Bestia et Amor: Equine Erotology in Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis”


  • Jonathan W. Thurston Middle Tennessee State University, USA


In his narrative poem Venus and Adonis (1593), Shakespeare advances two horses, a “jennet” and a “courser,” as a means of commenting on human sexuality. The poem’s equine terminology also gestures to commonplaces of sixteenth-century horsemanship. Shakespeare appropriates the literary symbol of the horse as representative of human sexuality in order to comment on contemporary political/national relations. Gender and animality in Venus and Adonis prove entirely congruent with the poem’s classical republicanism. Examining Venus’s almost-Spanish imperialism reveals that, more than just being aware of hippological discourse in the classical tradition, Shakespeare was incisively cognisant of the equestrian rule that the best manège was not at all about dominance. This paper traces the etymology of Shakespeare’s equine terminology within the context of English-Spanish relations in the late sixteenthcentury.






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