English: Christopher Marlowe and Hero Essay

Submitted By conversething
Words: 1796
Pages: 8

Marlowe's title characters in his poem, “Hero and Leander,” are described in beautiful and flowery language. Both Hero and Leander are attractive, they speak eloquently, and they share a passionate love. But Marlowe also describes the couple in terms which do not make his praise seem unequivocal. Just as Mercury's “country maid” responds ambiguously to him and “neither would deny, nor grant his suit,” Marlowe takes on this same ambivalent attitude when describing Hero and Leander (388, 424). Marlowe uses ambivalent descriptions in order to humanize these otherwise grand and epic characters.

Hero is described as an extremely beautiful woman. She is so attractive that “young Apollo courted for her hair, / And offered as a dower his burning throne, / Where she should sit for men to gaze upon” (6-8). She has caught the attention of a god simply because of her hair, but the poem never says that the admiration was mutual, and one must assume that it was not because she did not break her vow to accept Apollo's offer, as she does later for Leander. Getting this offer from Apollo makes her godlike in beauty, but her rejection of him keeps her firmly on earth, as she has rejected “his burning throne”. The description of Hero's costume immediately following these lines makes Marlowe's ambiguity toward her more apparent.

Hero's dress depicts a scene with Venus and Adonis in a grove. There, “Venus in her naked glory strove, / To please the careless and disdainful eyes / Of proud Adonis, that before her lies” (12-14). The image of Adonis is painted with negative diction; he is “careless,” “disdainful,”and “proud” despite Venus being “naked” simply “to please” him. This is a bizarre and unpleasant image to embroider on one's dress. Even though the image is of gods, it does not make Hero seem epic or divine, but rather, this makes her seem like an unfortunate human who is subservient to these powers.

The next image of the dress she wears is also unpleasant, and is ambiguous. The dress is dirty, which seems very human, but it is dirtied by “many a stain, / Made with the blood of wretched lovers slain” (15-16). Marlowe forces the reader to wonder why Hero is covered in the blood of slain lovers, as well as who killed them. The poem makes it sound as if either the lovers killed themselves because they could not have Hero, or the lovers were slain by either Hero or someone else to keep them from her. In either instance, Hero seems once again divine for having inspired the kind of love that men would have to die for, while still being human by wearing a dirty dress.

The rest of Hero's appearance continues to speak to both her almost magical qualities and her very human artifice.[note] Her necklace is a combination of the descriptions. “About her neck hung chains of pebblestone,” which seems ordinary enough, but when they are “lightened by her neck, like diamonds shone” as if by supernatural power (25-26). She is not wearing enchanted stones around her neck, they are common pebbles. This does not seem very grand by itself, but it is her own neck that makes the stones light up. Her hands are even more godlike, as “She wore no gloves; for neither sun nor wind / Would burn or parch her hands, but to her mind, / Or warm or cool them, for they took delight / To play upon those hands, they were so white” (27-30). These lines suggest that she can control the sun and wind with her will. Despite this evidence of her being supernatural, the rest of her costume is filled with artifice.

Hero's boots are comically artificial, even if her “world would wonder to behold” them (34). They are made of “Buskins of shells, all silvered used she, / And branched with blushing coral to the knee; / Where sparrows perched of hollow pearl and gold” (31-33). As if the decorations of shells, coral, and birds made out of pearl and gold were not enough, the birds are mechanical and make noise. The birds “with sweet water oft her handmaid fills, / Which, as she