Over the last week, I’ve been reading Marlowe’s Hero and Leander aloud to Hero and Leander (as part of my efforts to win their affection). We finished Chapman’s conclusion to the poem last night, and Petowe’s tonight, and I must say, the difference between the three styles is striking. Poetically, Marlowe and Chapman seem to be on an equal footing (though Chapman is more moralising, and bears a strange love for pithy rhyming couplets). Petowe’s poetry, however, is almost comically awkward:
What creature living lives in grief
that breathes on Tellus’ soil,
But heavens pity with relief,
save me, a slave to spoil?
Spoil do his worst, spoil cannot spoil me more;
Spoil never spoiled so true a love before.
The stricken deer stands not in awe
of black grim ireful Death,
For he finds herbs that can withdraw
the shaft, to save his breath.
The chased deer hath spoil to cool his heat,
The toiled steed is up in stable set. (437-448)
Metrically perfect, yes, but it feels as though Petowe’s traded metric exactness for any sense of productive rhythm. Petowe’s writing isn’t playful or seductive like Marlowe’s work , but awkward, as is his repetition (some of those “spoils” seems placed in order to meet the syllable quota), and his alliteration (seemingly aimless except as a marker that this is Poetry).
From his style, I have the feeling that Petowe was reading a lot of medieval romances, which possibly explains his happy ending to the poem where Leander rescues Hero from death by killing the Duke of Sestos in a tournament. This ending is what most separates Petowe’s from Chapman’s conclusion. The introduction of the Duke tends to ignore the two biggest conflicts in Marlowe’s poem: Hero’s betrayal of her duties to Venus’s altar (the blood on Hero’s kirtle reminds us of the wrath Venus can and does inflict on “wretched lovers,” 1.16) and the dangers of Leander swimming the Hellespont (with which much of the second sestiad occupies itself). Chapman’s poem takes up these foreshadowings (Leander drowns when Venus and the Fates take control of the river from Neptune), while Petowe ignores both conflicts altogether, reducing Leander’s third crossing of the Hellespont to one line: “within short time at Sestos he arriveth” (473).
This is the poetic equivalent of refusing to fire the gun Marlowe placed on the mantle, and, given Petowe’s 160-line tribute to Marlowe at the beginning of his continuation, is a decision of which I can’t make any sense.
12 May 2009 ~ St. Catharines
Marlowe, Christopher. Hero and Leander. The Collected Poems of Christopher Marlowe. Eds. Patrick Cheney and Brian J. Striar. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. 193-287.