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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

ca. 1613
In 1613 Leonard Digges penned a note onto the fly-leaf of a copy of the third edition of Rimas de Lope de Vega Carpio, printed in Madrid the same year; the inscribed copy survives in the library of Balliol College, Oxford.
1614
William Camden, one of England’s most respected antiquaries, published the second edition of Remaines of a greater work in 1614.
March 1, 1614
The Rape of Lucrece was first entered into Liber B of the Stationer's Company on May 9, 1594 by John Harrison (known as "the Elder" to distinguish him from his brother of the same name, also a printer and publisher).
1614
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
ca. 1614
Epigram 57 in Thomas Porter's collection of epigrams honors the delightful poet (poetam lepidum) William Shakespeare:  Quot lepŏres in Atho tot habet tua Musa lepôresIngenii vena diuite metra tua
1615
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
ca. 1615
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
ca. 1616
SHAKESPEARE DOCUMENTED IS STILL GROWING! Descriptive content and transcriptions will continue to be added, updated and expanded. Check back for regular updates!
1616
The sixth edition of Lucrece was printed by Thomas Snodham for Roger Jackson in 1616, the year of Shakespeare’s death.
1617
William Stansby printed the eleventh edition of Venus and Adonis for William Barrett in 1617. William Leake had transferred the right to publish Venus and Adonis to Barrett earlier that year on February 16, 1617.

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