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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.

All Documents

1600
The fourth edition of Lucrece, dated 1600, was printed for John Harrison by his son, John Harrison III. It was set from the third edition, which was also has a 1600 imprint.
1600
Like other plays from the period, Shakespeare's plays were meant to be read both as stories and as sources for sententiae, or memorable aphorisms.
1600
Englands Parnassus is one of two printed commonplace books, or collections of extracts organized by topic, compiled by Robert Allott, and was printed shortly after John Bodenham’s Bel-vedére.
1600
Not all contemporary allusions to Shakespeare were positive. In the second stanza of Tom-Tel Troths Message (1600), John Lane commands his pen to “In mournfull verse lament the faults of men,” particularly in England.
1600
The third edition of Lucrece was printed for John Harrison by his son, John Harrison III, in 1600.
ca. late 1500s or early 1600s
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
1601
Shakespeare’s poem, now known as “The Phoenix and the Turtle,” was appended to a collection of poetry called Loves Martyr printed in 1601.This volume mostly consists of Robert Chester’s long and obscure narrative poem about the love between the phoenix and a dove
ca. 1602
The seventh edition of Shakespeare's popular narrative poem Venus and Adonis, possibly printed in 1602, survives in only one copy at the Bodleian Library.
1603
John Davies of Hereford was one of the most prolific poets of his age. He was born about 1565 and died in 1618, making him William Shakespeare’s nearly exact contemporary.
1603
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!

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