Christopher Marlowe's Poems

Contradiction, Comedy, and Sympathy in Marlowe's 'Hero and Leander' College

Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander challenges 16th century Christian teaching. Christian teaching on desire stems from Thomas Aquinas’ Natural Law which is a set of moral laws intended to identify God’s purpose for human life. One of the five primary precepts states that the main purpose of sex is to procreate. Therefore, according to Natural Law, Hero and Leander’s sexual relationship contradicts God’s intention for humanity. Through exploring the immaturity of the characters’ relationship, the poem dissuades the reader from condemning the protagonists’ actions by inviting sympathy for them through comedy. The protagonists are presented as young people with a limited view of desire rather than sinners who deliberately contradict God’s word.

The only expressions of desire that Hero is aware of are extremes, either lust or coyness. This is immediately obvious when she is described as ‘Venus’ nun’ (45). The contradiction here is clear. As the Goddess of love, Venus embodies desire, fertility and sex whereas the nun embodies purity and chastity. Kocher notes that ‘Venus’ nun’ was Elizabethan slang for prostitute which further enhances the extremes Hero represents, her existence is a contradiction because she is both nun and...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 1178 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 9115 literature essays, 2378 sample college application essays, 399 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in