Hero’s Afterlife: Hero and Leander and ‘lewd unmannerly verse’ in the late Seventeenth Century
Booth, Roy. "Hero’s Afterlife: Hero and Leander and ‘lewd unmannerly verse’ in the late Seventeenth Century". Early Modern Literary Studies 12.3 (January, 2007) 4.1-24<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/12-3/boother2.htm>.
I have only made it a little easy, and modern for the times, sir, that’s all. As for the Hellespont, I imagine our Thames here; and then Leander I make a dyer’s son about Puddle-wharf: and Hero a wench o’the Bank-side (V iii 120-4)The puppeteer Lanthorn Leatherhead had wanted a show reduced ‘to a more familiar strain for our people’ (116-7). The joke seems to have taken root because, at a basic level, ‘Hero and Leander’ was a story about a young man who crossed to the other side of a waterway to get sex. As the story was revisited by seventeenth century English writers, it mapped exactly onto their own urban geography. Abidos and Sestos became London and Southwark. Men in search of amusement seem to have preferred to travel by water across the Thames to the South Bank. Hero, ‘Venus’ nun’, waiting at her tower, inescapably recalled one of the ‘Winchester geese’ whose working premises clustered around the theatres. Hero’s status in Marlowe’s poem as the virgin priestess of Venus had always been a precarious one, but in the imagination of a contemporary Londoner, she was highly liable to being understood as one of Venus’ other ‘nuns’.
And sweetest of geese, before I go to bed,I’ll swim over the Thames, my goose, thee to tread.
(V iii 431-2)
'Tis safer shooting London-bridge;
Than crossing o’re the water to you.
when we’d cry’d thrice, who’s for over- shouting out who else wants to cross, presumably to share the cost of the trip, casting off, and putting up the boat’s awning (OED ‘tilt’ noun 1 sense 2). This particular burlesque apparently indicates that the places of entertainment on the Bankside had particular lights, to advertise themselves in at least a basic way:
Unhook’t the head, and put a cover
Of Tilt upon’t (35-7)
Nor would I give one single Farden
To sail by th’light at the Bear-garden. (361-2)
Her legs were ty’d in true-loves knot,Smith indulges excursions into extended metaphor for the sexual encounters, and these tend to be archly flowery rather than obscene. This verse narrative, so obviously thrown together, was reprinted with inexplicable frequency. But the writer had read his Marlowe, who provides the inspiration for Neptune as actively homosexual, rather than just a personification of the ocean:
On top of back, full well I wot (p.30).
Neptune, the dreadfull God of Seas,
On whom did never stick March-Fleas.
Taking in hand his good Eele Spade,
Towards Leander streight he made:
The Shad and Shole of Sprats did flye,
At sight of Neptunes angry eye.
The God then turn’d him up-side downe,
And view’d his parts from heel to crown,
He dally’d with his elfine locks,
And bears him up from shelf and rocks
His cheeks, his lips, his chin he kist… (pp.16-7)
Leander brusquely responds to this wooing by telling him to save his breath to cool his broth.
For Love and Honour (Theams of former Ages)It is unlikely that Stapylton’s verse, intended for the stage, would have been enough to turn the tide had it ever been performed. This is the catastrophe of the play, with Hero sighting the body of the drowned Leander. Stapylton seems to have been unable to shake off a self-subverting elevation of manner that would have better served one of the puppet plays:
Are turn’d into Burlesque, on modern Stages:
Where a Jack-Pudding acts great Alexander,
And Puppets play mock Hero and Leander.
That Hero and Leander (further fam’d
Then any Land which Alexander claim’d)
Should be disparag’d; Mimick, scorn, not Wit,
Deriding what the noblest Poet writ.
O Horrour! horrour! Floating by the Shoar:
His Body swims: Leander, speak once more?
Oh, Whither is that mighty Spirit fled?
What Nothings are the bodies of the dead! …
A long, long Farewell to Love’s Bitter-sweet;
Death has divorc’d us, yet in death we’l meet.
[She flings her self into the Sea.
She’l drown her self? Some Plank, some lucky Fish
Or Fisher, save her: 'tis too late to Wish.
His Towels, like his skin, were white, and fine,Retelling Marlowe’s poem, Wycherley simultaneously recreates Shakespeare’s, for this Leander is Adonis brought to late seventeenth century London. Hero is a barmaid at a tavern called ‘The Tower’ (p. 8) in Southwark. Wycherley’s humour, perhaps unexpectedly, is too delicate to make her merely a prostitute, the normal ‘wench o’the Bank-side’. Instead, her original role as Venus’ priestess is turned into her being a matchmaker (neither is she unambiguously a bawd). Faced with the foppishly decorative but coy Leander, Hero is characterized as experienced enough to woo him effusively, and deal robustly with his evasiveness. She becomes Shakespeare’s Venus:
Nought but his face his bason could out-shine;
So pickt, so wash’t his Combes of Ivory,
Unless his teeth their whiteness nought came nigh (p. 5)
Hero therefore (that knew the world) took on herHe pushes her away, in falling over (itself one of Venus’s specialities in Shakespeare’s poem) she inadvertently reveals enough to excite even him, so an assignation is made, which he keeps, her nurse admitting him to ‘The Tower’ while exaggerating the need for him to be quiet, because Hero knows that ‘Love is inhans’d by fear; / So stollen Bread and Cheese is mighty Chear’ (p. 63).
For slouching Lad the wooing in brisk manner;
And roundly said, Feat Youth, for want of speaking,
D’y’ think that I will suffer a heart-breaking?
When Men are become Women, Women then
May without shame (I take it) become Men.
When th’Asses solitary Miss doth brayShakespeare’s Venus made the same type of argument from nature in regard to Adonis’ ‘palfry’ escaping to pursue the ‘breeding jennet’. Wycherley’s substitution of a braying female ass is both minimal and effective. The tireless way Shakespeare’s Venus solicits kisses is neatly pastiched in Leander here shying away from Hero French-kissing him: reproached for doing so once, she promptly repeats the offence, for ‘from her Sluts Trick she cou’d not refrain’ (p. 53). In place of the expansive eloquence the sixteenth century poems allow to both Leander and the coy Adonis, Wycherley gives his Leander a rather more plausible embarrassed stutter. In Shakespeare’s poem, Adonis repeatedly struggles to escape from Venus’s grappling; Wycherley can give her a hold that subdues him far more successfully – Adonis would rather be off hunting, but ‘from her for his heart he cou’d not flirt, / Sh’ad better hold than by the tail of Shirt’ (p.33).
For want of him, he does not farther stray,
Nor stop his ears, her voice he thinks melodious,
Nor is she for her Summons to him odious. (p. 47)
Her Brows soft Fur was of a paler Dye,If Wycherley had been disconcerted by the detail in Venus and Adonis, the effect of putting this little moustache on Hero is not really hostile: as in Shakespeare’s poem, the woman has all the ‘virility’, and Wycherley responds to both the Shakespearean Goddess and her acolyte rather sympathetically. Adopting the pose of love-struck poet, Wycherley next amusingly suspends his blazon, warning himself of the fate of Pygmalion, that of falling desperately in love with the image he has himself created.
Conformable to that which prettily
Peep’d on her upper Lip, and cowardly
Made shew of Heroine Virility. (p. 13)
when Night 'gan to peel, and Day was dawning,When Adonis is killed by the boar, Wycherley makes explicit what is only suggested about the boar’s assault in Shakespeare’s poem, for the animal ‘Alas! first of[f] that chary Morsel carv’d / Sacred to Venus, while she for it starv’d’ (p. 23). Here, the adjective ‘chary’ hovers between ‘dear, precious, cherished’ (OED sense 3) and ‘cautious, wary, shy, fastidious’ (OED senses 4 and 5), and so between the Ovidian Venus and Adonis (who are lovers) and the Shakespearean, whose Goddess of love is starved of that particular ‘Morsel’.
Up he wou’d get, and leave his Goddess yawning,
Who waking, turn’d to th’ Wall, and thought t’ave had 'im,
As other Utensils, where she had laid him (p. 16)
one was stillUnduly concerned about heaven and the poor, and installed for no adequate reason as head of state, Leander’s father is surely a Commonwealth man. The poem says blandly that ‘when you know his Education, you’l / Allow the man in all points fit to rule’ (p. 3). No sooner has the reader started to orientate to this, than the character is dropped, and with him, that type of politicized satire. The mock erotic poem takes over, and with it comes Wycherley’s own genial version of the ‘democracy of lust’ Peter Malekin sees in the poems of Rochester. Hero is a barmaid who discreetly sustains an unstained reputation - in this she is like one of fine ladies in Wycherley’s plays. Leander may appear to be a barber’s apprentice imitating foppishness, but he is represented as genuinely fastidious, and so seems less false than the fops of The Plain Dealer. Nobody seems, finally, to be qualitatively different from anyone else. Amongst the poem’s invented settings, the Bankside Chapel of Venus, with its daubed obscene images, turns via Wycherley’s satire on painting into a place whose décor hints at the high class brothel or even the sub-Rubenesque images in an aristocrat’s private rooms. The satire of the mock poem cuts both ways.
Prickt up to heaven to receive her will,
T’other did earthward lop, good man, with pain
To hear the needy, and oppress’d complain. (p. 2)
The mighty, and yet humble God did dwellWycherley would go on in The Country Wife to expose the way high society continues with, but prudently conceals, its universal worship of Venus and Priapus. Compared to that play, Hero and Leander in Burlesque is of course, ‘mediocre’. But its relaxed, rather tolerant narrative, in which Marlowe and Shakespeare’s poems are equally at play, perhaps reveals an unexpected amount of what shaped Wycherley’s imagination. Horner is, faintly, the attractive Adonis, who claims to have had his encounter with the castrating boar. Leander in the mock poems had been transformed into a London lover, going to hazardous lengths to satisfy the demands made on him by his mistress. As a victim of Hero’s sexual demands, he may also anticipate the discomfitures suffered by certain rake heroes.
There to his mind in dark, and narrow Cell:
But cou’d not hide himself; for pale-fac’d Rout
Of Virgin Penitents soon found him out. (p. 41)
In his dedicatory epistle to the translations of Ovid’s Heroides 18 and 19, added to his Musaeus translation in 1647, Sir Robert Stapylton writes of ‘lewd unmannerly verse (the new-sickness of the mind)’. The 1647 publication has no pagination, irregular page signatures, and some misplaced pages. The dedication comes half way through the volume, after his annotations on Musaeus.
 Christopher Marlowe, The Complete Poems and Translations ed. Stephen Orgel (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1971). Petowe’s effort perhaps had more appeal than might be imagined, as the lovers underwent a second translation into romance, this time in prose, in J. S. , The Famous and renowned history of the two unfortunate, though noble lovers, Hero and Leander (1680).
 George Chapman, The divine poem of Musaeus. First of all bookes (1616.),‘To the Reader’, [A8v].
 Wycherley’s book was entered in the Stationers’ Register on November 9th, 1668. There does not seem to be an entry for Stapylton’s play.
 Sir Robert Stapylton, Musaeus on the Loves of Hero and Leander (1645, 1647). The later edition has a title page epigraph from Virgil, ‘Musaum ante Omnes’ (Aeneid VI, 666), even though Stapylton was aware that this Virgilian allusion could not have been made with reference to the Musaeus who wrote ‘Hero and Leander’.
 The epigram of Martial is translated in Stapylton’s Preface to his translation of the Ovidian epistles, Heroides 18 and 19, in his 1647 publication [Sig D2v, though the gathering is evidently disordered]. A simple quip about Leander begging that he be spared from drowning at least until his return swim, it also surfaces in the mock poems – Wycherley’s Leander ‘vow’d if they wou’d please but to reprieve him / From drowning 'till he came back, he’d forgive 'um’ (p. 73).
 Some later seventeenth century poets still saw Marlowe’s style as one to imitate: William Bosworth’s The Chaste and Lost Lovers (1653) is so indebted to Marlowe, particularly in ‘The Historie of Arcadius and Sepha’ (p. 8ff), that R. C.’s epistle ‘To the Reader’ explains ‘The strength of his fancy, and the shadowing of it in words he taketh from Mr. Marlow in his Hero and Leander, whose mighty lines Mr. Benjamin Johnson (a man sensible enough of his own abilities) was often heard to say, that they were Examples fitter for admiration than for parallel, you shall find our Author every where in this imitation.’ Jonson had mocked weak poets lifting from ‘Hero and Leander’ at the end of Every Man in His Humour.
 Chapman’s octavo volume, The divine poem of Musaeus. First of all bookes (1616) argues that the original is ‘the incomparable Loue-Poem of the world’ (‘To the Reader’, [A8v]), but is aware that readers may still favour Marlowe: ‘I perswade my self, your preiudice will encrease to the contempt of it; eyther headlong presupposing it, all one; or at no part matcheable, with that partly excellent Poem, of Maister Marloes. For your all one; the VVorkes are in nothing alike; a different Character being held through, both the Stile, Matter, & inuention [A7v-A8]. Critics arguing the completeness of Marlowe’s poem as it stands have included Marion Campbell, '"Desunt Nonnulla": The Construction of Marlowe's Hero and Leander as an Unfinished Poem', English Literary History, 51 (1984), pp.241-268, and W. L. Godshalk, 'Hero and Leander: The Sense of an Ending', in Kenneth Friedenreich, Roma Gill, and Constance Kuriyama (eds).).A Poet and a Filthy Playmaker (New York: AMS Press, (1987), pp.293-314
 ‘Of the danger his majesty (being Prince) escaped in the road at St Andrews’, ll. 137-8 in Poems, &c. written upon several persons (1686), p. 11..
 Abraham Fraunce, THE Third part of the Countesse of Pembrokes Yuychurch. Entituled, Amintas Dale. Wherein are the most conceited tales of the Pagan Gods in English Hexameters together with their auncient descriptions and Philosophicall explications (1592), p. 45-6.
 Sir Aston Cokain, ‘A Remedy for Love’ in Small Poems of Divers Sorts (1658), 445-6.
 The Stationers’ Register entries for the two books are close together: March 2nd 1598 for the Marlowe-Chapman, and April 14th for Petowe. Petowe’s book was licensed ‘uppon Condicion that hee get further laufull auctoritie for the publisheinge thereof. before yt be published’, which may imply that he needed to get his work distinguished from Chapman’s. Marlowe’s incomplete version had been registered 28th September 1593 as ‘Hero and Leander / beinge an amorous poem devised by Christopher Marlow’.
 Thomas Nashe, Lenten Stuff in J. B. Steane (ed.), The Unfortunate Traveller and Other Works (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972), p. 424. Nashe’s work was ready for publication by January 11th 1599.
 The Marrovv of Complements (sic), (1655( [i.e. 1654], pp. 169-71.
 ‘An Excellent Sonnet of the Unfortunate LOVES of Hero and Leander’ (1674). The other ballad is ‘The Tragedy of Hero and Leander: OR, The Two Vnfortunate Lovers’ (1665). There were at least two further printings of the 1674 ballad, though no correction was made to the swapping round of the lovers’ names.
 Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair, ed. Maurice Hussey (London: Ernest Benn, 1964).
 Not even William Harvey in his intricate investigations of the mechanism of conception imagines the ‘seed’ as itself motile and swimming. But his Anatomical exercitations concerning the generation of living creatures to which are added particular discourses of births and of conceptions, &c. (1653) examines the various fluids of conception and the embryonic sac, and refers to a fable of birth from the sea in support of the general importance of liquid: “Or (as it is in the Fable) as if Saturne did then become an Eunuch, and threw his masculine evidences into the Sea, to raise a Foam, which might give birth to Venus: For in the Generation of Animals, Superat tener omnibus humor; A gentle dew doth moisten all (as the Poet hath it) and the genital parts doe foam and strut with Seed” (p.266).
 J. S. , The Famous and renowned history of the two unfortunate, though noble lovers, Hero and Leander giving an account of all that happened from the beginning of their loves, till both of them ended their lives in the sea for love of each other (1680). Illustration, p.21.
 Ibid, Epistle IV, ‘Hero to Leander’, 108.
 The Loves of HERO AND LEANDER: A mock Poem: WITH Marginall Notes, and other choice Pieces OF DROLLERY (London: 1653). James Smith does seem to be the likeliest author, for the verses ‘Mr. Smith’s taking a purge’ in Wit Restor’d (1658), p. 28 share a vocabulary for exuberantly fecal events. Douglas Bush says of the Hero and Leander travesty that nothing could give ‘better proof of the strong stomachs possessed by some of our ancestors’, Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition in English Poetry (New York: Pageant Book Company, 1957), p. 290: the purge poem must have escaped his notice.
 Besides showing Smith’s fascination with ‘the nock’ as a subject, the grotesque detail perhaps parodies the anxieties provoked by Neptune’s erotic attempt on the swimming Leander.
 Matthew Stevenson, The vvits paraphras’d (1680), pp. 32, 38. The volume does versions of all Ovid’s Heroides.
 Douglas Bush, Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition in English Poetry, mentions the poem in his broad survey in his Chapter 15, ‘Travesties of Classical Themes and Poems’, noting only that it ‘does apparently hark back to Marlowe’s elaborate descriptions of Leander and the temple, and perhaps Marlowe’s dialogue as well’ (p. 292).
 Douglas Bush in Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition in English Poetry (originally published in 1932), taking a view based on the whole European Renaissance, conversely sees it as inevitable that a wave of burlesque should follow ‘in the wake of the classical revival’ (op. cit., New York: Pageant Book Company, 1957, p. 287). But politically, the fashion arrives in England at an odd moment. Bush takes no pleasure in these poems, finding them generally ‘dull and coarse’ (p. 292), and finally he dismisses them, along with his argument that they have something to do with the classical revival: Scarron may have, but ‘the English pieces were mostly the hasty scribbling of pot-poets’ (p. 293).
 David Farley-Hills’ study, The Benevolence of Laughter: Comic Poetry of the Commonwealth and Restoration (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1974), suggests a simple explanation for the vogue for comic verse, playing ‘a part in the ideological war’ between Cavalier gaiety and Puritan sobriety (p. 22), and suggests that at some level this audaciously careless verse represents ‘a loss of poetic nerve’ (p. 34). His study is mainly concerned to contrast this comic verse with later satirical poetry.
 Henry Herringham, in Musarum deliciae (1653), Sig. A3.
 James Smith’s scatological Hero and Leander appeared in Certain Verses, written by severall of the author’s friends to be re-printed with the second edition of Gondibert (1653), as well as printings in which it was the title poem (1651, and two editions in 1653).
 Scarronides: OR, Le VIRGILE travestie. A Mock-Poem. Parodies of Books I and IV of the Aeneid, editions in 1664, 5, 7, 1670, 2, 8, 1682, 1691, 1700. Cotton develops his version of Scarron beyond straight translation.
 Musaeus’ poem speaks at its opening of the relationship as a ‘darkened marriage never beheld by immortal dawn’. In Marlowe’s version, the two are ‘affied’ (Sestiad II, 26), which might be a verbal contract of marriage, but Chapman’s continuation gives Leander a vision of the affronted Goddess ‘Ceremony’, while Hero assuages her guilt for being ‘devirginate’ (Sestiad III, ‘Argument, 9) by presiding at a proxy marriage (Sestiad V). None of this made ‘Hero and Leander’ a securely matrimonial subject. Staplyton copes with the even more doubtful morality of the Ovid poems by dedicating his translation to his wife as a guarantee of their utmost respectability.
 The chivalrous Stapylton prefaces his translation of Juvenal’s sixth satire (in the lavishly illustrated Mores Hominum, 1660) with the explanation that the Roman poet only picked out the worst examples to dissuade a too elderly friend from marrying; though sun-spots have been discovered, the sun shines as brightly as it ever did, and so (he says) does female chastity (p. 151).
 The famous notice is in Edward Phillips’ Theatrum Poetarum (1675), where Marlowe is ‘a kind of a second Shakesphear … though inferiour both in Fame and Merit … in his begun Poem of Hero and Leander, he seems to have a resemblance of that clean and unsophisticated Wit, which is natural to that incomparable Poet; this Poem being left unfinished by Marlow, who in some riotous Fray came to an untimely and violent End, was thought worthy of the finishing Hand of Chapman; in the performance whereof nevertheless he fell short of the Spirit and Invention with which it was begun’ (pp. 24-5). Shakespeare figures, however, as ‘the glory of the English style’, who ‘in all his Writings hath an unvulgar style, as well in his Venus and Adonis … as in his Dramatics’ (p. 194).
 Wycherley’s ‘Hunting's said to be in fashion, / Much like to grinning Honours Recreation’ (p. 18) alludes to Falstaff (I Henry IV, V, iii).
 The same moment in Shakespeare’s poem is explicitly recollected in Smith’s The Loves of Hero and Leander. A Mock Poem. As the lovers have sex, Hero’s maid gets sexually frustrated, and ready to grab the first man she sees:
By chance a Weaver passing by,
Looking aside, she did him spy.
Then as Adonis horse did fare,
When he beheld the Freez-land Mare,
Breaking his rains ty’d to a Tree…
 Venus and Adonis 127-8.
 Though even the doggerel couplet threatens to disintegrate in the favoured device in the burlesques of breaking a word at a line-ending to create a comic rhyme.
 Peter Malekin, Liberty and Love (London: Hutchinson, 1981), p.146.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2007-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).