The distinction between love and lust is not necessarily clear in certain aspects of Renaissance literature. In ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, we are presented with an obvious distinction between the chaste Lucrece and her example of married love, and Tarquin’s violent expression of lust. However, in ‘Venus and Adonis’, sexual role are reversed and Venus becomes the aggressor associated with lust and the distinction as to what constitutes love or lust becomes less clear in the realms of sexual love.
It seems easy for us to associate love and sexual love together in our less inhibited society, but in the Renaissance period, the association was not there in the same way. The distinction between love and lust is also based upon the more complex and less clear distinctions between other related ideas. It is the influence of these individual ideas that bring about the definitions of the concepts of love and lust, and so help us to identify the distinction between them.
Although the quote in the title of this question, taken from Venus and Adonis, seems to have no trouble in drawing up a clear distinction, a closer look at this text and ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ seems to create more of a blur in the distinction. In ‘Venus and Adonis’ we can see many conflicting ideas and images relating to certain issues, for example, violence and tenderness, and the contrasts that these conflicting images provoke give us an insight into the distinction made between love and lust in Renaissance literature.
Venus is the Goddess of love, a classical figure relating to love in all its forms, including that of sexual desire and lust. In looking at the placing of the emphasis in Shakespeare’s telling of this classical tale, and the way in which he portrays the characters and manipulates what they stand for, we can perhaps gauge an insight as to the distinction made between love and lust in literature of this period. Looking at Shakespeare’s alterations in his adaptation of Ovid, we can see the main thematic concerns become clear.
In his portrayal of Venus, we can see Shakespeare’s creation of a sexual conflict that is not present in the Metamorphoses. Shakespeare’s Venus becomes more aggressively lustful, much of the loving or romantic language she uses is tainted by an aggressively lustful addition, for example, as she ‘murders with a kiss’ the words Adonis was about to speak. The distinction between love and lust is blurred in the character of Venus, with her mingling of passion, desire and love.
Shakespeare’s representation of Venus and Adonis sets them in absolute opposition to one another, and highlights a whole set of conflicts inherent in their relationship. He reverses their sexual roles so that Venus takes on a traditionally masculine role, that of the ‘bold-fac’d suitor’, while Adonis seems to take on qualities which appear to be more feminine, he is the shy, reluctant beauty, as Venus claims, he is ‘more lovely than a man’, emphasising his disassociation with a more masculine appearance.
In ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, the distinction between love and lust is not only a physical and emotional distinction, but a moral and social distinction as well. Unlike ‘Venus and Adonis’ where the sexual roles are reversed with humorous effect, ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ follows the pattern of traditional sex roles with total seriousness, taking them to a logical and bitter extreme. The distinction between love and lust becomes caught up with other relationships, such as the relationship and distinction between sex and power.
In Shakespeare’s exploration of marriage in such a patriarchal society allows us an insight into the nature of such relationships, and also the distinction between love and lust as it is portrayed in this piece of Renaissance literature. The poem deals with the rape of a married women. Lucrece’s chastity is that of a wife who has dedicated her body, and indeed, her sexuality to her husband. In doing this, she acquires an almost seemingly virginal, or unsexual air, her purity and innocence seems to be unaltered by the sexual act in marriage, she is still ‘so pure a shrine'(194).
Even though being married suggests that she must be her husband’s sexual partner , she is untouched their sexual relationship within the marriage. The fact that she is married seems to take away the idea of ‘sin’, psychologically, this provides a kind of defence against desire for man. Desire is legitimised through the woman who becomes a wife, desire becomes a right, instead of an illicit adventure. It is perhaps this distinction between the legitimisation of sexual love under the cover of marriage, and the idea of illicit and taboo desire that illustrates the clarity of the distinction between love and lust in this poem.
Love is the legitimate expression of desire, backed by institutions such as marriage, whereas lust is the illegitimate expression of desire, having no moral foundation for its outlet in the way that married love does. The descriptions we encounter of Lucrece in the poem seem to be non-erotic, and non-sexual referring to the ‘heraldry’ in her face ‘argued by Beauty’s red and Virtue’s white’ as opposed to any direct sexual reference to her appearance, even though the descriptions we receive are those transmitted to use through Tarquin’s supposedly lustful eyes.
This represents a paradoxical desire to desexualise a women who, by virtue of her status as a wife, is sexually possessed. The nature of the description seems paradoxical, characterising her in terms of these two qualities – Beauty’s red and Virtue’s white. In the context of this poem it would seem that the two concepts are necessarily opposed. She is beautiful and so provokes desire on the one hand, however she is a virtuous wife and so belongs to her husband, out of bounds, protected from other men’s desires. This conflict between red and white, beauty and virtue seems representative of the conflicts relating to love and lust.
The conflict between Lucrece’s chastity and it’s erotic appeal to Tarquin and the lust it arouses in him highlight the paradoxical nature of such a conflict, and add a definite clarity as to the distinction between love and lust as fixed concepts. However it does create a problem for the distinction between their causal relations. Love, for example that of Lucrece’s chaste love for her husband, has the power to arouse lust in another man. So it seems that lust can be brought about by love and this seems to melt the clarity of the distinction again.
In ‘Venus and Adonis’ we are given the same description of conflicting colours in Venus’s face, but it is described in a much more violent manner: ‘how white and red each other did destroy’ as her ‘cheek was pale, and by and by / It flashed forth fire, as lightening from the sky’. The conflict in Venus’s face between the two hues is much more aggressive and destructive. She is either a ‘pale’ white, or a violent red, she does not have the delicate and complimentary balance between beauty and virtue that we are shown in Lucrece.
In Lucrece, it is the balance and the harmony within the conflict that makes her attractive, and this balance reflects some of the more clear aspects of the distinction between love and lust. This also reflects the problems involved in drawing a distinction between love and lust, Venus does not have a harmony between sexual love and desire, lust and love, instead she goes to extremes of each, reflected in her language that brings about comparisons that are at once violent and gentle, and reflected in the flashing changes in her face.
In ‘The Rape of Lucrece the distinction between love and lust is made between chaste love displayed by Lucrece and the destructive force of lust within Tarquin. However, in ‘Venus and Adonis’ , the distinction between love and lust is not only that which is shown between Venus representing lust and passion, and Adonis representing love and reason, but we are also shown a conflict or distinction between love and lust within Venus herself.
The conflict is not merely external and between characters, as it is in ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, but is internal for Venus as well. In Renaissance literature, there are many separate thematic distinctions that can be seen to mirror the distinctions between love and lust, the main one being, as already mentioned, the distinction between red and white, beauty and virtue. Although beauty and virtue are distinct concepts, the can reside together, as they do in Lucrece. Perhaps it is the same for the distinct concepts of love and lust.
Lust is exceptable when it resides along side love as it does under the cover of marriage with Lucrece, as marriage legitimates desire, whereas, if lust breaks out too strongly as it does in Venus it becomes a destructive force. Venus recognises that her wooing of Adonis may have gotten out of control, realising that Adonis may not want to be smothered with kisses and ‘a thousand honey secrets’ and so says that she will not ‘cloy thy lips with loath’d satiety’ . It seems that Venus struggles to differentiate between love and lust within herself.
Although the quotation in the question seems to tell us that the distinction between love and lust is a clear one, many aspects of ‘Venus and Adonis’ seem to disrupt that idea, Venus as a character seems to embody the contrast we have built up between the concepts of love and lust and how to define them, whereas an external contrast between Lucrece’s love and Tarquin’s lust is demonstrated in ‘The Rape of Lucrece’. It seems that although we can make a distinction between love and lust quite clearly, the two concepts are defined by one another, and the underlying distinction between them is not as clear as first thought.