Wednesday, July 8, 2009

As You Like It - Marlowe's Shadow

Randall writes:

Quiet friends,

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."



The Bruce said...

I find Randall's analysis quite perceptive regarding Shakespeare's overt allusion to Marlowe in AYLI (III.v.81-82). What about the second reference, which the Folger's editors now say is NOT a reference to Marlowe, the one where Shakespeare writes: "it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room". (III.iii.11-12) This echoes a passage from Marlowe's The Jew of Malta (I.i.36-7): "inclose/ Infinite riches in a little room". Of course, Marlowe was killed in a tavern room during a quarrel over the reckoning, so we've got both a literary and literal echo of Marlowe in that line. Why, then, do the Folger editors state that scholars now believe it is not a reference to Marlowe? Inquiring minds wanna know.

Gil said...

Great question, The Bruce. Let's fill in a little. As you discovered, Folger has a "longer note" on 3.3.13-14: "Touchstone is perhaps saying that Audrey's inability to respond to his wit [Shakespeare in Performance notes 'by tradition, Audrey munches a turnip during this scene'] is more deadly than receiving a large bill for food and drink in a small room of a tavern. It has become popular to see this line as a reference to Christopher Marlowe's death in 1593 'in a little room,' where he was stabbed in a fight over a 'reckoning.' The possible echo of Marlowe's line 'Infinite riches in a little room,' from his play The Jew of Malta, has encouraged this association. Many editors, however, remain skeptical" (Folger, 214-15).

OK, but "many editors" is as slippery as Blackemore Evans's "some find here...," Hardin Craig's "recent scholars," and David Bevington's "some scholars." All four of these look a bit like they are making it up. Maybe there isn't as much skepticism as they suggest.

Randall said...

I've found some background on our Marlowe allusion. In Roy Kendall's 2003 book, "Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys Through the Elizabethan Underground," he writes: "This allusion by Shakespeare to Marlowe was first suggested by Oliver Lodge, following the publication in 1925 of Leslie Hotson's 'magnificent discovery' of the inquest document relating to Marlowe's death, which, as Lodge phrased it, 'has put us in possession of the facts, or such of them as the coroner ascertained.' In the intervening years, other scholars have agreed with Lodge and suggested that there are other echoes of and allusions to Marlowe in As You Like It, and Shakespeare and Marlowe scholars have found varying degrees of agreement (as well as varying degrees of disagreement) on this general issue. However, Lodge's suggestion regarding this particular allusion by Shakespeare to Marlowe and by inference to Marlowe's death (which the inquest document records as being over 'le recknynge') would appear to be one of the few points on which the majority of Marlowe and Shakespeare scholars concur" (193).

So The Bruce's inquiry stands: just who are these scholars who are skeptical? Kendall finally puts a name to the naysaying crowd -- Agnes Latham. "While she notes in her introduction to the Arden edition of As You Like It other scholars' arguments that Shakespeare's 'great reckoning' line is an allusion to Marlowe, Agnes Latham is herself disinclined to accept this theory. She writes: 'Many commentators have been impressed by this evidence, even when they continue to date the play 1599, but nobody explains why Shakespeare should think Marlowe's death by violence was material for a stage jester. It seems preferable to suppose that the verbal associations, if any, were unconscious on Shakespeare's part, and he did not expect his audience to participate'" (195-196).

So, an unconscious Bard? Or a sly turn of phrase acknowledging a dead compatriot? I think Jonathan Bate would go for the latter.