Christopher Marlowe’s story of “Hero and Leander” is like the tides; Hero bursts forth with love and recedes with guilt over and over as Leander relentlessly pursues her affections. Leander is stricken by Hero’s beauty and begins his campaign to capture her heart and her virginity. However, this will not be an easy task as Hero is a devout nun to the goddess Venus and must remain chaste to please her. Despite Hero’s vacillation, Leander risks life and limb to win her heart.
Leander’s beauty captures Hero’s heart, but he hopes his words and actions will capture her body. Innocent and naïve, Leander entreats, “My words shall be as spotless as my youth/Full of simplicity and naked truth” (lines 207-208). His attempts to convince Hero continue as he asks why she should serve Venus when she is obviously more beautiful and divine than the goddess. Being a nun with such beauty is compared to an empty house that falls apart without the love of a man or a harp that will “jar” or create an awful sound if too long untouched by the hands of a man. Leander begs her to reconsider because the difference between marriage and chastity are like the difference between wine and water. Leander ridicules Hero’s idea of virtue through virginity. Because her virginity cannot be seen, it is worthless because virtue is not something you are born with. Instead, “Honor is purchased with the deeds we do” (line280). He even curses her vow as “sacrilege against her deity” (line 307). Leander’s silver tongue has presented his argument.
After returning home, he cannot bear to be without her and swims to Hero’s turret. Along the way, Zeus mistakes him for Ganymede and nearly drowns him. Zeus releases him to seek out his love. Leander recognizes the sadness in Zeus’ face as he, too, longs for one he cannot have. As a tribute to his love, Leander has defied death to become Hero’s lover.
Hero is attracted to Leander, but her vow as a nun to...