Is there any scene or episode in the poem that may suggest Marlowe's interrogation of religion and power in his era?

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Hero and Leander was written by Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) in the year of his death and completed by George Chapman in 1598. It retells the Greek myth of Hero, a priestess of Venus, and Leander, a young man visiting Sestos for the Feast of Adonis. The two become lovers, yet they must meet in secret. Leander swims the Hellespont (the body of water that separates modern-day Europe and Asia), guided by a torch that Hero lights from her tower window. Hero receives her lover, and the poem ends just as dawn breaks the next day.

The poem is based off of the work of Ovid and Musaeus, who both recounted the myth of the two lovers. It is considered an early example of satire, which did not appear in any significant capacity until the 1590s.

There are a couple scenes that depict Marlowe's views on power and religion. The first is when he introduces Leander:

His body was as straight as Circe's wand;
Jove might have sipt out nectar from his hand. ...
So was his neck in touching, and surpast
The white of Pelops' shoulder, I could tell ye,
How smooth his breast was and how white his belly,
And whose immortal fingers did imprint
That heavenly path with many a curious dint,
That runs along his back. (I, 61–71)

These lines put Marlowe's homosexuality on display, as he clearly devotes far more detail to describing Leander’s skin and appearance than he does to describing Hero, whose description he mainly limits to her clothing. In another scene, Neptune abducts Leander, mistaking him for Ganymede:

For here the stately azure palace stood
Where kingly Neptune and his train abode
The lusty god embraced him, called him "Love,"
And swore he never should return to Jove. (II, 166–169)

In Elizabethan England, while it was common for men to have same-sex relationships with one another (sharing a bed or a kiss on the lips, even being physically intimate), homosexuality was generally looked down upon. Essentially, this was Marlowe's way of criticizing and mocking the idea of heterosexual love in romantic poetry at the time.

Marlowe's satirization of the Christian religion is also worth noting. In Marlowe's time, Protestantism was the main form of religion. While Queen Elizabeth I did not persecute practicing Catholics (the main opposing Christian sect and the religion practiced by Elizabeth's parents), certain laws kept the Church of England's religion strongly enforced.

A particular religious theme—although this is more subtle and does not appear in a specific scene—is extramarital relationships and breaking religious vows. Women in Elizabethan times were believed to be tainted with Eve's original sin and thus to have a constant desire for sex. Additionally, they were not allowed to engage sexually before marriage or during any acts of childbearing or childrearing. During religious holidays it was strictly prohibited as well, because women's sexual activities were strongly dictated by the church. Perhaps the fact that Hero is not married and has vowed to be chaste—yet breaks this vow by taking Leander as a lover—spoke to Marlowe through the confines of Elizabethan society.


Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 1, 2020
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