Master of Arts
Dr. James Purkis
This thesis offers a study of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis (and by extension Lucrece) that builds on Ted Hughes’s claim that they function as two halves of a binary whole. Tracing a contrapuntal surface symmetry between the poems, Hughes argues that Venus and Adonis encodes the founding myth of Catholicism and Lucrece that of Puritanism; the poems together convey the great metaphysical war between these two oppositional forces that so haunted Elizabethan England. Critics have dismissed Shakespeare’s mythological references as mere “poet’s argot,” yet I shall build on Hughes’s reading of this ‘argot’ as “a sacred symbolic language in itself” to show how Venus and Adonis embodies a coherent system of signification that encrypts the archetypal conflict, not ultimately between Protestantism and Catholicism, but rather between two diametrically opposed hermeneutical tendencies: on the side of Venus, that of the broadly ‘Gnostic’ (the highly syncretic, ever-allegorizing, esoteric knowledge-seeking) tradition; and on the side of Adonis, that of the broadly ‘Puritan’ (the rigidly dogmatic, Protestant Biblical literalist) tradition.
 Ted Hughes, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (Faber, 1992), 82.
 Hughes, 90.
 Hughes, 57.
Jennings, Luke, "The Hermetic Enigma of a Protean Poet: Gnosis and the Puritanical Error in Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis" (2017). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 5010.