Adonis prefers hunting over making love to the goddess of love.

Consequences of Lust

The themes of love and lust can also be used to interpret the death of Adonis. First, it can be taken to be the consequence of his cold refusal of Venus' love. Had he accepted her love, the outcome might have been different. He would probably have heeded her warning to avoid hunting dangerous animals and hence his death would have been averted. Similarly, his death can be taken to be a punishment for Venus' irrationality and forceful lust. In Metamorphoses, lust is represented as an emotion that always leaves behind grief and sadness. For instance, Acis is crushed by a rock and does not get Galatea. Besides, when Jove's lust causes him to rape Callisto, he is banished (McKay, 2016). In his works, Ovid shows that no one gets what they want when lust is involved.

Progression of Love

Though the idea of love represented in Venus and Adonis bears some differences with that depicted in Metamorphosis, the two also bear several similarities. In Ovid's works, love, at first sight, is usually the initial stage in a love relationship. According to Ovid, Cupid sometimes injects either love or loathing in a person using his arrows. When this happens, the love or loathing is instant (Anderson, Aspects of Love in Ovid's" Metamorphoses, 1995). This can be compared to Venus' first sight of Adonis. However, it is important to note that Cupid shot Adonis accidentally. This can be used to explain their incompatibility, and Venus' unsuccessful attempts to seduce him. However, she was predatory from the start and hence was compared to an eagle. After this step, the qualities of the loved one heightens. Everything about the other person, both internal and external, becomes wonderful and beautiful. For instance, Apollo's description of Daphne paints her as breathtaking. His compliments grow deeper as the love grows (Galea, 2019). This can also be seen in Venus and Adonis, where Adonis' beauty keeps rising in the eyes of Venus. However, it is not reciprocal. There is no mention of Adonis' appreciation of Venus' beauty. This is because there exists no love between the two. Rather, Venus is only seeking to satisfy her sexual desires. Similar elements are present in Metamorphoses. For instance, Jupiter does not comment on the beauty of Io. Instead, he says that Io would make a man happy in bed. Jupiter, therefore, can be equated to Venus in that, they are both lustful, and do not care about the real beauty of their partners.

Role of Women in the Pursuit of Love

Unlike most other works at the time, Venus takes the unconventional route and pursues a man. This looks odd regardless of the angle from which one views it. It also raises the question of who should initiate love. A similar discussion occurs in Metamorphoses when Juno and Jove argue about who derives the most pleasure from love between men and women. They bring in Tiresia, who has been a man and a woman, to settle the argument. He agrees with Juno that women get more pleasure from acts of love. Hence, Venus is justified to pursue Adonis with the fiery desire that she pursues him with. It can also be taken to mean that women use sex as a tool of manipulation (Moore, 2017).


Though the two works were written in different periods and bear some differences, their depiction of love and lust has several similarities. Elements of love, at first sight, is common in both works. Moreover, the importance of love and actions of love to both men and women is explored in both in both works. Moreover, both writers seem to agree that love may lead to irrationality. Besides, they also prove that lust always has consequences. Therefore, though Venus and Adonis is more negative regarding love, its themes closely resemble those...

Cite this page

Shakespeare and Ovid: A Literary Tale of Love and Metamorphosis - Essay Sample. (2023, Mar 21). Retrieved from

Free essays can be submitted by anyone,

so we do not vouch for their quality

Want a quality guarantee?
Order from one of our vetted writers instead

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the ProEssays website, please click below to request its removal:

didn't find image

Liked this essay sample but need an original one?

Hire a professional with VAST experience and 25% off!

24/7 online support

NO plagiarism