Other Literary Forms
Christopher Marlowe translated Lucan’s Bellum civile (60-65 c.e.) as Pharsalia (1600) and Ovid’s Amores (c. 20 b.c.e.) as Elegies (1595-1600) while still attending Cambridge (c. 1584-1587). The renderings of the Elegies are notable for their imaginative liveliness and rhetorical strength. They provide as well the earliest examples of the heroic couplet in English. Hero and Leander (1598), a long, erotic poem composed before 1593, is also indebted to Ovid. It is the best narrative of a group that includes William Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis (1593) and John Marston’s The Metamorphosis of Pigmalion’s Image (1598). The vogue for these Ovidian epyllions lasted for more than a decade, and Marlowe’s reputation as a poet was confirmed on the basis of his contribution. He completed only the first two sestiads before his death, after which George Chapman continued and finished the poem. Marlowe’s brilliant heroic couplets create a world, in Eugene Ruoff’s words, of “moonlight and mushrooms”; his lovers are the idealized figures of pastoral works, chanting lush and sensual hymns or laments. A sophisticated narrator—viewed by most critics as representing Marlowe’s satiric viewpoint—manages to balance the sentimentalism of the lovers, giving the poem an ironic quality that is sustained throughout. This tone, however, is not a feature of Marlowe’s famous lyric, “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” First published in an anthology entitled The Passionate Pilgrim (1599), the poem is a beautiful evocation of the attractions of the pastoral world, a place where “melodious birds sing madrigals.” Technically called an “invitation,” “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” became an extremely popular idyll and was often imitated or parodied by other writers. One of the most intriguing responses, “The Nymph’s Reply,” was composed by Sir Walter Raleigh and published in The Passionate Pilgrim. Its worldly, skeptical attitude offers a contrast to the exuberance of Marlowe’s lyric. Without a doubt, this pastoral piece, along with Hero and Leander, would have ensured Marlowe’s reputation as a major literary figure even if he had never written a work intended for the stage.