Venus and Adonis is an extremely important work by William Shakespeare, and its importance lies in the fact that it is believed to be the first ever Shakespeare publications. When it was published in 1593, few outside of literary circles had heard of the young man who would become Queen Elizabeth I's favorite playwright, and whose work would entertain royalty and peasantry alike.
This work is a long poem inspired by and allegorizing stories in Ovid's Metamorphoses, a narrative poem, although Ovid's version of the story was brief and much shorter than Shakespeare's. Shakespeare's poem tells the tale of Venus, Goddess of Love, and her attempts to seduce Adonis, a handsome young man who prefers hunting to romance, and who does not reciprocate Venus' unrequited love. The poem is extremely observant when it tells of the eternal chase between men and women, although unusual in its casting of the female as the aggressor. It is a pastoral poem that also includes comedy, tragedy and even erotica - especially for the time.
Edmund Spenser, best known for The Faerie Queen, popularized the sesta rima form of verse in which this poem is written. It is basically a quatrain, followed by a rhyming couplet. There are an impressive one hundred and ninety nine stanzas to the poem.
The poem was first published in the form of a pamphlet known as a Quarto, which was a pamphlet made of full-page blank pages that only contained eight pages of text, four each side. It was then folded twice to produce eight book pages. It is believed that the first pamphlets were printed from foul papers, which are drafts of an author's working copy of a poem or play. Once a piece of work was finished, a transcript, or fair copy, would be produced by a scribe under the strict direction of the author. Shakespeare's good friend Richard Field printed the poem; both men hailed from Stratford-Upon-Avon and maintained a close friendship that blossomed into a working relationship as Shakespeare's success increased.
Although Shakespeare had not published any other work before this poem, several of his plays had been performed on stage in London. Due to the plague, theaters were closed, and because of that he turned his hand to poetry instead. Critics cite the poem's similarity to plays that pre-date it, most notably A Midsummer Night's Dream, in that it has unrequited love as its key theme. The poem was extremely popular and also enduring; it was re-printed fifteen times before the year 1640. Despite the fact that it is a poem and not a play, the Royal Shakespeare Company have performed Venus and Adonis, adapting it for the stage and casting puppets as the eponymous characters.