Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

Hero and Leander: The Making of an Author

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

Hero and Leander: The Making of an Author

Article excerpt

1598: a year in the afterlife of Christopher Marlowe

1598 was a key year in the afterlife of Christopher Marlowe. It was the year in which his two poetic works adapted from classical texts, Ovid's Elegies (bound with John Davies's Satyres and Epigrammes) and Hero and Leander, were published for the first time. The latter was a free adaptation of a legend featuring in Ovid's Heroides (letters XVIII and XIX) and in a piece by the poet Musaeus, whom early modern Europe thought was Orpheus's contemporary but who was in fact a fifth-century-CE grammarian. Marlowe's poem was entered in the Stationers' Register on 28 September 1593 (four months after Marlowe's death) but was not published - if it was, no copy of this first edition has survived - yet it probably circulated in manuscript form among Marlowe's friends and fellow-poets, and in 1598 it elicited not only one, but two continuations after Edward Blount had appended two Latin words, Desunt nonnulla ('Something is lacking'), to his edition.1 George Chapman's continuation was published by Paul Linley, together with Marlowe's poem, just a few months after Blount's edition,2 while Henry Petowe's sequel was published separately and quickly forgotten.3 The editorial puzzle involving Blount and Linley was analysed by W. W. Greg in 1944, with the suggestion that it may have been the very existence (or prospect) of Chapman's continuation that prompted Blount to publish Marlowe's lines with an indication of their unfinished status before transferring the copyright to Linley.4

While Greg's intuition gives a clue as to why Blount should have wanted to publish the poem in 1598, it only shifts the problem of why 1598 should be a significant year onto Chapman and Linley. I would like to argue that in the aftermath of Marlowe's death, his contemporaries, former rivals or quondam collaborators, constructed an image of 'Marlowe' that drew on features of his suspicious death, as well as on characteristics of Hero and Leander, and that this construction was starting to be threatened in print. In Palladis Tamia, Francis Meres's review of his contemporaries published in 1598, Marlowe is praised as a 'scholar';5 but as 'an Epicure, and an Atheist,' he is damned:

our tragicall Poet Marlow for his Epicurisme and Athiesme had a tragicall death; you may read of this Marlow more at large in the Theatre of Gods judgments, in the 25. Chapter entreating of Epicures and Atheists.

[...] Christopher Marlow was stabd to death by a bawdy Serving-man, a rivall of his in his lewde love.6

Meres is referring to a book published a year earlier and ominously titled The theatre of Gods judgements. In this translation of Jean de Chassanion's Histoires memorables des grans et merveilleux jugemens et punitions de Dieu, Thomas Beard adds examples of authors who suffered God's wrathful 'judgments' for their 'atheisme and impiety,' among whom 'one of our owne nation, of fresh and late memory, called Marlin, by profession a scholler, brought up from his youth in the Universitie of Cambridge, but by practice a play-maker, and a Poet of scurrilitie'.7 Beard's judgment is much more detrimental to Marlowe's memory than Meres's because it separates Marlowe's 'scholarship' from his poetic ability, thus making the poet a vice-monger.8 I take the Blount-Linley-Chapman 1598 editorial venture to be a counter-attack against such portrayals of Marlowe. In this article, I will try to show how Linley's 1598 edition of Hero and Leander: begun by Christopher Marloe; and finished by George Chapman can help us understand key features of Marlovian authorship, in particular the link between man, author and narrator/speaker. I will start by analysing Marlowe's dialectic of imitation in Hero and Leander, which involves both a reverence for authority and a tendency to submit all authorities to the brush of parody, in order to argue then that this form of reverent parody9 is precisely the treatment that his fellow-poets apply to the poem itself in the aftermath of Marlowe's death. …

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