THE ESSENTIALLY LOVELESS WORLD PORTRAYED IN EDWARD U SEEMS in some ways an inevitable culmination of Marlowe’s artistic vision. Indeed, in what was probably his final work he gives hardly a more flattering picture of love: “Love is not full of pity (as men say) / But deaf and cruel where he means to prey” (Hero and Leander 2.287–88); Leander preys on Hero presumably as a prelude to being preyed on (and drowned, dissolved) by Neptune. With cruel honesty, Marlowe identifies a deep and dark will to power—neither specifically hetero- or homosexual—that lurks in the heart of sexual “love” and vitiates its lovingness. In the poem the power of brutish desire overwhelms the civilizing tendency of art; in Venus’s temple
… you see the gods in sundry shapes,
Committing heady riots, incest, rapes:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Jove slyly stealing from his sister’s bed,
To dally with Idalian Ganymede,
Or for his love Europa bellowing loud,
Or tumbling with the Rainbow in a cloud;
Blood-quaffing Mars, heaving the iron net
Which limping Vulcan and his Cyclops set;
Love kindling fire, to burn such towns as Troy… .
It would be wrong, however, to see the poem as simply a celebration of this kind of uncontrolled desire. In spite of its notorious complexity of tone, Hero and Leander seems to reflect a new kind of detachment on Marlowe’s part, a sardonic maturity. Most intriguing psychologically is that the poem provides one fleeting image of a mature and kindly father:
Leander’s father knew where he had been,
And for the same mildly rebuked his son,
Thinking to quench the sparkles new begun.