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Sold. My noble general, Timon is dead;
Alcib. [Reads the epitaph] 'Here lies a wretched corse, of wretched soul bereft :
Seek not my name: a plague consume you wicked caitiffs left!
Here lie I, Timon; who, alive, all living men did
Pass by and curse thy fill, but pass and stay not
These well express in thee thy latter spirits:
From niggard nature fall, yet rich conceit
Prescribe to other as each other's leech.
70-73. The first two lines are a rendering of Timon's Own epitaph; the last two were ascribed generally to the poet Callimachus. Lines 71-72 are contradictions. Both epitaphs,
however, occur in close succession in the Plutarchian narrative, whence they were doubtless copied by the author without reflection.
VENUS AND ADONIS was first published in Quarto, in 1593, with the following title-page :—
VENUS AND ADONIS | Vilia miretur vulgus: mihi flauus Apollo | Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua.| LONDON Imprinted by Richard Field, and are to be sold at the signe of the white Greyhound in Paules Churchyard. | 1593.
A second edition followed in 1594; others rapidly succeeded, in 1596, 1599, 1600, 1602. By 1636 there were at least thirteen. Shakespeare dedicated it to the Earl of Southampton, in words that have become famous, as the 'first heir of his invention'; meaning probably that it was the first of his lyrical or narrative Poems, not that it had preceded all his plays. Its production falls without doubt within the three years preceding its appearance. These years were the golden prime of the Tale in Verse. the first instalment of the Faerie Queene had set a magnificent and unique example. In the same year Thomas Lodge, a past master of prose romance, told the classic tale of Glaucus and Silla in verse full of Ovidian finesse, and echoing not unskilfully Ovid's fluid melody. A little later, but before 1593, Marlowe was at work upon the fragmentary paraphrase of the tale of Hero and Leander, completed after his death by Chapman, which stands alone in Eliza
bethan narrative verse by its fiery intensity of passion and nervous energy of style. It is hardly doubtful that Shakespeare knew all three. But it was the second alone which palpably attracted and influenced him. Lodge had used the same six-line stanza, with that pleasant alternation of the quatrain and the couplet which Shakespeare seems to have preferred both to more complex and to more simple arrangements of rhyme; and the little episode on the story of Adonis over which Lodge lingers a while by the way is an essay in the same scheme of colour and in the same effects of verbal melody over which Shakespeare shows so secure a mastery in the poem before us.1
The poet of the Venus and Adonis had clearly drunk deep of the 'honey-tongued' Ovid with whom a few years later Francis Meres compared him. His manner, his melody, are full of Ovidian artifices and expedients. To Ovid's tale of Adonis, however (Metam. bk. x.), he owed very little,-hardly more than the transformation of his slain body into a flower (x. 735). The elementary situation which he found in Ovid he decorates with a profusion of beautiful inventions. His attitude towards the myth he handles is very like Ovid's own-the attitude of the artist not of the thinker; and in his utmost divergences from Ovid he dreams as little as he of that dawn-world of Eastern myth, so effectually obscured by the metallic glitter
The echoes ringing from the rocks his fall,
The trees with tears reporting of his thrall;
And Venus starting at her love-mate's cry,
Forcing her birds to haste her chariot
And full of grief at last with piteous eye,
Seen where all pale with death he lay alone,
Whose beauty quailed, as wont the lilies droop,
When wasteful winter winds do make them stoop.