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  • The Implications of Tucker Brooke's Transposition in Hero and Leander by Christopher Marlowe
  • Vincenzo Pasquarella

To argue that an appropriate interpretation and appreciation of Christopher Marlowe's Hero and Leander is not possible without an investigation into its textual variants may seem self-evident. Yet, although almost one century has passed since C. F. Tucker Brooke adopted his transposition (the most significant emendation in the poem), the assumptions on which it is based have never been analyzed thoroughly. In this essay, I wish to discuss critically the validity of Tucker Brooke's transposition and its consequences for the interpretation of the poem. By analyzing the earliest quarto versions of the text in relationship to Renaissance rhetorical treatises, I intend to demonstrate that the bibliographical assumptions on which Tucker Brooke's emendation is grounded are highly questionable and the aesthetic criteria that lie beyond it do not conform to Marlowe's depiction of eroticism within the poem.

In the 1598 quarto printed for Edward Blount, the narration of Hero and Leander's sexual intercourse is reported as follows:

Till gentle parlie did the truce obtaine.She trembling stroue, this strife of hers (like thatWhich made the world) another world begat,Of vnknowne ioy. Treason was in her thought,And cunningly to yeeld her selfe she sought.Seeming not woon, yet woon she was at length,In such warres women vse but halfe their strength.Leander now like Theban Hercules,Entred the orchard of Th'esperides.Whose fruit none rightly can describe, but hee [End Page 520] That puls or shakes it from the golden tree:Wherein Leander on her quiuering brest,Breathlesse spoke some thing, and sigh'd out the rest;Which so preuail'd, as he with small ado,Inclos'd her in his armes and kist her to.And euerie kisse to her was as a charme,And to Leander as a fresh alarme.So that the truce was broke, and she alas,(Poore sillie maiden) at his mercie was.Loue is not ful of pittie (as men say)But deaffe and cruell, where he meanes to pray.Euen as a bird, which in our hands we wring,Foorth plungeth, and oft flutters with her wing.1

In the early quarto editions, the order of the lines in question was not modified. The first transposition was adopted in 1821 by Samuel W. Singer, who took lines 783-84 and placed them earlier in the text, after line 762. He explained in a textual note, "The Editor has taken the liberty to alter the situation of this couplet; which as it originally stands . . . is an awkward excrescence. By the present transposition it becomes a lively and beautifully appropriate simile."2 Singer's transposition is based on aesthetic criteria: he believes that the simile is more "beautifully appropriate" if placed before the description of Hero's sensual pleasure. There is, however, more at stake than merely its beauty: the significance of the simile within the text differs substantially, whether read in the early quartos' or in Singer's version. The simile describes a bird which, wrung in someone's hands, flutters in order to wriggle free. In its original collocation, it is preceded by a couplet in which the narrator comments on the cruelty and violence of love (781-82).

It is worth noting that this image was largely employed in the Renaissance in order to stress the violence of sexual desire.3 Two more examples [End Page 521] may be found in William Shakespeare's narrative poems. In The Rape of Lucrece, after being violated by Tarquin, the heroine is described as follows: "Wrapt and confounded in a thousand feares, / Like to a new-kild bird shee trembling lies."4 In Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare compares the goddess to an eagle hunting its prey, thus emphasizing her impetuous desire:

Euen as an emptie Eagle, sharpe by fast,Tires with her beake on feathers, flesh and bone,Shaking her wings, deuouring all in hast,Till either gorge be stuft, or pray be gone:Euen so she kist his brow, his cheeke, his chin,And where she ends, she doth anew begin.


In the version of Hero and...


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