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A Place that Loves Parentheses


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Hero and Leander
ayer's rock
bracketyjack
I have today published on Kindle another of my unmodernised transcriptions of Renaissance texts -- this time Marlowe's extraordinary and erotic account of Hero and Leander, as completed by Chapman and published in 1598, five years after Marlowe's murder. (The link is to the US Kindle store, but it's available in all territories.)
The tale of a nun dedicated to Venus, who falls in love and breaks her paradoxical vow of chastity, was perfect for Marlowe's dangerous and free-thinking wit, and he had lots of fun. Filled with lust, Leander swims the Hellespont to present himself, naked and aroused, at Hero's door ; she, squeaking alarm, rushes off, leaving the door open behind her, to hide in bed, where he of course joins her ; and after the inevitable night of bliss, she tries to sneak away -- only to trip, fall, and blush so brightly that Leander can see all he wishes.

"So Heroes ruddie cheeke Hero betrayd.
And her all naked to his sight displayd
Whence his admiring eyes more pleasure tooke,
Than Dis, on heapes of gold fixing his looke."

Swiftly achieving notoriety, the poem was reprinted no less than ten times by 1637, and still commands delighted attention ; and there are good reasons for wanting the 1598 text, not one a modernising editor has butchered.

An excellent example occurs when Marlowe faced a typographical problem in the first sestiad -- the indication of direct speech and of a quotation from it. The modern convention of inverted commas did not then exist, so Marlowe had to think about what he wanted to do. Hero is swiftly falling for Leander, while distinctly conflicted, and the result is a memorable Freudian slip:

"With that Leander stoopt, to have imbrac'd her,
But from his spreading armes away she cast her,
And thus bespake him. Gentle youth forbeare
To touch the sacred garments which I weare.
          Vpon a rocke, and vnderneath a hill,
Far from the towne (where all is whist and still,
Same that the sea playing on yellow sand,
Sends foorth a ratling murmure to the land,
Whose sound allures the golden Morpheus,
In silence of the night to visite vs.)
My turret stands, and there God knows I play
With Venus swannes and sparrowes all the day.
A dwarfish beldame beares me companie,
That hops about the chamber where I lie,
And spends the night (that might be better spent)
In vaine discourse, and apish merriment.
Come thither ; As she spake this, her toong tript,
For vnawares (Come thither) from her slipt,
And sodainly her former colour chang'd,
And here and there her eies through anger rang'd."

A full-stop and a semi-colon serve to indicate the beginning and end of direct speech, but the real fun lies in Marlowe's superb combined use of italics and lunulae to indicate the narrative requotation of 'Come thither'. The italics would suffice to indicate it as an embedded fragment of Hero's speech, but the lunulae at once embody the inadvertency -- Hero wasn't intending to be that forward -- and substantiate it. Look back to the earlier parentheses in her speech, the first describing a night-time visit, the second as coy an implication as any would-be lover could hope for, and one can see just how typographically subtle Marlowe has managed to be. And psychologically subtle, too : Hero isn't only angry at herself, but has eyes 'ranging through anger' -- and other emotions.

Of course modernising it all makes things 'easier' for students, but equally blinds readers to Marlowe's skill and witty solution to his notational problem, and in doing so removes the prompt to consider the parentheses as a linked series. The original is not only a great deal more fun ; it's a great deal more informative, too.

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