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Is Marlowe's 'hero And Leander' A Complete Poem?

1626 words - 7 pages

Hero and Leander is conventionally regarded as a fragmented poem. Many critics hold the view that Marlowe never actually finished his poem, but left it incomplete at his death. This view is supported by the existence of two contemporary continuations of Marlowe's work. It seems self-evident that any poem that can be completed must in itself be incomplete. However other critics, such as Marion Campbell have challenged this inference:"We should treat with caution the assumption that Marlowe's poem is incomplete, if this is based on no more than a logical inference from the fact that it was 'completed' by another poet."As Campbell rightly asserts, if we are to accept the view that Marlowe's work was left unfinished, we must find evidence for this within the poem itself. However, in this essay, I aim to demonstrate that a close scrutiny of his work suggests that the ending Marlowe left us with is a perfectly plausible, if not entirely appropriate conclusion, in light of the poem's themes and tone.One of the main ways critics have regarded Marlowe'sHero and Leander to be unfinished is in relation to its original source. Marlowe took his basic story from the fifth century narrative poem of Musaeus, The Grammarian. However, Marlowe only recounts a portion of this story. Indeed, Musaeus' original tale ends in tragedy. Leander drowns swimming the Hellespont when the signal torch, lit by Hero, is extinguished by a strong wind. The next morning, Leander's body is washed up on the shore, where it is recognised by Hero from the window of her tower. In despair at the loss of her lover, Hero casts herself down from this great height into the sea, and so ends her own life too. However, there is no such a tragic conclusion to Marlowe's interpretation. The poem ends abruptly, after the lovers have consummated their relationship, with the ambiguous phrase "Desunt nonnulla", "some things are lacking." It is clear from his completion of the poem, that George Chapman believed that Marlowe had intended to follow this classical storyline to its tragic conclusion. Indeed, there is some internal evidence that Marlowe intended his poem to end tragically. This is hinted at by the foreboding the poem's first line: "On Hellespont, guilty of true love's blood." (1), and is also felt when the narrator curses the day and hour on which Hero and Leander "unhappily" met (131-134). Indeed, Marlowe actually acknowledges the traditional source of his story, when he speaks of Leander: "Whose tragedy divine Musaeus sung" (52). Also, certain plots and themes are introduced, but then not seen through to a conclusion. For example, Marlowe sets up the divine machinery of the vengeful Destinies and the rejected Neptune. We may therefore infer that Marlowe intended to finish the poem with Neptune taking revenge on Leander for his rejection, thus the drowning of Leander would conform to Musaeus' original tale. However Campbell argues that these forebodings of tragedy are only interpreted as...

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