Jonathan Bate tells us, in The Genius of Shakespeare, that Christopher Marlowe "is the only contemporary whom Shakespeare overtly alludes to rather than subliminally absorbs" (104). That overt allusion comes in As You Like It, Act 3, scene 5, when Phoebe, smitten by Rosalind dressed as Ganymede, says in an aside: "Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:/ Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?" (86-87). (My Folger edition puts quotes around the second line, but they're not in the first Folio.)
The quote, be it Phoebe's or Marlowe's, comes from Marlowe's poem "Hero and Leander," in which Leander sees and falls instantly in love with Hero, a virginal devotee of the goddess Venus, and she, seeing his inspired ardor, falls instantly in love with him. I think this puts Phoebe in some pretty serious company, yet I never feel compelled in As You Like It to take Phoebe's love seriously. Does Shakespeare mock, as it seemed like he was having a bit of fun with John Lyly in Love's Labor's Lost? Let's look closer. In Marlowe, the protagonists' love springs from their sight ― Leander's of Hero,
There Hero sacrificing turtles' blood,
Veiled to the ground, veiling her eyelids close,
And modestly they opened as she rose;
Thence flew love's arrow with the golden head,
And thus Leander was enamored, (158-162)
and Hero's of Leander,
Stone still he stood, and evermore he gazed,
Till with the fire that from his countenance blazed,
Relenting Hero's gentle heart was strook. (163-165)
Phoebe, on the other hand, is dismantling the power of sight in her opening speech to Silvius:
Thou tell'st me there is murder in mine eye.
'Tis pretty, sure, and very probable
That eyes, that are the frail'st and softest things,
Who shut their coward gates on atomies,
Should be called tyrants, butchers, murderers.
Now I do frown on thee with all my heart,
And if mine eyes can wound, now let them kill thee.
… But now mine eyes,
Which I have darted at thee, hurt thee not;
Nor I am sure there is no force in eyes
That can do hurt. (3.5.11-17, 25-28)
If our Shakespeare, who has run a few rings around Petrarch and tweaked disingenuously complimentary poets with "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun," is not poking some fun here, I'll turn in my Historical Critic badge and decoder ring. What to make then of the subsequent irony, when Phoebe sees Ganymede (Rosalind), falls in love with her, and in her aside to the audience, suggests that Marlowe (dead shepherd) was right after all?
Well, first of all Ganymede is no Leander; in fact, he's Rosalind. So the audience is separated from the seriousness of worshipful, willing-to-die-for-it, Petrarchan love by the dramatic irony. We don't pity Phoebe; we laugh at her. Beneath this is a second, subtler irony. In Marlowe's poem Leander leaps into the Hellespont to swim over to Hero, only to be trapped by Neptune who thinks he is Ganymede, a beautiful boy abducted by Jove who has fallen in love with him. I don't believe in coincidences in literature, so it's provocative that Rosalind has chosen Ganymede as a pseudonym: "I'll have no worse a name than Jove's own page,/ And therefore look you call me Ganymede" (1.3.131-132). Clearly, Ganymede ― the idealized, most beautiful of men ― accounts for Rosalind's beauty in the guise of a boy. But is he not also a symbol of homoerotic love? So when we get to all the "And I for no woman" stuff, we find a wicked double entendre; Phoebe's out of luck both ways ― she won't get Rosalind (a woman) and she won't get Ganymede (he likes boys).
In Phoebe's line, Shakespeare's explicit reference to Marlowe may be homage, but that doesn't mean he's not inclined to play a jaunty tune on the "saw of might."
Book Note: Year of the King
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