Christopher Marlowes Poems


Central Themes of The Passionate Shepherd to his Love and The Nymph’s Reply

April 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

The poems “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” by Sir William Raleigh, and “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe have the same central theme, that love and nature are beautiful but don’t last forever. Both authors use literary elements to support this central idea.

In “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”, Raleigh uses imagery and conflict to convey his central idea of love and nature are beautiful, but don’t last forever. In line 6 of the poem, the Nymph replies “When rivers rage and rocks grow cold”. This is an example of imagery and conflict at the same time. The nature won’t stay appealing forever. The leaves will wither away with winter, the rocks will be unused and covered in snow, and the river will rush by, moving too fast to be beautiful. The nymph could also be referencing the shepherd’s heart as the rocks, and the river as him, moving past her too fast, leaving her behind. This is an example of a metaphor, because it doesn’t use like or as in the phrase. His heart is the rock, because it grows cold and hard as time passes, and he is the river, getting over her and what drew him to her in the first place: beauty. Also, in lines 9 through 12, the nymph says, “The flowers do fade, and wanton fields, to wayward winter reckoning yields, a honey tongue, a heart of gall, It’s fancy’s spring, but sorrows fall”. This is an example of imagery and connects to the central idea. It connects to the central idea that love and nature are beautiful, but don’t last forever because just like the few lines above, nature’s beauty will fade, leaving the dark and cold of winter. In the 16th century, shepherds were known to lie to the nymphs to get female company on their journeys so they weren’t lonely. The “heart of gall” is referring to the shepherd and how his heart will turn bitter in time. The honey tongue is the sweet talking of the shepherd, trying to woo her to come with him. This is an example of conflict because the nymph knows what the shepherd is trying to do, and she’s rejecting him. Another example of imagery is in line 5: “Time drives the flock from field to fold”. The nymph knows that the sheep will move away from their field they reside in, and following the shepherd away from the view, so the couple can’t see them anymore. The nature isn’t beautiful anymore, and the love will eventually fade away.

In the poem “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” the central theme of nature and love as beautiful but ephemeral is connected to the poem by literary elements such as imagery and conflict. For example, “And we will sit upon the rocks and watch the shepherds feed their flocks,” (Marlowe, Lines 5-6) ties into the central theme because the scene won’t last long. The sheep move on, and the rocks get covered in snow, now unusable. This beautiful scene, just like the shepherd’s love for the nymph won’t last long. The seasons will change, and just like nature, their love will move on. An example of imagery is in lines 9 through 10. “And I will make thee beds of roses and a thousand fragrant posies”. This is an example of imagery and ties to the central idea because the bed of roses is what the shepherd sleeps on, so he will give all he has to the girl to make her happy. Sooner or later though, the roses will fade and turn brown, looking displeasing to the girl, just like the shepherd’s love for her. The love will disappear and turn non-existent. Lastly, another example of conflict is in line 15: “Fair lined slippers for the cold.” The shepherd is trying to woo the nymph with material goods, not telling her that he would keep her for the year, not letting her go for the winter. The shepherd would make beautiful and warm slippers hinting that he would keep her. He loves her, but mainly only for the company. He wouldn’t love her with all his heart, he just wants female compan

The theme of nature and love being beautiful but ephemeral is conveyed effectively by both Raleigh and Marlowe in these poems via common, important literary devices.

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An Explication of Lord Byron’s She Walks in Beauty and Christopher Marlowe’s The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships

April 16, 2019 by Essay Writer

On the afternoon of June 11, 1814, at the home of Lady Sitwell, George Gordon, Lord Byron, upon seeing his cousin Lady Anne Wilmot Horton in “a mourning dress of spangled black” (Leung 312), was so moved that by the next day he had written “She Walks in Beauty,” first published in Hebrew Melodies in 1815. Similarly, more than two centuries earlier, a young, radical poet from Canterbury named Christopher Marlowe published The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus which contains a poem inspired by “The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships,” namely Helen of Troy. As “idealized” women, Byron’s cousin Anne and Marlowe’s Helen stand as icons of love that reflect “days spent pondering the intricacies of adoration for hearts whose love is innocent” (Martin 25) through the use of symbols, both natural and subjective.In “She Walks in Beauty,” Byron utilizes numerous metaphors to describe the beauty of his cousin, a rather “prim and pretty” girl that “after a tumbler of brandy and a consequently bad night,” (Longford 71), Byron celebrated in two of his most entrancing lines–“She walks in beauty, like the night/Of cloudless climes and starry skies.” In essence, Byron is comparing her with the beauties of the natural world, for her loveliness is “cloudless” like the dark and starry night and her “aspect” or physicality is imbued with “all that’s best of dark and bright” which symbolizes her dual nature as a woman of varying temperaments. Yet Byron’s main focus in this poem is upon the woman’s head and face, where “the nameless grace. . . waves in every raven tress, being her black hair (a symbol of darkness) and the light softens her face amid “thoughts serenely sweet. . . ” (a symbol of brightness). Her face is also the “dwelling place” of pureness with “the soft cheeks (and) the winning smile which express not only her beauty but also her mortality” (McConnell 146). But the most telling aspect of “She Walks in Beauty” concerns the idealized woman’s soul which is “at peace with all below” (a symbol for darkness) and her heart which is “innocent,” a trait very important to Byron which he equates as a necessary component for true love and adoration.In “The Face of Helen” (“The face that launched a thousand ships”) as featured in The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, scene V.i, Marlowe “transcends sensual delight and Helen becomes the symbol of . . . pleasure. . . the acme of physical delight” (Wright xxii). With “the face that launched a thousand ships,” a reference to the Greek invasion of Troy, and the one that “burnt the topless towers of Ilium” or the high fortified walls of the city, Marlowe, like Lord Byron, uses numerous metaphors to describe Helen’s beauty via natural symbols and with a focus on her face. Her lips are most important to him, for “heaven is in these lips” and “all is dross that is not Helena” which infers that compared to Helen all else is meaningless. Marlowe then declares that for Helen’s love he will sack Wittenberg “instead of Troy” and struggle “with weak Menelaus,” Helen’s Greek husband, and then “wound Achilles in the heel,” a reference to the Greek hero’s only vulnerable spot on his body, much like Marlowe’s heart that is smitten with his love for Helen.Marlowe also describes Helen’s beauty as “fairer than the evening air” and “clad in the beauty of a thousand stars” which like Byron’s cousin Lady Anne symbolizes her dual nature as one who reflects darkness and brightness. The poet also states that Helen’s beauty is brighter “than flaming Jupiter,” a reference to “the God of Heaven who loved Semele and consumed her with thunder and lightning” (Barnet 93). Since Helen is also “more lovely than the monarch of the sky,” a possible metaphor for Phoebus, the sun god, the poet wishes to be in the “azure” arms of Arethusa, a nymph “greatly loved by Jupiter for her beauty as reflected in the blue waters of the Hellespont” ( Harmon 258). Finally, the poet declares that “none but (Helen) shalt be my paramour!” or a greatly loved and adored woman who is far above all else on Earth and in the Heavens.In his epic poem “Hero and Leander,” Christopher Marlowe puts forth a vital question to his readers–“Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?” (Marlowe’s Poems 254), a declaration that surely reflects Marlowe’s adoration for his Helen of Troy and also Lord Byron’s “first sight” of his cousin Lady Anne in her mourning dress. Thus, “She Walks in Beauty” and “The Face of Helen” are more than mere love poems, for they express internal and external forces related to the physical beauty of the women as well as their interior strengths via symbols that elevate their idealized states.SOURCES CITEDBarnet, Sylvan, ed. & intro. Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. New York: Penquin Classics, 1969.Harmon, William, ed. The Classic Hundred Poems. 2nd. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.Leung, Mathew. The Poetry of Byron. (Preface). New York: Macmillan, 1881.Longford, Elizabeth. The Life of Byron. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1976.Martin, L. C. Byron’s Lyrics. Great Britain: University of Nottingham, 1948. —. ed. Marlowe’s Poems. New York: Gordian Press, 1966.McConnell, Frank D., ed. Byron’s Poetry: Authoritative Texts, Letters and Journals. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1978.Wright, Louis B., ed. et al. The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus. New York: Washington Square Press, 1975.

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Queerness as Otherness

February 1, 2019 by Essay Writer

The gods as depicted in Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander are beings that exist outside of the realm of morality, living near humans but bound by separate rules and ideas. This is especially true in relation to sexuality, and the senses of morality that humans cloak such in. In Marlowe’s poem, Neptune is the only character who attempts to actively participate in homosexuality, and though Leander resists his advances, he does so without condemnation. As discussed in Andrew Bennett and Christopher Royle’s chapter on queer theory, the term “queer” evolved from senses of morality, senses that are not applicable to or by the gods in the poem. By discussing how the term queer has evolved throughout time and relating it to Neptune’s advances toward Leander, Marlowe’s Hero and Leander is not queer because it exists in a context where queerness as homosexuality does not equate to something marginal and abnormal.

As Bennett and Royle outline, “queer” is a word rooted in divisiveness, rooted in creating and maintaining a sense of otherness. They write that the definition of the word queer is one which “includes three apparently unrelated senses for the ‘same’ word – clustering around ideas of strangeness, sickness, and homosexuality” (Bennett and Royle 216). Human notions of morality in regard to sexuality revolve around ideas of what is and is not normal, and therefore what is and is not desirable, something to be either encouraged or discouraged. While it is ironic and disheartening that labeling in order to separate and alienate is widely considered a moral act, it is not a view shared by the gods, as portrayed in Marlowe’s poem. The gods are described as beings that exist without abiding by any moral code, and are shown as doing horrible things; they commit rape, incest, adultery, murder, and they just generally cause harm, with the floor of Venus’s temple depicting these things.

Regardless of what actions they commit however, they are still the gods, they are still the almighty, all-powerful beings who delineate what is and is not acceptable. Neptune is an example of this. His advances towards Leander are aggressive and unwanted, and nearly result in Leander’s drowning. His actions, though Leander finds them frightening, are not inconsistent with the attitudes of the gods, namely, that they can and will do whatever pleases them, on any given whim. Morality can have no part in this, because it is uniquely human; no other species are subjected to it, including the gods. Just as it is unlikely that Venus takes right and wrong into account when she sleeps with a married man, or god, Neptune does not stop to consider that intimacy with Leander, as a fellow male, could be construed by human subjects as immoral. It is simply a context that does not exist in Marlowe’s Hero and Leander, and therefore labeling the poem “queer” would be inaccurate, because regardless of the perceptions of audiences, and the personal biases they bring with them, queerness as otherness, as something “‘odd’ or ‘singular’” is not present in the poem (216). Though Leander resists Neptune’s advances, he does so without expressing judgment. He is frightened not because of the obvious homosexual nature of the encounter, but because Neptune’s enthusiasm nearly drowns him, before he reaches Hero’s tower. When Leander is trying to escape the amorous clutches of the god, he cries out “O let me visit Hero ere I die” (Line 662). He speaks not in anger or disgust, as would be expected and appropriate if he were morally aghast at Neptune’s homosexual advances, but in desperation, because he does not want to die, especially before visiting Hero. When Neptune goes on to kiss and touch and lustfully gaze upon Leander, speaking of love, Leander replies “you are deceived; I am no woman, I” (676). While this line is often read as dubious, because instead of claiming his love for Hero to fend off Neptune, he says that he is not a woman, and Neptune must be confused. While this is seemingly indicative of Leander’s revealing of ill judgment towards “queerness”, and that Leander believes heterosexuality to be superior, or more moral and normal, than homosexuality, it seems more likely that it is simply rather just a sign of Leander’s sexual innocence.

The poem has already made clear that Leander is a virgin with no sexual experience, despite all the lustful appreciation directed towards him. Leander does not fully understand what it means to be with a woman, as is shown at the end of the poem, when he does not understand the mechanics of consummation – it stands to reason that Leander would not have much insight towards being with a man. As such, it seems much more probable that rather than decrying Neptune for for wanting to have sex with him (sex being something Leander only really understands, at this moment, as strong urges and desire, as opposed to understanding the act itself), Leander is genuinely unaware of what is going on. Leander is not denouncing Neptune for being “queer” but instead expressing his sincere confusion, and when Neptune’s hand is injured Leander is sorrowful; if Leander were in moral outrage at Neptune’s “queerness”, he would not pity the god, but rather feel that his wound is justified and deserved. He does not marginalize the god, or regard him with any of the negatives Bennett and Royle outline as being the foundations of the evolution of the word “queer”, because the context necessary for those notions of queer is not existent in the poem.

In his essay “Hero and Leander: The Sense of an Ending” W. L. Godshalk says that the characters of Hero and Leander are each deeply grounded in their individual senses of morality. He says that this is in contrast to the obvious indifference of the gods towards notions of right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, writing that: “The gods are totally uninhibited; they have no conscience, no sense of sexual taboo. Hero and Leander just as surely do… [they are] moral creatures who are not in tune with the amoral universe in which they exist” (Godshalk 303). As evidence of Leander’s sense of morality, Godshalk discusses the interaction between him and Neptune and Leander’s reaction to the god’s sexual advances, saying that when he cries out “you are deceived; I am no woman, I” he is revealing his homophobia (676). Godshalk arrives at this reading because Leander states his status as a male rather than his status as being in love with Hero, saying Leander “rejects Neptune’s advances in terms of taboo against homosexuality” (306). Essentially, Godshalk is saying that Leander prescribes to the definition of queer as outlined by Bennett and Royle, where queerness equates to otherness, abnormality, and defectiveness. Again, however, it seems more likely that Leander genuinely does not understand Neptune’s intentions, and even if he did, his lack of reciprocation would amount to the very human inability to comprehend the feelings and desires of others when he himself does not hold them. Additionally, throughout the poem Leander exhibits no other signs of a sense of morality – Godshalk himself admits that it is curious and ironic that Leander is “not at all morally troubled by his seduction of a young virgin” (306). This indifference towards his taking of the chastity that Hero has so carefully cultivated and preserved, however ironically given that she is a priestess of Venus, again speaks to Leander’s overall sense of sexual ignorance, ignorance which encompasses any potential negative understandings of “queerness.”

To conclude, “queer” is a term identified by Bennett and Royle as being a word whose evolution is derived from something inherently negative, rooted in divisiveness, to deliberately separate people whose sexual habits are perceived as normal, and those who are perceived as abnormal. “Queer” is an intentionally adversarial term. While homosexuality and homosociality are present in the poem, they are not shown in a way that any characters find unacceptable or repulsive or immoral, instead only being portrayed as misunderstood. Leander is clearly outlined as being sexually inexperienced, so it stands to reason that he would not fully comprehend Neptune’s amorous advances. The gods are understood to be amoral and androgynous, characteristics they are not condemned for in the poem; rather, the only sexual condemnation in the poem is Hero’s towards herself and her heterosexual longings, which speaks only to the sexual taboos forced upon women, instead of upon male-on-male relations. Due to the lack of marginality and otherness that is required in order to constitute “queerness” as Bennett and Royle define it, Marlowe’s poem is not “queer” because the necessary context for such is absent.

Works Cited

Bennett, Andrew, and Royle, Nicholas. An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory. 4th ed,. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education, 2009.

Godshalk, W.L. “Hero and Leander: The Sense of an Ending.” A Poet and a filthy Play-maker, New Essays on Christopher Marlowe, edited by Kenneth Friedenreich, Roma Gill, and Constance B. Kuriyama, AMS Press, Inc, 1988, pp. 293-314.

Marlowe, Christopher. Hero and Leander. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 9th ed., edited by Stephen Greenblatt, et al., Norton, 2012, pp. 510-30.

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Contradiction, Comedy, and Sympathy in Marlowe’s ‘Hero and Leander’

January 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander challenges 16th century Christian teaching. Christian teaching on desire stems from Thomas Aquinas’ Natural Law which is a set of moral laws intended to identify God’s purpose for human life. One of the five primary precepts states that the main purpose of sex is to procreate. Therefore, according to Natural Law, Hero and Leander’s sexual relationship contradicts God’s intention for humanity. Through exploring the immaturity of the characters’ relationship, the poem dissuades the reader from condemning the protagonists’ actions by inviting sympathy for them through comedy. The protagonists are presented as young people with a limited view of desire rather than sinners who deliberately contradict God’s word.

The only expressions of desire that Hero is aware of are extremes, either lust or coyness. This is immediately obvious when she is described as ‘Venus’ nun’ (45). The contradiction here is clear. As the Goddess of love, Venus embodies desire, fertility and sex whereas the nun embodies purity and chastity. Kocher notes that ‘Venus’ nun’ was Elizabethan slang for prostitute which further enhances the extremes Hero represents, her existence is a contradiction because she is both nun and prostitute (p295). This is key in evoking sympathy for Hero as it shows that her understanding of desire is limited. She is not a sinner for desiring Leander, as traditional Christian teaching would suggest. Indeed she is confused by Leander’s interest, usually disapproving of the men who fall at her feet, waiting the judgement ‘of her scornful eyes’. When Leander openly asks her to bed, saying ‘we human creatures should enjoy that bliss’ (254) she bursts into tears, ‘a stream of liquid pearl’ (297) falls down her face . She is caught between what she knows of chastity as a nun and the physical attraction she naturally feels for Leander. Leander’s view of love and women is limited. He is aware of his feelings for Hero but sees women as objects; ‘strings to be tuned’ and ‘vessels to be kept shiny’. He speaks boldly of sex and virginity, asking Hero ‘Wilt thou live single still? One shalt thou be, Though never-singling Hymen couple thee’ (257-258) but has no idea how to consummate. This lack of information means he cannot realise his sexual desire in a meaningful way either. Douglas Bush criticizes the poem for its general lack of depth and purity in its depiction of love (p130-137). Although this may seem to be the case, this lack of depth is clearly a deliberate act. Hero and Leander have a view of desire that leaves them unable to confront their sexual urges in a meaningful way and so by extension their sexual relationship will lack depth. The lovers are unable to have a productive sexual relationship because they have such a limited understanding of sexuality. By highlighting this Marlowe encourages sympathy for the lovers rather than condemnation.

The comedic nature of the poem encourages us to laugh at the lovers and sympathise with them. Walsh notes that ‘although aware of the lover’s shortcomings we are both amused and sympathetic’ (p42). An example of this comedy can be seen in Neptune’s pursuit of Leander. We are told that ‘the lusty God embraced him, called him love and swore he never should return to Jove’ (167-168) and Leander replies ‘I am no women, I’ (192). The comedy comes from Neptune’s mistake over Leander’s gender and shows the reader that the piece is intended to be humorous. The consummation between the protagonists is also comic. Leander is said to cling to her ‘so about that mermaid like onto the floor she slid’ (314-315). The image of a mermaid is incongruous with romance and far from the impressive rhetoric Leander uses to convince Hero to have sex with him. This adds to the humour of the scene and also shows that their act of passion is not full of lust but youthful and fumbling. The comedy humanizes the lovers and evokes the reader’s sympathy for them. As Walsh notes, ‘Marlowe enjoys their fumbling pursuit of sex’ (p50) and indeed the humour encourages the reader to see their sex as a youthful expression of desire, undeserving of punishment.

Marlowe’s version of the poem does not end in death, unlike Museaus’ original. Omitting the known ending serves a dual purpose. It avoids casting a moral judgement on the behaviour of the protagonists but it also symbolises the lack of information the lovers have on sexual desire from the prevailing Christian narrative and because they are so young. The ending of Museus’ poem would have been known by all so the decision to end with ‘desunt nonnulla’ is poignant as it is not simply changing a narrative, but changing a narrative that would have been ubiquitous. This reflects the challenge the poem poses to the pervasive nature of Christianity and its condemnation of the lover’s desire. The ending of the poem is unlike the digressive story of Mercury (386-484) which operates conventionally according to cause and effect and includes the conventional ending (Haber, P378). This is interesting as it demonstrates that passion should not necessarily result in death as Christianity would suggest. Haber points out that ‘the stability of the desired end is further undermined in Leander’s homoerotic encounter with Neptune (p380). In this encounter we are shown an alternate depiction of desire that is clearly condemned in Christian teaching, Leviticus states that ‘man shall not lie with man as he does with woman’ (Leviticus 18.22). Although homosexual desire is not explicitly endorsed in the poem, Neptune’s attraction to Leander is successful in showing that alternate forms of desire exist which are not socially conventional or encouraged. The subversions of expected endings are crucial in the poem’s attempt to undermine traditional narratives on desire and promote sympathy for the protagonists.

It is clear that traditional understanding of desire as either being lustful and sinful, or chaste (unless within marriage), as suggested by Christian teaching, leaves the lovers confused and uneducated in desire. Through the use of comedy, Marlowe evokes sympathy for the lovers and avoids passing moral judgement on their actions by omitting the known ending. While the poem does not explicitly endorse extra-marital relations, it does suggest that the protagonists have a limited understanding of desire and should not be condemned to die for their acts.


Bush, Douglas. Mythology And The Renaissance Tradition In English Poetry. W.W. Norton, 1963, pp. 130-137.

Haber, Judith. “‘True-Loves Blood’: Narrative and Desire in ‘Hero and Leander.’” English Literary Renaissance, vol. 28, no. 3, 1998, pp. 372–386. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Kocher, Paul Harold, and Christopher Marlowe. Christopher Marlow, Individualist. (Reprinted From The University Of Toronto Quarterly.). 1948.

Marlowe, Christopher, and Stephen Orgel. The Complete Poems And Translations [Of] Christopher Marlowe. Penguin, 1979, pp. 3-27.

The King James Study Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008.

Walsh, William P. “Sexual Discovery and Renaissance Morality in Marlowe’s ‘Hero and Leander.’” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 12, no. 1, 1972, pp. 33–54. JSTOR, JSTOR,

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