Compare and contrast the descriptions of Hero and Leander which open Marlowe’s poem Essay Example
Compare and contrast the descriptions of Hero and Leander which open Marlowe’s poem Essay Example

Compare and contrast the descriptions of Hero and Leander which open Marlowe’s poem Essay Example

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  • Pages: 4 (1093 words)
  • Published: December 24, 2017
  • Type: Essay
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Throughout 'Hero and Leander', Marlowe presents an ambivalent attitude towards gender, where the boundaries normally found in male and female stereotypes are explored and often ridiculed. Traditional perspectives of gender become subverted and Marlowe seems to delight in overturning the expectations of the reader and creating confusion.

From the outset, the poem introduces the reader to the "opposite" cities of Abydos and Sestos where Hero and Leander dwell respectively, effectively setting the two protagonists in opposition.As the poem develops, the typological outcomes of the text undermine the certainty of accepted gender roles. In the opening passage, an appraisal of Hero expresses admiration of her external appearance: Apollo, for instance, offers her a burning throne where she could "sit for men to gaze upon", but this image is stained with the blood of spurned lovers. This is a sho


cking and provocative image, which may be symbolic of the cruelty of female rejection and the potency of Hero's attraction.Alternatively, an interpretation of these lines could suggest that Marlowe, in using such an extreme example, is ridiculing the extent to which importance is placed upon feminine beauty and may slyly be mocking the conventions of contemporary Renaissance women, where lavish costume and adornment were prevalent. The blood stains could therefore be symbolise the corruptions of society and the hypocrisy of its conventions.

A following passage describes how Hero wearing a veil covered in "artificial flowers and leaves whose workmanship both man and beast deceives"These lines are suggestive of what Marlowe may perceive as the covert or duplicitous nature of femininity. With its allusions to chastity, the veil conveys a sense of purity and virginity, perhaps implying that Hero

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in possessing these virtues is being hypocritical and intending to mislead. A satiric play on "beast" hints at the carnal attraction Hero is withholding; Marlowe, it seems, is interested in highlighting the internal struggle within her, where the competing forces of purity and lust are set against each other.The veil could therefore serve as a metaphor, referring to how the notion of chastity is an illusion created either by society or the mind itself.

Many images in the poem refer to the female relationship with Nature. Possessing a miraculous ability to control the weather, Hero demonstrates an unusual mastery of the elements and Marlowe relates how the sun and wind perform according to her will in admiration of her white hands. A strong sense of the absurd occurs when it is revealed Hero is wearing boots made of shells and silver, "Where sparrows perch'd of hollow pearl and gold Such as the world would wonder to behold"Excessive, florid language and the extreme hyperbole could be interpreted as a parody of another feminine ideal, in which women have a closer relationship and more meaningful connection. However, at the end of this passage, Marlowe notes how, rather than being blessed with Nature's gifts, Hero has in fact "taken more from her than she left" and as a consequence half the world has suffered. With these lines, Marlowe may imply how female beauty is acquired at the expense of others, discarding the idealistic view of femininity to explore the darker implications for the harbouring of female desire.Perhaps Marlowe considers the advocates of absolute beauty and feminine perfection are, in fact, victims of their own misconceptions.

Using phrases such

as "but this is true" may reveal his own account of Hero as resting on uncertain foundations; rather than having an inherent truth, his lines are only a rhetorical play of words. For the appearance of Leander, Marlowe is overwhelming in his flattery. Described as having youth and beauty, he has a distinctly feminine quality "whose looks were all that men desire. His admirers, such as the Argonauts "would hazard more than for the golden fleece" to reclaim his long hair if it were cut.

Overcome by admiration for himself, he exceeds even Narcissus, for whom vanity is an agent of his own self-destruction according to Greek myth.This compares with the emphasis on female modesty and its power over the beholder. In this case, the male ego could be seen as withholding the capacity for love; Leander is at the mercy of his own self-love similar to Narcissus, who "died ere he could enjoy the love of any. Where metaphor was used before to suggest the more remote female sexuality, simile appear to illustrate the a more direct and open male sexuality: "His body was as straight as Circe's wand; Jove might have sipt out nectar from his hand.

" Marlowe seems to revel in the power of the physical senses, as in the phallic symbolism of the wand and even Jove, the supreme ruler of the gods, submits to its power and temptation. The reference to Circe, a female magician whose wand transformed men into beasts, contains an ambiguity.A paradox between the flexibility of form and a sense of order implied in the word "straight" creates a tension: the free, chaotic impulse, hinting at

the bestiality of the male sex drive, is in conflict with restrained desire. Further praise pursues the limits of the pleasures of the body. Leander's neck is compared to "delicious meat" and is admired for how it "surpast the white of Pelops' shoulder.

" The myth of Pelops, who was feasted upon by gods, is an alarming image, which may imply how the libertine pursuit of pleasure has pitfalls where men become consumed by their passions.Many comparisons are made with mythical Greek gods, who Leander often exceeds in his qualities. In using hyperbole, Marlowe seems wryly mocking when he complains that even this exaggerated praise made by his "rude pen" does not do Leander adequate justice, recalling the uncertain representation of Hero's veil. Where Hero was earlier described as created by Nature, Leander has a greater power, reaching beyond the gods although, as in the references to Narcissus, this over-inflated sense of himself can be seen as unrealistic and ultimately self-destructive.In these two passages, therefore, conventional attitudes towards female gender are rendered absurd and the expression of masculinity is taken to its very extremes.

Sexuality is revealed as strongly connected towards the power of the individual and Marlowe criticises the boundaries drawn to contain the often chaotic impulse of desire, while exposing the problems of unrestrained pleasure. In both portraits Marlowe seems playfully aware of how his poetry can only possess a tenuous and questionable relationship with reality; perhaps wishing to illustrate how gender status does not have an inherent truth of its own.

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