Christopher Marlowe's Poems

The Veiled Woman: Female Innocence Comes “Undone” in Marlow’s Hero and Leander College

Although the nature vs. nurture debate seems as though it is a rather contemporary argument, it was actually a common thematic element of Elizabethan literature. Christopher Marlowe, in particular, focused on human behavior and the influences of natural instinct versus learned habit. In his “minor epic” Hero and Leander, Marlowe genders nature and nurture by characterizing each of his main characters as either one or the other. While Leander embodies nature in his sexual desire and longing, Hero is representative of nurture in her flirtation and repressed sexual desires. Yet, by gendering nature and nurture as characteristics of males and females, Marlowe makes it so that the “natural” desires of men become excused behaviors. It becomes the responsibility of women to fend off the sexual advances of men and keep female virginity intact.

Marlowe uses both Hero and Leander and their reactions to their own beauty, along with their desire for each other, to characterize Hero as a culturally aware female and Leander as a nature-driven male; this characterization also places the majority of the blame for the pre-marital affair on Hero while simultaneously excusing Leander for his acts of cruelty toward her. According to Marlowe, Hero...

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