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Today we remember Shakespeare as the greatest playwright of all time; however, in his own lifetime, he was equally revered as a poet. His first two books of poetry, Venus and Adonis and Rape of Lucrece, were reprinted many times. In fact, they were more popular in print than any of Shakespeare’s plays. Many of the earliest literary critics and anthologists of English-language verse cite these two narrative poems because of their exemplary lines. Like his plays, his poems were probably sold unbound or in flimsy, paper bindings, making their survival unlikely unless an early owner bound them up with other booklets in sturdy bindings. 

Shakespeare’s earliest publication, and by far the best-selling work in his lifetime, was the nearly 1200-line poem Venus and Adonis (1593), published in 10 editions between 1594 and 1602. In Shakespeare’s re-telling of the classical tale, Venus, the goddess of love, tries to seduce Adonis, a young hunter, but is rebuffed. Adonis is then killed on a hunting expedition by a wild boar. Readers were titillated by the erotic nature of the poem, and lines from it were frequently excerpted in print and manuscript. 

Because of its popularity, other printed poems soon followed. Rape of Lucrece was published in 1594 to great acclaim. His name appeared on the title page of The Passionate Pilgrim (1599) despite the fact that only a handful of the poems were by him. “The Phoenix and the Turtle” appeared in Love’s Martyr in 1601, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets in 1609.

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ca. 1590
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
1593
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
April 18, 1593
Venus and Adonis was William Shakespeare’s first work to be entered into a Stationers’ Company register. This epic poem was entered on April 18, 1593 into the Stationers' Liber B by Richard Field (entered as "ffeild"), a printer from Stratford-upon-Avon.
June 12, 1593
This diary entry, written by Richard Stonley on Tuesday, June 12, 1593, records the first known purchase of the first edition of Shakespeare's first printed work, the narrative poem Venus and Adonis (London, 1593).
1593
This is the only known copy in existence of the first edition of Shakespeare’s first printed work, Venus and Adonis, which appeared in 1593. During his lifetime Shakespeare was known first and foremost as the author of Venus and Adonis.
1594
The first known printed reference to Shakespeare appears in a commendatory poem introducing the poetry collection Willobie his Avisa, printed in 1594. The poem, entitled “In praise of Willobie his Avisa, Hexameton to the Author,” appears before the main text.
1594
The second edition of Venus and Adonis was published in 1602, only one year after the first edition. The speed with which it was republished suggests that the poem was popular enough to have already sold out or nearly sold out.
1594
Richard Barnfield’s description of “earth-delving conies” in The Affectionate Shepheard is most likely an early allusion to the “earth-delving conies” in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis (1593),
1594
Epicedium, a brief quarto pamphlet made up of only a single poem in memory of Lady Helen Branch, contains one of the earliest allusions to Shakespeare’s Lucrece by name.
1594
Shakespeare’s Lucrece was first printed in 1594, fulfilling his promise to the earl of Southampton in the 1593 dedication to Venus and Adonis of “some grauer labour.” In the dedicatory epistle to Lucrece, which was likewise

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