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Shakespeare's narrative poems, for me, fit in a valley between his most lyrical plays (Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard II) and his sonnets. They are great, just not as good as either. They seem almost to be aborted efforts at plays. Perhaps, Shakespeare realized while working on Venus and Adonis that it wasn't going to really work as a play, but hell, since he'd already written a couple hundred lines of iambic poetry, he might as well keep going and finish it. It is a shame really (from the perspective of his lyrical poems) that he was so brilliant at his plays and sonnets. These seem almost to be after thoughts. Hell, they WERE after thoughts. I read all of his plays and his sonnets and figured I was done, but remembered there was something else. They REALLY do deserve more attention than they got from me and from the world.
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Two early poems of Shakespeare, based on love and lust from classical mythology.
The first is a stillborn May-December romance where the goddess Venus tries to seduce, then protect, a young boy she loves, failing at both. The goddess of love here comes across as a desperate cougar, oddly lacking in power, not so surprisingly lacking in sense. I'm not sure how I would have felt about the goddess if I had merely read her story. Instead I listened to Claire Corbett read her, and she gave her such heart that I could forgive her folly and tyranny and mourn her loss.
The second work was even darker, with Shakespeare probing the psyches of a rapist and his victim. The greatest dramatic psychologist had early shown an interest in extreme psychopathology with Richard III, but I found the power and depth that he showed here almost worthy of the tragedies he would write a decade later. Eve Best, a star on the London and Broadway stage, nearly brought tears to my eyes as the wronged heroine examined her options and decided on suicide.
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