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‘As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras: so the sweete wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and hony-tonged Shakespeare, witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his private friends, &c.’ And so may the soul of Francis Meres be thought to live in critics who examine Shakespeare’s debt to his favourite poet; since Ovid’s influence is found largely in the early work it is, by implication, a youthful phase, which Shakespeare grew out of. Yet, as Ovid acknowledged through Pythagoras, ‘All things doo chaunge. But nothing sure dooth perrish. This same spright/ . . . never perrisheth nor never perrish can.’ Just so did the soul of Ovid live in Shakespeare throughout his career, to find its final expression in the four late romances. ‘[T]he most resonant echo of Ovid in the corpus’ occurs not in one of the works noted by Meres, but in The Tempest (as Prospero’s invocation, ‘Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves’ (5.1.33–50), adapts the Latin original and Arthur Golding’s translation of Medea’s speech in Metamorphoses, 7. 197–209 (Golding, II.265-77)), while it is in Cymbeline (2.2) that a copy of the Metamorphoses makes its second appearance in Shakespeare’s works.
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