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...
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