Shakespeare's Myths

Works in which Cupid appears as a character — Works in which Cupid is alluded to


Works in which Cupid appears as a character


The following selective list is based on The Index of Characters in Early Modern English Drama Printed Plays 1500-1660 ed. Thomas L. Berger, William C. Bradford and Sidney L. Sondergard; Annals of English Drama 975-1700 ed. Alfred Harbage, 3rd ed. rev. by Sylvia Stoler Wagonheim.


Anon.  A Mask of Venus, Cupid, Six Damsels and Six Old Men (1527) [Masque, Wolsey’s palace].


Thomas Preston.  The Lamentable Tragedy of Cambyses (1561) [Tragedy].


George Buchanan et alCupid, Chastity and Time (1564). [Banquet Show at Holyrood House, Edinburgh].


Robert Wilmot, Roger Stafford, Henry Noel, G Al. [William Allen?], Christopher Hatton. Gismond of Salerne (1566) [Inner Temple and Greenwich].


Thomas ChurchyardThe Shew of Chastity (1578) [Progress entertainment, Norwich].


George PeeleThe Arraignment of Paris (1581) [Pastoral comedy, Children of the Queen’s Chapel, at court].


AnonCupid and Psyche (1581) [Comedy, Paul’s at Blackfriars?].


John LylySappho and Phao (1583) [Court comedy, Children of the Chapel and Paul’s Boys, at Blackfriars and court].


John LylyGallathea (1585) [Court comedy, Paul’s Boys?].


Christopher Marlowe. Dido, Queen of Carthage (1586) [Tragedy, Children of the Chapel, Blackfriars].


George Peele.  The Hunting of Cupid (1586) [Pastoral Play/Masque?].


John LylyLove’s Metamorphosis (1590) [Pastoral comedy, Paul’s Boys at court].


Robert Wilmot.  Tancred and Gismund (1591) [revised version of Gismond of Salerne published in Quarto (STC 25764), re-performed in Essex or at Inner Temple?].


William GagerHippolytus (1592) [Latin Tragedy, Christ Church, Oxford].


Henry Chettle, John Day and Thomas DekkerCupid and Psyche (The Golden Ass) (1600) [Comedy, Admiral’s Men].


Ben Jonson.  Cynthia’s Revels (1600) [Comedy. Children of the Queen’s Chapel].


Edward SharphamCupid’s Whirligig (1607) (STC 22380) [Comedy, Children of the King’s Revels at Whitefriars].


Francis Beaumont and John FletcherCupid’s Revenge (1608) [Tragedy, Children of the Queen’s Revels].


Ben Jonson.  The Masque of Beauty (1608) [Masque].


Ben Jonson.  The Haddington Masque (Hue and Cry After Cupid) (1608) [Wedding masque]. 


Ben Jonson.  Love Freed from Ignorance and Folly (1611) [Masque].


Thomas DekkerTroia Nova Triumphans (1612) [Lord Mayor’s Show (Ironmongers)].


Ben Jonson.  Love Restored (1612) [Masque].


Francis BeaumontThe Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn (1613) [Masque].


Ben Jonson.  A Challenge at Tilt (1613) [Wedding masque].


Thomas MiddletonThe Mask of Cupids (1614) [Wedding Masque. Merchant Taylors Hall].


Ben Jonson.  Christmas his Masque (1616) [Christmas Show].


Ben Jonson.  Lovers Made Men/Masque of Lethe (1617) [Masque].


Robert White.  Cupid’s Banishment (1617) [Masque, Ladies’ Hall, Deptford, performed at Greenwich].


Thomas MiddletonThe Triumphs of Love and Antiquity (1619) [Lord Mayor’s Show (Skinners)].


Mary WrothLove’s Victorie (1621) [Pastoral comedy, closet].


Thomas MiddletonWomen Beware Women (1621) [Tragedy, King’s Men].


Thomas MiddletonThe Nice Valour (1622) [Tragicomedy, King’s Men].


Ben Jonson.  Time Vindicated (1623) [Masque].


John FletcherA Wife for a Month (1624) [Tragicomedy, King’s Men].


Henry Reynolds.  [Trans. Tasso] Aminta (1628) [Pastoral, closet].


Thomas DekkerLondon’s Tempe, or The Field of Happiness (1629) [Lord Mayor’s Show (Ironmongers)].


Ben Jonson.  Love’s Triumph through Callipolis (1631) [Masque].


Ben Jonson.  Chloridia: Rites to Chloris and her Nymphs (1631). [Masque].


James ShirleyThe Ball (1632 ) [Comedy, Queen Henrietta’s Men].


Aurelian Townshend.  Albion’s Triumph (1632) [Masque].


Aurelian Townshend.  Tempe Restored (1632) [Masque]. 


Ben Jonson.  The King’s Entertainment at Welbeck/Love’s Welcome (1633) [Masque].


William RowleyHymen’s Holiday, or Cupid’s Vagaries (1633) [Revived by Queen Henrietta Maria’s Men at the Cockpit].


Thomas HeywoodLove’s Mistress, or The Queen’s Masque (1634) [Queen Henrietta’s Men].


James ShirleyCupid and Death (1653) [Masque].


Thomas JordanCupid His Coronation (1654) [Masque, girls’ school, Spittle].


Samuel HollandCupid and Psyche (1656) [Burlesque Masque].


John Dancer.  [Trans. Tasso] Aminta (1660) [Pastoral, closet].



Works in which Cupid is alluded to


Geoffrey Chaucer Troilus and Criseyde (1382-86), I, 204-10, 225-38:

[Troilus “blasphemes” against Love who quickly takes revenge]:

“I have herd told, pardieux, of youre lyvynge, [pardieux: by God]

Ye lovers, and youre lewed observaunces, [lewed: foolish]

And which a labour folk han in wynnynge [which: what]

Of love, and in the kepyng which doutaunces; [doutaunces: anxieties]

And whan youre prey is lost, woo and penaunces, [woo: woe]

O veray fooles, nyce and blynde be ye! [veray: real]

Ther nys nat oon kan war by other be.” [war: warned]


And with that word he gan caste up the browe, [brow: eyebrow]

Ascaunces, “Loo! Is this naught wisely spoken?” [ascaunces: as if to say]

At which the God of Love gan loken rowe [loken rowe: look angry]

Right for despit, and shop for to ben wroken. [despit: outrage; shop for to be wroken: intended to be avenged]

He kidde anon his bowe nas naught broken; [kidde: demonstrated]

For sodeynly he hitte hym ate fulle –

And yet as proud a pekok kan he pulle ... [pekok: peacock; pulle: pluck]


So ferde it by this fierse and proude knyght: [ferde: fared]

Though he a worthy kynges sone were,

And wende nothing hadde had swich might [wende: thought]

Ayeyns his wille that shuld his herte stere, [ayeyns: against; stere: stir]

Yet with a look his herte wex a-fere, [wex a-fere: grew inflamed]

That he that now was moost in pride above,

Wax sodeynly moost subgit unto love. [subgit: subject]


Forthy ensample taketh of this man,

Ye wise, proude, and worthi folkes alle,

To scornen Love, which that so soone kan

The freedom of youre hertes to hym thralle; [thralle: put in bondage]

For evere it was, and evere it shal byfalle, [byfalle: befall]

That Love is he that alle thing may bynde,

For may no man fordon the law of kynde. [fordon: escape; kynde: nature]


Francesco Petrarca.  Trionfi (1338-74, pub. 1470). [Trans. by Henry Parker, Lord Morley, The Tryumphes of Fraunces Petrarcke] (1555) (STC 19811)]:

The First Chapter of the Triumph of Love, I, 33-89, sig. A4v:

There saw I a boy on a fiery chair on height

Drawn with four coursers all milk-white

With bow in hand and arrows sharp and keen

Against whom no shield nor helm so sheen [sheen: beautiful]

Might in no wise the mortal stroke withstand

When he shot with his most dreadful hand.

To this also, a strange sight to see,

Two wings upon his shoulders had he,

With colours more than I can write or tell

A thousand divers — this I noted well —

And all the rest were naked to the skin.

About the chair where that this boy was in

Some lay there dead gaping on the ground:

Some with his darts had taken many a wound;

Some were prisoners and could not ’scape away,

But followed still the chair night and day.

I that saw this wonderful strange sight,

To know what it meant, did that I might

Till at the last I did perceive and see

Myself to be among that company.


The Excellent Triumph of Chastity, 57-86, sig. F2r:

This god that [is] the vanquer, as is told,    [vanquer: victor]

Of mortal men both of young and old,

Took in his right hand arrows sharp and keen 

And in the t’other a bow bright and sheen

And drew it up, this lady to fear,

In great haste and anger up to his ear.

And this did he in such great violence

That a leopard that maketh pretence

The fugitive heart for to catch and take

Could not more hasty haste make

Than love did with his fiery face

This fair lady with craft to compass.

I that saw the manner and the guise

Was sore moved in double wise:

Pity feared me lest that I should see

So sweet a creature vanquished for to be;

Desire again would have be glad

That I my purpose might then have had.

But virtue, that with the good is ever,

Showed at that time that he did never

Forsake him that him doth trust.

This fair lady, my heart’s lust,

When she did see the stroke at hand,

Was never master that doth withstand

In the ship on the parlous rock to fall

Than she that then and forth withal

Did away from love’s stroke glide

With such an honesty on every part and side,

Which then appeared in her sweet face

That love’s fiery dart had there no place.


Baldassare Castiglione.  Il Cortegiano (1528). [Trans. by Sir Thomas Hoby, The Book of the Courtier] (1561) (STC 4778), Book IV, sig. Xx4r-v:

What tongue mortal is there then, O most holy love, that can sufficiently praise thy worthiness? Thou most beautiful, most good, most wise, art derived of the unity of heavenly beauty, goodness and wisdom, and therein dost thou abide, and unto it through it, as in a circle, turnest about ...

Thou art the father of true pleasures, of grace, peace, lowliness, and good will, enemy to rude wildness, and sluggishness; to be short, the beginning, and end of all goodness.

And for so much as thou delightest to dwell in the flower of beautiful bodies and beautiful souls, I suppose that thy abiding place is now here among us, and from above other while showest thyself a little to the eyes and minds of them that be not worthy to see thee.

Therefore vouchsafe, Lord, to hearken to our prayers, pour thyself into our hearts, and with the brightness of thy most holy fire lighten our darkness, and like a trusty guide in this blind maze show us the right way; reform the falsehood of the senses, and after long wandering in vanity, give us the right and sound joy. Make us to smell those spiritual savours that relieve the virtues of the understanding, and to hear the heavenly harmony so tuneable, that no discord of passion take place any more in us ... Purge with the shining beams of thy light our eyes from misty ignorance, that they may no more set by mortal beauty, and well perceive that the things which at the first they thought themselves to see, be not in deed, and those that they saw not, to be in effect.   


Torquato Tasso.  Aminta (1573). [Trans. by Henry Reynolds, Torquato Tasso's Aminta Englisht] (1628) (STC 23696), sigs. A2r-A3v: 

The Prologue. Cupid in habit of a Shepherd.

Who would believe that in this human form,

And under these mean shepherd’s weeds, were hid

A godhead? nor yet of the lower rank,

But the most mighty ’mong the gods; whose power

Makes oft the bloody sword of angry Mars

Fall from his hand; stern Neptune hurl away

His powerful trident; and great Jove lay by

His thunderbolt; and thus attired, I hope

My mother Venus shall have much ado

To find her Cupid. For the truth to tell,

Sh’has made me play the runaway with her;

Because, forsooth, she will sole mistress be,

And to her pleasure bind my shafts and me;

And, vain ambitious woman as she is,

Would tie me to live still ’mongst crowns, and sceptres,

And to high courts confine my power and me;

And to my under-followers grants to live

Here in these woods; and to advance their powers,

O’er silly shepherds’ breasts; but I that am

No child — though childish be my gait and looks —

Will for this once, do as shall please me best.

For not to her, but me allotted were

The ever awful brand, and golden bow.

Therefore I purpose to conceal myself,

And run from her entreats; for other power

Than to entreat, she shall not have o’er me.

I hear she haunts these groves, and promiseth

Unto the nymphs and shepherds, which of them

Will bring me to her, kisses for their pains,

And more than kisses too; and cannot I

To them shall hide me from her, liberal be

Of kisses, and more too as well as she?

The nymphs I know will like my kisses best,

When I shall woo them that am god of love.

Therefore my mother doth but lose her pain,

Here’s none will bring her home her son again.

But to be surer, that she may not know

Or find me out by the used marks I bear,

I’ve laid my quiver, bow, and wings from me;

Yet come I not hither unarmed; this rod

I carry is my brand, transformèd thus,

And breathes out unseen flame at every pore;

And this dart, though it have no golden head,

Of heav’nly temper is; and where it ’lights

Enforceth love; and even this day shall make

A deep and cureless wound in the hard breast

Of the most cruel nymph, that ever yet

Hath been a follower of Diana’s train;

Nor will I pity Silvia more, for so

Th’obdurate stony-breasted nymph is called,

Than erst I did the gentle-hearted swain

Aminta, many winters since, when he,

Poor wretch, then young, followed her younger steps

From wood to wood in every game and sport.

And for more sure effecting my intent,

I’ll pause a while till some remorse and pity

Of the poor shepherd’s sufferings, have a little

Thawed the hard ice congealed about her breast

With maiden peevishness; and when I find

She grows more pliant, will I launch her breast.

And this to do with better ease and art,

Amongst the feasting troops of the crowned shepherds

That hither come to sport o’ holidays,

I'll put myself; and here, even in this place

I'll give the speeding blow unseen, unknown.

Today these woods shall hear another voice

Of love than e’er before, and more refined;

My godhead here shall in itself appear

Present no longer in my ministers;

I'll breathe soft thoughts into their coarser breasts,

And make their tongues in smoothest numbers move;

For wheresoe’er I am, still am I Love;

No less in shepherds than in greatest peers;

And inequality in people, I

Can temper as I please, such is my power.

The rural sound of homely shepherd’s reed

I can make equal with the learned’st lyre,

And if my mother, which disdains forsooth

To see me here, be ignorant of this,

She’s blind, not I,

Whom the blind world reputes blind wrongfully. 


Thomas Churchyard.  A Discourse of the Queenes Maiesties Entertainement in Suffolk and Norffolk: With a description of many things then presently seene (1578) (STC 5226), Tuesdays Device, sigs. D1r, D2r-D2v:

… Cupid wandering in the world, met with Dame Chastity and her maids, called Modesty, Temperance, Good Exercise, and Shamefastness, and she with her four maids encountering Cupid in a goodly coach, and without any honest guard waiting on him, set upon him, threw him out of his golden seat, trod on his pomp, spoiled him of his counterfeit godhead and cloak, and took away his bow and his quiver of arrows, the one headed with lead, and the other with gold, and so sent him like a fugitive away, and mounted up into the coach herself and her maids, and so came to the Queen, and rehearsed what had happened — although this was done in her view. And because, said Chastity, that the Queen had chosen the best life, she gave the Queen Cupid’s bow, to learn to shoot at whom she pleased; since none could wound her Highness’s heart, it was meet, said Chastity, that she should do with Cupid’s bow and arrows what she pleased: and so did Chastity depart as she said to the powers divine ... 

Chastity speaketh [to the Queen]

To strive with boys that stands on brags and braves

I thought great scorn, till Cupid I espied,

But that proud lad, that makes so many slaves,

Must needs find one, to daunt his peacock’s pride.

Dame Chastity is she that wins the field,

Whose breast is armed with thoughts of virtues rare,

Who to the fight doth bring no glittering shield,

But clean conceits, which pure and blessed are,

That strikes down lust, and tames the wilful mind,

Maintains the just, and holds up learning both …

It triumph makes of fickle fond desire,

It breeds great force and courage full in men,

It quencheth sparks and flames of fancy’s fire,

It quicks the wits, and helps the art of pen,

Yea all good gifts from Chastity doth rise

That worthy are of honour under skies.

Then sith, O Queen, chaste life is thus thy choice,

And that thy heart is free from bondage yoke,

Thou shalt, good Queen, by my consent and voice,

Have half the spoil, take either bow or cloak.

The bow, I think, more fit for such a one

In fleshly form, that bears a heart of stone

That none can wound, nor pierce by any mean.

Wherefore take here the bow, and learn to shoot

At whom thou wilt, thy heart it is so clean,

Blind Cupid’s bolts therein can take no root.

Now will I stay in this poor coach of mine,

To mount the skies, and see the gods divine.  


Edmund SpenserThe Shepheardes Calender (1579) (STC 23089), March, 79-84:

… a naked swain,

With spotted wings like peacock’s training

And laughing lope to a tree. [lope: leap]

His gilden quiver at his back,

And silver bow, which was but slack,

Which lightly he bent at me.


Edmund SpenserThe Shepheardes Calender (1579) (STC 23089), March, Gloss:

Swain: a boy. For so he is described of the poets, to be a boy as always fresh and lusty; blindfolded, because he maketh no difference of personages; with divers-coloured wings, as full of flying fancies; with bow and arrow, that is with glance of beauty, which pricketh as a forked arrow. He is said also to have shafts, some leaden, some golden, that is both pleasure for the gracious and loved, and sorrow for the lover that is disdained or forsaken. But who lists more at large to behold Cupid’s colours and furniture [equipment (weapons)], let him read either Propertius or Moschus his Idyllion of wandering love, being now most excellently translated into Latin by the singular learned man Angelus Politianus; which work I have seen amongst other of this poet’s doings, very well translated also into English rhymes.


Thomas Watson. Hekatompathia (1582) (STC 25118a), sonnet 19:

If Cupid were a child, as poets feign,

How comes it then that Mars doth fear his might?

If blind, how chance so many to their pain,

Whom he hath hit, can witness of his sight?

   If he have wings to fly where thinks him best,

   How haps he lurketh still within my breast?

If bow and shafts should be his chiefest tools,

Why doth he set so many hearts on fire?

If he were mad, how could he further fools

To whet their wits, as place and time require?

   If wise, how could so many lose their wits,

   Or dote through love, and die in frantic fits?

If naked still he wander to and fro,

How doth not sun or frost offend his skin?

If that a god he be, how falls it so,

That all wants end, which he doth once begin?

   O wondrous thing, that I, whom Love hath spent,

   Can scarcely know himself, or his intent.


John Lyly.  Sappho and Phao (1584) (STC 17086), V.ii.1-25:

[In a version of the Triumph of Chastity, Sappho woos Cupid onto her side against Venus. The scene may have begun with Cupid firing an arrow on stage.]

Sappho: What hast thou done, Cupid?

Cupid: That my mother commanded, Sappho.

Sappho: Methinks I feel an alteration in mind and as it were a withdrawing in myself of mine own affections.

Cupid: Then hath mine arrow his effect.

Sappho: I pray thee, tell me the cause.

Cupid: I dare not.

Sappho: Fear nothing, for if Venus fret, Sappho can frown; thou shalt be my son. Mileta, give him some sweetmeats. Speak, good Cupid, and I will give thee many pretty things.

Cupid: My mother is in love with Phao. She willed me to strike you with disdain of him and him with desire of her.

Sappho:  O spiteful Venus! Mileta, give him some of that. What else, Cupid?

Cupid: I could be even with my mother, and so I will if I shall call you mother?

Sappho: Yea, Cupid, call me anything. So I may be even with her.

Cupid: I have an arrow with which if I strike Phao it will cause him to loathe only Venus.

Sappho: Sweet Cupid, strike Phao with it. Thou shalt sit in my lap; I will rock thee asleep and feed thee with all these fine knacks.

Cupid: I will about it.

Exit Cupid. 


Edmund SpenserThe Faerie Queene (1590, 1596), III, vi, 11-15:

It fortuned, fair Venus, having lost

Her little son, the wingèd god of love,

Who, for some light displeasure, which him crossed,

Was from her fled, as fleet as airy dove,

And left her blissful bower of joy above,

(So from her often he had fled away,

When she for aught him sharply did reprove,

And wandered in the world in strange array,

Disguised in thousand shapes, that none might him bewray.)


Him for to seek, she left her heavenly house,

The house of goodly forms and fair aspects,

Whence all the world derives the glorious

Features of beauty, and all shapes select,

With which high God his workmanship hath decked;

And searched every way, through which his wings

Had borne him, or his tract she mote detect: [tract: track]

She promised kisses sweet, and sweeter things

Unto the man, that of him tidings to her brings.


First she him sought in court, where most he used

Whilom to haunt, but there she found him not;

But many there she found, which sore accused

His falsehood, and with foul infamous blot

His cruel deeds and wicked wiles did spot:

Ladies and lords she everywhere mote hear

Complaining, how with his empoisoned shot

Their woeful hearts he wounded had whilere, [whilere: a while before]

And so had left them languishing twixt hope and fear.


She then the cities sought from gate to gate,

And every one did ask, did he him see;

And every one her answered, that too late

He had him seen, and felt the cruelty

Of his sharp darts and hot artillery;

And every one threw forth reproaches rife

Of his mischievous deeds, and said that he

Was the disturber of all civil life,

The enemy of peace, and author of all strife.


Then in the country she abroad him sought,

And in the rural cottages inquired,

Where also many plaints to her were brought,

How he their heedless hearts with love had fired,

And his false venom through their veins inspired;

And eke the gentle shepherd swains, which sat

Keeping their fleecy flocks, as they were hired,

She sweetly heard complain, both how and what

Her son had to them done; yet she did smile thereat.  


Edmund SpenserThe Faerie Queene (1590, 1596) (STC 23081, 23082), III, xi, 47-48:

[A statue of Cupid]

… there stood an image all alone,

Of many gold, which with his own light shone;

And wings it had with sundry colours dight,

More sundry colours than the proud Pavone [Pavone: peacock]

Bears in his boasted fan, or Iris bright,

When her discoloured bow she spreads through heavens bright.


Blindfold he was, and in his cruel fist

A mortal bow and arrowes keen did hold,

With which he shot at random, when him list,

Some headed with sad lead, some with pure gold;

Ah, man, beware how thou those darts behold!

A wounded dragon under him did lie,

Whose hideous tail his left foot did enfold,

And with a shaft was shot through either eye,

That no man forth might draw, ne no man remedy.


Edmund SpenserThe Faerie Queene (1590, 1596) (STC 23081, 23082), III, xii, 22, 1-9:

[The Masque of Cupid features the pairings of Fancy and Desire, Doubt and Danger, Fear and Hope, Dissemblance and Suspect, Grief and Fury, Displeasure and Pleasance, Despite and Cruelty with Amoret, her heart pierced and displayed in a silver basin. At the very end is Cupid]:

Next after her the winged god himself

Came riding on a lion ravenous,

Taught to obey the ménage of that elf, [ménage: retainers]

That man and beast with power imperious

Subdueth to his kingdom tyrannous;

His blindfold eyes he bad a while unbind,

That his proud spoil of that same dolorous

Fair dame he might behold in perfect kind;

Which seen, he much rejoiced in his cruel mind.


Robert Wilmot.  Tancred and Gismund (1591) (STC 25764), I.i, sigs. A2r-A4v:

[This is the revised text of Gismond of Salerne (1566), an earlier play by Rodger Stafford (I), Henry Noel (II), G. Al./William Allen? (III), Christopher Hatton (IV) and Wilmot (V). It is the first extant English tragedy to bring Cupid onto the stage.]

Cupid cometh out of the heavens in a cradle of flowers, drawing forth upon the stage in a blue twist of silk, from his left hand Vain Hope, Brittle Joy. And with a carnation twist of silk from his right hand, Fair Resemblance, Late Repentance.

Cupid: There rest my chariot on the mountain tops,

I that in shape appear unto your sight

A naked boy, not clothed but with my wings,

Am that great God of Love, who with his might

Ruleth the waste wide world, and living things.

This left hand bears vain hope, short joyful state,

With fair Resemblance, lovers to allure,

This right hand holds Repentance all too late,

War, fire, blood, and pains without recure. [recure: remedy]

On sweet ambrosia is not my food,

Nectar is not my drink, as to the rest

Of all the gods: I drink the lover’s blood,

And feed upon the heart within his breast.

Well hath my power in heaven and earth been tried,

And deepest hell, my piercing force hath known.

The marble seas, my wonders have descried,

Which elder age throughout the world hath blown.

To me, the king of gods and men doth yield,

As witness can the Greekish maid, whom I                     Io

Made like a cow go lowing through the field,

Least jealous Juno should the ’scape espy:

The doubled night, the sun’s restrainèd course,

His secret stealths, the slander to eschew,

In shape transformed, we list not to discourse.           Like to Amphitrio

All that and more we forcèd him to do.                       to Alcmena

The warlike Mars hath not subdued our might,

We feared him not, his fury nor disdain,

That can the gods record; before whose sight

He lay fast wrapped in Vulcan’s subtle chain.

He that on earth yet hath not felt our power,

Let him behold the fall and cruel spoil

Of thee fair Troy, of Asia the flower,

So foul defaced, and levelled with the soil.

Who forced Leander with his naked breast

So many nights to cut the frothy waves,

But Hero’s love, that lay enclosed in Sest?

The stoutest hearts to me shall yield them slaves.

Who could have matched the huge Alcides’ strength,       Hercules

Great Macedon, what force might have subdued?            Alexander

Wise Scipio who overcame at length,

But we, that are with greater force endued? [endued: endowed]

Who could have conquered the Golden Fleece

But Jason, aided by Medea’s art?

Who durst have stolen fair Helen out of Greece

But I, with love that ’boldened Paris’ heart?

What bond of nature, what restraint avails

Against our power? I vouch to witness truth.

The myrrh tree that with shamefast tears bewails             Myrrha

Her father’s love, still weepeth yet for ruth.

But now, this world not seeing in these days,

Such present proofs of our all-daring power,

Disdains our name, and seeketh sundry ways,

To scorn and scoff, and shame us every hour,

A brat, a bastard, and an idle boy,

A rod, a staff, a whip to beat him out,

And to be sick of love, a childish toy,

These are mine honours now the world about,

My name disgraced, to raise again therefore,

And in this age, mine ancient renown

By mighty acts, intending to restore,

Down to the earth, in wrath now am I come.

And in this place, such wonders shall ye hear,

As these your stubborn, and disdainful hearts,

In melting tears, and humble yielding fear,

Shall soon relent by sight of others’ smarts.

This princely palace will I enter in,

And there enflame the fair Gismunda, so

Enraging all her secret veins within,

Through fiery love, that she shall feel much woe.

Too late Repentance, thou shalt bend my bow.

Vain hope, take out my pale dead heavy shaft,

Thou fair Resemblance, foremost forth shalt go,

With Brittle Joy: my self will not be least,

But after me comes death and deadly pain.

Thus shall ye march, till we return again.

Meanwhile, sit still, and here I shall you show

Such wonders that at last with one accord,

Ye shall relent, and say that now ye know,

Love rules the world, Love is a mighty Lord.



Sir Philip Sidney. The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1593), II, xiv:

[The shepherdess, Miso, reads a poem describing an alternative image of Cupid as the offspring of Argos and Io when the latter was transformed into a cow.]

Yet bears he still his parents’ stately gifts, [he: Cupid]

A horned head, cloven feet, and thousand eyes,

Some gazing still, some winking wily shifts,

With long large ears, where never rumour dies.

His horned head doth seem the heavens to spite;

His cloven foot doth never tread aright.


Thus half a man, with man he daily haunts,

Clothed in the shape which soonest may deceive:

Thus half a beast, each beastly vice he plants,

In those weak hearts that his advice receive.

He prowls each place still in new colours decked,

Sucking one’s ill, another to infect.


To narrow breasts, he comes all wrapped in gain;

To swelling hearts, he shines in honour’s fire;

To open eyes, all beauties he doth rain;

Creeping to each with flattering of desire.

But for that love is worst which rules the eyes,

Thereon his name, there his chief triumph lies.


Millions of years this old drivel Cupid lives, [drivel: drudge, foul person]

While still more wretch, more wicked he doth prove.

Till now at length that Jove him office gives,

(At Juno’s suit, who much did Argus love)

In this our world a hangman for to be

Of all those fools that will have all they see.


Ben Jonson.  A Challenge at Tilt (1613), 168-203:

[This masque was performed on 27 December 1613 and 1 January 1614 to celebrate the wedding of Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset and Lady Frances Howard, formerly Countess of Essex. The first stage direction reads “Two Cupids striving the day after the marriage”, each of them declaring that they are the real Cupid and the other an imposter, until Hymen intervenes.]

Hymen: Come, you must yield both; this is neither contention for you nor time fit to contend. There is another kind of tilting would become love better than this; to meet lips for lances, and crack kisses instead of staves; which there is no beauty here, I presume, so young but can fancy, nor so tender but would venture. Here is the palm for which you must strive: which of you wins this bough is the right and best Cupid; and whilst you are striving, let Hymen, the president of these solemnities, tell you something of your own story, and what yet you know not of yourselves. You are both true Cupids, and both the sons of Venus by Mars, but this the firstborn, and was called Eros, who upon his birth proved a child of excellent beauty and right worthy his mother; but after, his growth not answering his form, not only Venus, but the Graces, who nursed him, became extremely solicitous for him, and were impelled out of their grief and care to consult the oracle about him. Themis — for Apollo was not yet of years — gave answer there wanted nothing to his perfection, but they had not enough considered or looked into the nature of the infant, which indeed was desirous of a companion only; for though love, and the true, might be born of Venus single and alone, yet he could not thrive and increase alone. Therefore if she affected his growth, Venus must bring forth a brother to him and name him Anteros, that with reciprocal affection might pay the exchange of love. This made that thou wert born her second birth. Since when, your natures are that either of you, looking upon the other, thrive, and by your mutual respects and interchange of ardour flourish and prosper; whereas if the one be deficient or wanting to the other, it fares worse with both. This is the love that Hymen requires, without which no marriage is happy; when the contention is not who is the true Love, but, being both true, who loves most: cleaving the bough between you and dividing the palm. This is a strife wherein you both win, and begets a concord worthy all married minds’ emulation, when the lover transforms himself into the person of his beloved, as you two do now.


Thomas Middleton. Masque of Cupids (1613):

[The following two songs are all that remains of this masque, written to celebrate the wedding of Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset and Lady Frances Howard (as above).]


Cupid is Venus’ only joy,

But he is a wanton boy,

A very, very wanton boy.

He shoots at ladies’ naked breasts;

He is the cause of most men’s crests—

I mean upon the forehead,

Invisible but horrid.

’Twas he first thought upon the way

To keep a lady’s lips to play.


Why should not Venus chide her son

For the tricks that he hath done,

The wanton tricks that he hath done?

He shoots his fiery darts so thick

They wound poor ladies to the quick,

Ay me, with cruel wounding.

His darts are so confounding

That life and strength would soon decay.

But that it keeps their lips in play.



Cupid is an idle toy.

Never was there such a boy.

If there were, let any show

Or his quiver or his bow

Or a wound by him they got

Or a broken arrow-shot.

Money, money makes us bow

There is no other Cupid now.


Whilst the world continued good

People loved for flesh and blood.

Men about them bore the dart

That would catch a woman’s heart.

Women likewise, great and small,

With a pretty thing they call

Cunny, cunny, won the men

And this was all the Cupid then.


Robert White.  Cupid’s Banishment (1617), 70-110, 219-229:

[This masque was performed by the pupils of Ladies Hall, Deptford, before Queen Anna of Denmark at Greenwich.]

Diana: Cupid, know thy daring presence doth offend us,

And thy presumption hath incurred our anger.

We are displeased and do much distaste

Thy rash access without our high command.

Blind Archer, know we are not subject to thy tyranny.

Thy darts and chains are of no power with us;

Nor are we in the compass of thy bow.

We are free from thy bewitching philtres,

Thy charms and thy alluring baits.

Our vows are here entire

And are not subject to thy lustful fire.

Cupid: What, are we gods and bear no greater sway!

Is Cupid dead and Venus quite forgot?

Are all my darts grown dull,

My bow so weak that none will stand in awe

But contradict what we command?

Why, dull Time and Lady Chastity,

You know full well that Cupid’s conquests

Ring round about the world and will do still

As long as there are things called women.

Occasion: Boy, leave your waggish wit.

Put up your arrows in your quiver

And be gone.

Fortune is the subject of our scene,

And chaste Diana the mistress of the place

To which fond fancy may not have access.

Cupid: And will all these ladies banish Cupid thus?

Is there never a tender heart that will relent

To thus disgrace me? Do you all consent?

Diana: Cease, fond idol, thy presence here is tedious.

Steal to some amorous court and tutor

Wanton ladies how to woo

And catch their servants with a nimble glance.

Invent some antic fashion how to please

His mistress’ eye with vows and endless protestations.

Make him swear he loves her dearly

Though indeed affecteth nothing less.

These are your practices and chief exploits―

Worthy achievements for a god.

Hence, fond boy!

Thy very breath corrupts a virgin’s vow.

Diana: … Come, all ye that love chaste Vesta

And chase this Bedlam forth.   


Enter the Dryads, or eight wood nymphs. [They] rush out of a grove adjoining to the Mount, four off one side and four off another—with darts in their hands to shew they had a dart [that] Cupid could conquer―attired all in green garments, the upper part close to their bodies, the lower full and loose with silver and carnation lace from the breast to the foot, their arms half naked with bracelets of berries about them, [on] their heads garlands with [a] great variety of flowers, their hair dishevelled, hanging careless about their shoulders, bare with puffs of tiffany round about, [and] green pumps and gloves. After the music over the first strain they fall into their dance. They environ Cupid in a figure and put Actaeon’s head upon him. They fall off threatening him with their darts when he offers to resist. After many pretty figures they chase him forth into the woods by violence and banish him that presence. The nymphs sing in joy. Cupid is gone.    


Hark, hark, how Philomel!

Whose notes no air can parallel;

Mark, mark, her melody.

She descants still on chastity

The diapason of her song is Cupid’s gone.

He is gone, he is gone, is quite exiled.

Venus’s brat, peevish ape, fancy’s child,

Let him go with his quiver and his bow.

Let him know we are not subject to him; though

He can command, yet we are free

From Cupid and his tyranny.


John Donne.  “Love’s Deity”, Songs and Sonnets (1633):

I long to talk with some old lover’s ghost,

Who died before the god of love was born:

I cannot think that he, who then loved most,

Sunk so low as to love one which did scorn.

But since this god produced a destiny,

And that vice-nature, custom, lets it be;

I must love her, that loves not me.


Sure, they which made him god, meant not so much,

Nor he, in his young godhead practised it.

But when an even flame two hearts did touch,

His office was indulgently to fit

Actives to passives. Correspondency

Only his subject was. It cannot be

Love, till I love her, that loves me.


But every modern god will now extend

His vast prerogative, as far as Jove.

To rage, to lust, to write to, to commend,

All is the purlieu of the god of love.

Oh were we wakened by this tyranny

To ungod this child again, it could not be

I should love her, who loves not me.


Rebel and atheist too, why murmur I,

As though I felt the worst that love could do?

Love might make me leave loving, or might try

A deeper plague, to make her love me too,

Which, since she loves before, I am loath to see;

Falsehood is worse than hate; and that must be,

If she whom I love, should love me.


How to cite

Jane Kingsley-Smith. “Cupid.”  2011.  In A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Classical Mythology (2009-), ed. Yves Peyré.

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