Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

Marlowe's Amplification of Musaeus in Hero and Leander

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

Marlowe's Amplification of Musaeus in Hero and Leander

Article excerpt

Musaeus's Hero and Leander, as Gordon Braden has shown, is 'indisputably the principal and direct source' of Marlowe's poem, and as T. W. Baldwin has demonstrated, Marlowe read Musaeus in Greek, very likely using the edition that he had studied in grammar school.1 Braden concludes that the only ancillary sources of any importance are Ovidian: 'the Heroides, apparently in Tuberville's translation, and the Amores, in Marlowe's own translation'.2 Suggestions have been made concerning Marlowe's possible debts to other sixteenth-century adaptations of Hero and Leander, and surely Marlowe must have been aware of at least some of these works. However, Braden's examination of these other adaptations reveals no compelling parallels that cannot 'be explained without trouble in terms of general Renaissance narrative practice'.3

This article explores the way in which Marlowe's amplification of details of plot and language from the Hero and Leander of Musaeus transforms his own Hero and Leander into a poem which is funnier, psychologically richer, and attuned to a much different vision of the human condition than was its source.4 It will be seen that these amplifications of Musaeus cluster particularly around the role played by the narrator, the possibility of choice in love, the appearance and beauty of Hero and Leander, their sexual immaturity and Hero's seduction, and the consummation of their affair. The study concludes with the suggestion that looking closely at Marlowe's use of this rhetorical strategy offers a resolution of the long-standing debate over whether or not Hero and Leander is a fragment or a finished poem

Marlowe points directly to his primary source early in Hero and Leander, when he reminds the reader that Leander's tragedy had been sung by the divine Musaeus (52). Such a direct reference not only identifies his source, but it invites comparison. Marlowe, in effect, asks the reader to weigh his achievement vis-à-vis his predecessor's achievement, and, as Roma Gill observes, from the moment when Marlowe first turns to the description of Hero, he 'almost seems to enter into competition with the Greek writer'.5 In William P. Weaver's analysis, the very placement of the reference to Musaeus between two of Marlowe's long embellishments, is designed 'to draw attention to the greater abundance of Marlowe's imitation - its copia, or fullness of discourse'.6 Robert Logan similarly concludes that Marlowe intends the comparison to reveal 'how much richer Marlowe's poem is, not only in its greater thematic import but in its more sophisticated artistry'.7 With 818 lines, Marlowe's poem is significantly longer than the 343 lines of Musaeus's Hero and Leander. Moreover, Marlowe's epyllion actually builds upon only 268 of Musaeus's lines, ignoring the opening 15-line invocation of the muse and making little use of the 70 lines that follow the lovers' first night together. The greater length of Marlowe's poem derives in part from his own creative mythopoesis: he incorporates into the narrative an etiological myth purporting to explain academic poverty as well as the story of the naive Leander's encounter with the enamored Neptune. However, an important part of the greater length of Marlowe's poem reflects his use of amplification. Indeed, as Rosamund Tuve concludes in her discussion of Marlowe's imagery, 'most of his description turns out to be amplification'.8 Weaver urges that recent scholarly concern with the history of the book 'presents a critical opportunity to revisit and refine theoretical studies of imitation'.9 Doing so, he argues, reveals Marlowe's deep interest 'in the types of eloquence practiced in the Elizabethan grammar schools'.10 He finds that Marlowe's adaptation of Musaeus 'demonstrates the same strategy found in the mock-heroic amplification of a fable; he uses two formal elements for amplification: description and declamation'.11 Weaver also discerns that 'The sophistical speeches of Leander are an important part of Marlowe's amplification of Musaeus'. …

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