Digressions in Venus and Adonis and Hero and Leander
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Digressions in Venus and Adonis and Hero and Leander
The poems Venus & Adonis and Hero & Leander have many similarities. Venus & Adonis, written by William Shakespeare (1593), is the story of lovesick Venus and innocent Adonis. Venus attempts to convince Adonis to have intimate relations with her. In the poem Hero & Leander, written by Christopher Marlowe (1598), Leander convinces the beautiful Hero to consummate their relationship despite her arguments. Another similarity of the two works is the digressions within the poems. In V&A, the digression involves two horses that are overcome by lust and eventually run off to mate in the woods. The digression in Hero & Leander is also sexual in nature. It involves Neptune attempting to seduce Leander. The digressions in V&A and Hero & Leander have parallel references to the work as a whole. The digressions also have similar qualities that indicate the influence of Shakespeare on Marlowe.
The digression in Venus & Adonis occurs during the first one third of the poem. Shakespeare chooses to have the horses mirror the behavior of Venus and Adonis. The stallion, Adonis’ horse, mimics the actions of Venus. The stallion is the aggressor in the relationship; it is he who approaches the jennet. He shows off his strength and beauty by prancing and stamping on the ground. After his displays of strength and power the stallion, “looks upon his love, and neighs unto her” (Shakespeare 41). It is clear that the horse is entreating the jennet to submit to him sexually.
When Shakespeare describes the stallion he states that, “this horse excel a common one” (293). This quote directly relates the horse to Venus. The reader knows that Venus is of uncommon status, she is a god and therefore is immortal. Shakespeare uses this knowledge to link the two characters. Venus is also very aggressive in her relationship with Adonis. Shakespeare humorously describes the way Venus demonstrates her strength in a way similar to the stallion. Venus takes, “over one arm the lusty courser’s rein, Under the other her tender boy” (31-32). Venus is attempting to use strength to get her love, the way the stallion used his strength. Shakespeare is making a reference to how Venus’ is taking what is customarily the male role.
The actions of the jennet in the digression can be compared to the actions of Adonis in the poem.
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The jennet, when approached by the stallion, “puts on outward strangeness, seems unkind: spurns his love, and scorns the heat he feels” (310-311). Shakespeare uses similar terms to describe Adonis’ feelings towards Venus. His feelings are described in the first four lines of the play, “ Hunting he lov’d, but love he laugh’d to scorn” (4). These two lines indicate the direct connection between the stallion and Adonis in the poem.
There are several themes in the digression that parallels the poem as a whole. Adonis’ resistance to Venus is increasing her passion just as the jennet resisting the stallion increases his passion. The stallion after being rejected by the jennet he “stamps and bites the poor flies in his fume/he was enrag’d” (316-317). After Venus embraces Adonis, his anger increases his beauty. “Pure shame and aw’d resistance made him fret, which bred more beauty in his angry eyes” (69-70). Shakespeare implies to the reader, through the parallelism in the digression, that Adonis will eventually relent to Venus as the jennet relents to the stallion.
The digression in the poem Hero & Leander also parallels poem as a whole. The actions of Neptune in the digression can be equated to the actions of Leader, outside of the digression. Throughout the poem, Leander is entreating Hero to come to his bed. She continually resists his advances stating that she has vowed her chastity to Venus. He proceeds to “flatter, entreat, promise, protest, and swear” (Marlowe 268) in order to win her love. Similarly during the digression, Neptune fights to win the love of Leander. He follows him through the water and he, “watch’d his arms, and as they opened wide, at every stroke betwixt them would he slide, and steal a kiss, and then run out and dance…” (183-185). Neptune entreats Leader just as Leander entreats Hero. This comparison gives the reader an indication of what Marlowe may have been planning for the conclusion of the work. In the digression Neptune hurts himself out of love for Leander. It is possible that the poem would have ended in Leander hurting himself for the love of Hero.
In the Hero & Leander digression, Leander’s actions compare to the actions of Hero outside of the digression. Hero attempts to hold on to her chastity, in spite of the fact that she loved Leander. Hero pleads to Venus to help her maintain this chastity in spite of Leander but “Cupid beats down her prayers with his wings; her vows above the empty air he flings” (369-370). During the digression, Leander pleads to Thetis to help him escape the seduction of Neptune. “That now should shine on Thetis’ glassy bower/O! that these tardy arms of mine were wings” (203-205). Hero attempts to reject the advances of Leander just as Leander attempts to reject the advances of Neptune.
The digressions in V&A and Hero & Leander have many similar characteristics. Both digressions are sexual in nature. In V&A, the digression describes the courtship of two horses. The digression in Hero & Leander describes Neptune's desire for Leander. Both digressions also have a component of anger. In V&A, Adonis so enraged at his horse for his lusty actions that he bans “his boist’rous and unruly beast” (Shakespeare 26). Neptune, in Hero & Leander, becomes so enraged at Leander’s rejection of him that he almost kills him. “And in his heart revenging malice bare he flung at him his mace…” (Marlowe 208-209).
Not only do the two digressions possess many similar characteristics, but also the reader can find many references to V&A in Marlowe’s Hero & Leander. In line 172 of Hero & Leander, Neptune “mounted up, intending to have kiss’d him.” This is a direct reference to the boar attempting to kiss Adonis in V&A. Another reference to a theme in V&A occurs fourteen lines before the digression in Hero & Leander: “But love resisted once, grows more passionate.” In the digression in V&A, the stallion grows more passionate when he is rejected by the jennet, just as Venus grows more passionate when rejected by Adonis.
The stallion in V&A can also be directly compared to Neptune in Hero & Leander. Both are angered at the rejection of their love. The stallion, “stamps, and bites the poor flies in his fume/ he was enrag’d” (Shakespeare 316-317). When Neptune is rejected he sends out his mace to kill Leander for his offense. Both were also assuaged by a gentle response from the object of their affection.
The actions of the jennet can also be compared to the actions of Leander in the Hero & Leander digression. The jennet teases the stallion with her lusty gaze. Similarly, Leander teases Neptune by jumping into the water naked. In addition to this, both Leander and the jennet are moved to kindness by anger and pain. When the stallion becomes angered, the jennet “grew kinder and his fury was assuag’d” (318). Leander also responds with pity after Neptune’s rage. This causes the god to believe himself to be beloved by Leander (Marlowe 220).
The two gods in these works can also be compared. Both Venus, in V&A, and Neptune, in the Hero & Leander digression, are lusty and passionate. Both gods are rejected and angered by the object of their affection. In addition to this, both Shakespeare and Marlowe refer to the immortal in their respective works as a murderous creature. In V&A, Venus “murders” Adonis’ rejection with a kiss (Shakespeare 54). In Hero & Leander, Neptune almost kills Leander twice, once by accident and once in anger. The similarities and the parallelism between the two works indicate Shakespeare’s influence on Marlowe’s writing, particularly the writing of his digressions. The digressions in V&A and Hero & Leander add a great deal to the story because of their comparative features. If the reader can understand the relationship between the digression and the poem as a whole, the reader can come to a better understanding of the work.. The digressions directly parallel the action in the poem. The two compared digressions have many similar characteristics, these characteristics included similarities in the digressions and references to V&A throughout Hero & Leander.
Clark, Sandra, ed. Amorous Rites: Elizabethan Erotic Narrative Verse. London: Dent, 1994.
Marlowe, Christopher. Hero and Leander. Rpt. in Clark. 3-39.
Shakespeare, William. Venus and Adonis. Rpt. in Clark. 31-70.
Q: The work Marlowe translated, Amores by the Classical Latin poet Ovid, is a series of a highly stylized form of elegy particular to Ovid's era. Does Ovid's style and meaning translate to Marlowe's time? What, if anything, did Marlowe add to Amores, to make it his own?
A: Ovid's style in Latin is unreproducible in Marlowe's Elizabethan English, but Marlowe keeps much of Ovid's meter and preserves the alternately playful, mocking, and serious tones that Ovid used. Marlowe occasionally mistranslated, and misunderstood some obscure Classical customs, but he kept the essential spirit of the piece and did not attempt to convert Amores into a piece of typically Elizabethan poetry.
Q: Discuss Marlowe's ideas about love and sexuality. Does Marlowe's presumed homosexuality (and it is by no means certain) color his writing about romantic love in his poems? Does Marlowe's choice of classical lovers in his poems (Hero and Leander, Corinna and her lover) show his feelings about sexual relationships between men and women?
A: Marlowe's portrayals of romantic love are extremely complicated, and often shown to point out flaws within the mores of the day. Both couples, Hero and Leander and Corinna and her lover, conduct love affairs of an unconventional kind, and Marlowe enjoys looking at expressions of physical love that are irregular or outside the norm.
Q: What is the point of the love affair between Corinna and the poet? Was this a romantic love in the tradition of European courtly (idealized) love, or was it something different?
A: Ovid's story of the married Corinna and her lover is entirely Roman in its outlook. It is realistic and cynical on a level that would not be often duplicated in poetry again until well into the Renaissance. This is not the kind of love sung about by the troubadours in Europe, or contained in the later Arthurian legends of courtly love. Both lovers are portrayed as somewhat selfish, and are moved more by passion and self-interest than what might be termed "love".
Q: What was Lucan's poem about? How does that relate to Elizabethan England?
A: Lucan's First Book is about the Civil War in Rome. England had in past years had civil unrest, so the subject would have been of interest to contemporary English readers.
Q: Why does Corinna not divorce her husband? Is this important to the story?
A: Corinna is portrayed as something of a social climber, so it is possible that she enjoyed the status that her rich husband gave her. He was not so rich, however, to prevent her from asking her lover for money. Corinna is portrayed as false and duplicitous throughout Amores, so it is not surprising that she would not mind remaining an adulteress.
Q: What kind of poem is an epyllion? How is Hero and Leander an epic?
A: An epyllion is a short epic poem. The fact that Hero and Leander are legendary figures, and that the gods are involved in their tragic story, makes the poem like the longer epic poems (such as the Iliad and the Aeneid).
Q: What does iambic pentameter contribute to the poem of Lucan translated by Marlowe?
A: Iambic pentameter, among other things, is very like common speech. It is adaptable to both grand speeches by great leaders, or to casual speech between people. This flexible meter makes the poem adaptable to many kinds of speakers and emotions.
Q: What was the main obstacle to Hero and Leander? Was it the strictures of their society, or was it their own youth and innocence?
A: Hero and Leander were products of their society, but the main obstacle to them getting together was their own internal difficulties. Hero is so convinced that her chastity is her most important asset that, though she loves Leander, she is loathe to give it up. Leander's extreme innocence in sexual matters delays the consummation of their relationship. The external forces keeping them apart are much weaker than their own internal struggles.
Q: What was the reason Caesar hesitated crossing the Rubicon? Was it justified?
A: Crossing into Italy with his army was an act of aggression on Rome. The simple act of fording the river was tantamount to committing treason. The deliberation, therefore, before moving south was necessary, for the attack on Rome was decided by that act.
Q: What does the form of "The Passionate Shepherd To His Love" contribute to the tone of the poem? Is this pastoral poem traditional or iconoclastic?
A: "The Passionate Shepherd" is a very traditional pastoral poem, with no irony and a simple celebration of the joys of nature. It is similar to the first practitioner of pastoral poetry, Theocritis's work, and has been admired as one of the best examples of this poetic form.