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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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1608
Gervase Markham and Lewis Machin’s play The Dumbe Knight, first printed in 1608, both refers to and quotes from Shakespeare’s popular poem Venus and Adonis on folio F1r.
Imprinted as 1602, i.e. 1608
The ninth edition of Venus and Adonis was printed for William Leake and was dated 1602 on the title page, just like the eighth edition. However, Harry Farr argued in 1923 that it was actually printed in 1608, and identifies the printer as Humphrey Lownes.
May 20, 1609
On May 20, 1609, a publisher named Thomas Thorpe entered a book entitled "Shakespeare's sonnettes" into Liber C of the Stationers' Company. He published the first quarto edition of the poems, printed by George Eld, later in 1609.
June 19, 1609
Edward Alleyn (1566-1626), the famous Elizabethan actor and wealthy Jacobean gentleman, purchased a copy of Shake-speares Sonnets, published in 1609, recording his acquisition under “Howshowld stuff”:
1609
Shakespeare’s collection of 154 poems in the English sonnet form was first published in 1609.
1609
At first glance, this copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, also published in 1609, might look just like the copy at the University of Manchester Library. However, there is a slight difference in the second-to-last line of the imprint.
imprinted as 1602, i.e. 1610
The tenth edition of Venus and Adonis, like the eighth and ninth, bears an imprint claiming the book was printed for William Leake in 1602; however, it seems that it was not printed for Leake until 1610.
1611
This is the only surviving copy of The Anuals of great Brittaine, a 1611 reissue of Robert Chester’s 1601 Loves Martyr, which included the Shakespeare poem now known as “The Phoenix and the Turtle.” The Anuals is made up of sheets from the 1601 edition
1612
In 1612, William Jaggard published a third edition of The Passionate Pilgrim. Like the second edition, the third edition asserts “By W. Shakespeare.” on its title page.
1612
In An Apology for Actors, published in 1612, Thomas Heywood, a poet and playwright contemporary to Shakespeare, complains about William Jaggard’s The Passionate Pilgrim and appears to imply Shakespeare’s grievances as well.

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