The Luminary Postgraduate Magazine Lancaster University

Can a Ravished Hero Still Laugh? The Trope of the Stone in Christopher Marlowe's "Hero and Leander"

Kristen Renzi


A woman without a body, dumb, blind, can't possibly be a good fighter. She is reduced to
being the servant of the militant male, his shadow. We must kill the false woman who is
preventing the live one from breathing. Inscribe the breath of the whole woman.
( Hélène Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa", p. 880)

A trans-historical Western tradition of heterosexual seeing and desiring often erects the following artistic circuit: a powerful male gaze transforms the represented female from an image of a body into an object of art by way of the topoi of statuary, surface, and stone. At first, the "circuit" described above might appear to present nothing new; feminist criticism has long bemoaned the tendency of writers and artists to easily and simplistically reduce women to embodied matter and preserve the active agency of the mind for male representations and subjects. Yet what this model of circuitry can suggest, and what this essay's epigraph also emphasizes, is that the female body is precisely what such a history of seeing and desiring denies. In what has become a touchstone for feminist revisionist theory, Hélène Cixous, in "The Laugh of the Medusa," launches an impassioned critique of a masculine linguistic history that has denied women access to communication through condemnation of their bodies; in response, she urges women to write themselves, using their bodies as the basis for their communication.1 Only then, in Cixous's model, will women be able to have "whole bodies" that "breath[e]" rather than "false" bodies that exist as shadows to men. (p. 880) These "false women" or "shadows," I argue, most often exist in language and literature in the form of the art object. Thus, when feminist critics argue that representations of women demean them by reducing them to "bodies," we might critique this language for its own reduction that too easily blurs the distinction between representations of female bodies and representations of female objects. In place of such blurry language, I argue that we turn to the above circuit in order to consider the female body that both this feminist reduction and this anti-feminist tradition of seeing and desiring too often displaces.

In order to provide a clearer map of the circuit this essay will return to throughout as it attempts to first locate, then "inscribe the breath" of Cixous's "whole woman" in Christopher Marlowe's poem "Hero and Leander," it might be helpful to first turn briefly to a concrete, visual model of the abstract dynamics of masculine gazing and desire. (p. 880) While there are several such models in the Western tradition—both contemporary to Cixous and Marlowe—perhaps one of the most instructive and helpful to this essay's specific ideas comes from modern artist Pablo Picasso. In the early 1930s, Pablo Picasso vividly rendered a visual map of trifurcated interaction between male and female, subject and object, art and life in "The sculptor's studio" section of his Vollard Suite, a series of etchings and line drawings composed for his art dealer Ambroise Vollard. These various etchings often feature the (always male) artist in naked, seemingly intimate proximity with an unclothed female, sometimes designated as a model. The two "live" human bodies are then seated or found lying in front of an object of art the male artist has presumably created—statue, bust, head—that depicts a frequently ambiguously gendered, mythic, or female body. Picasso connects the three bodies through contact, both of the flesh and of the eyes; the art object faces or "looks at" both the humans, suggesting interface spatially, while the live bodies establish contact with each other through physical touch. (Picasso)

Of most interest for our model, however, are the differences Picasso draws between male and female eye contact in the drawings that depict male artist, female model, and female art object. In these drawings, the male gaze is almost always focused on the statue itself; the female gaze, by contrast, only occasionally rests on the statue that depicts her. Instead, she is often shown gazing straight out from the drawing or, at times, at the male artist, who seems incapable of returning her gaze. It is this circuit—in which the male artist, during a moment of physical intimacy with a woman, looks not at her live body but on the stone female he has created in her image—that interests me; we might, I suggest, view this circuit as a figurative model for reading not works of art but rather Renaissance literatures of sexual and physical desire, which at odd frequencies feature the textual transmutation of the bodies of such live women into something metaphorically like stone.

One particularly rife site for viewing this patrilineal circuit of petrification is the English tradition of Petrarchan courtly love poetry, which often features the male lover as poetic artist attempting to woo the unresponsive loved one, to soften her disdaining hard heart, and to bend the "sencelesse stone" woman—as Edmund Spenser's speaker in the Amoretti terms her—to the will (and love) of the male. (LIV, line 14) Indeed, other critics have found the conceits of Petrarchan love poetry to be easily encapsulated by popular art not only in the Renaissance but also in contemporary culture; Nancy J. Vickers writes about the Petrarchan concepts memorialized in Survivor songs like "Popular Girl" and "I See You in Everyone," and she notes that another critic, Leonard Forster, has seen an American advertisement for an "ice cube mold in the form of a female body" called "Miss Sexy-Ice" as a form of popular Petrarchism. (p. 185)2 Both examples illustrate the way in which contemporary commonplace figurations of unrequited love often feature an unattainable fantasy woman who, when literalized in Forster's example, is more object of ice than warm flesh. But as suggestively Petrarchan as "Miss Sexy-Ice" might be, this tellingly single, feminized, ice cube embodiment does not in itself provide a visual model of complex dynamics of the woman's petrification within Petrarchan tradition; instead, it seems to signal that embodied "women" essentially do not exist if not as ice: formed of ice out of water by some unspecified hand and existing only for a male touch (a male mouth) that thaws them and returns them to such watery disembodiment.

Within the Renaissance tradition of Petrarchan poetry, however, a focus on the male consideration of the both the value and the limitation of female hardness provides a valuable context in which we might read such women of ice as more than temporarily glorified liquid. "Sonnet 51" of Spenser's Amoretti, for instance, begins with a description of an actual statue in the speaker's attempt to work through not the weaknesses but the potential virtues of his beloved's literal and figurative hardness; here, the speaker asks rhetorically "Doe I not see that fairest ymages/ Of hardest Marble are of purpose made?" (1-2). This "purpose" is next qualified, as the explanation for why these two superlatives are causally linked (why the fairest image is also the hardest): "For that they should endure through many ages, / Ne let theyr famous monuments to fade". (3-4) The hardness of a beautiful image is thus explicitly connected to the ability of the image to age well, to be constant in its beauty as a tacit refusal to weather the effects of time on its surface. Extrapolating on this rumination, the speaker surmises that he should, in his own (presumably living) lover, "more commend" her hardness, since this hardness or difficulty in "atchiv[ing]" her will stand as proof of her "excellen[ce]". (5, 8, 7) Just as he values highly the hard statue that will not yield to time, the speaker deems most valuable the "hard" woman whose surface—flesh—will not erode or be corrupted under the constant grasping of others. The marble, the body, and the art of the image—its value and virtue—must stand in the face of all the natural forces, such as time and desire, that might seek to compromise its worth.

Yet the living lover must differ from the statue in one crucial way: she must, to one force, yield. The speaker describes the "hardness" he would praise in a woman as, crucially, circumstantial, one that "Ne ought so hard, but he that would attend,/ Mote soften it and to his will allure". (9-10) Here, then, the speaker describes a type of marble, inviolable body whose material substance would weaken as a response to attention from a particular, and crucially singular, "he". (p. 9) As the speaker imaginatively lures durable art under the control of his lone male will, the substance of the art "to [be] ben[t]" changes from the marble image to the "stubborn hart". (11) It is explicitly not, then, the surface body that will succumb to the male attention, but the inner heart. And it is power over this heart, which, for its hardness, "more stedfast will endure" (12), that will ultimately bring the speaker "the greater" "joy". (14)

Here, it is not the male's skill as a bodily lover of a woman that matters; instead, he, like Sir Phillip Sidney's Astrophil, must "looke in [his] heart and write" as the sole means by which he could mold his woman into a statue of his own choosing or perform any potential stone-bending. (Sidney 1, 14). And though it is the female heart and not the body that is supposedly seduced, as Spenser's speaker describes the stony woman, important connections are constructed between surface and interior, between physical and emotional access to and penetration of the loved one. In the transmutation of the seat of hardness from the statue's body to the woman's heart, any direct threat of the speaker's physical seduction, assault, or even rape of his love is elided—the "hart" not the body is "ben[t]" and seduced. ("Sonnet 51", 11) Yet the trace of the body's, as well as the heart's, softening under its attraction to the man's will is maintained through the metaphorical language of surface. A statue has no "internal" nature or spirit; it is composed solely of the material of which it is physically formed. Thus, in comparing the woman to the statue of stone, her "heart" becomes not a separate, ethereal seat of attraction but rather a physicalized locale, made of the same essential material as the body.

Thus, the trace of the body's softening under its responsiveness to the artist's touch is maintained in the Petrarchan tradition, even as its bodily aspects are pushed aside and seemingly forgotten. In bending the heart to his will, the male speaker of "Sonnet 51" could also be seen to bend the body, even as the insistence upon ornamental beauty and the idea of "hardness" introduce a metaphorical language of surface that circumvents descriptions of body—activity, process—in favor of static art. And it is because of these imbrications of body with heart, flesh and spirit with stone, that the figure of the stone woman, the living yet static statue, can stand as a model for understanding other gendered linguistic and bodily power plays, especially those which occur between the male lover and the female love object that may less explicitly take up the language of the stone.

Christopher Marlowe's unique, even "transgressive" poem "Hero and Leander" both significantly diverges from and falls in line with the rhetorical trappings of bodily signification as they appear within the courtly love genre. (Brown, "Breaking", p. 64) As critics such as Georgia E. Brown and Warren Boutcher have noted, Marlowe's poem differs in both content and tone from the Petrarchan rhetoric of constant unconsummated desire.3 The poem is at times comic, it does not end with the deaths of the main characters, and Hero is presented as a woman who is not merely "the silent passive female object of desire who is pursued by the dominant male". (Brown, "Breaking", p. 64) Yet to emphasize too strongly these moments of "poetic trail-blazing" would force one to ignore the ways in which Marlowe's poem is still imbedded within a circuit of male looking, female display, and the displacement of the live woman for the female object. (Von Koppenfels, p. 127)4 By reading "Hero and Leander" in light of this petrifying circuit, one can more readily illuminate these gendered inequalities, as well as their consequences in terms of Hero's ultimate speech, shame, and exposure. For in the visual circuit of desire, it is the female body that suffers; Hero, who starts the poem desiring and speaking is, by the end, made by Leander's eyes into the mute and suffocated "uncanny stranger on display" that Hélène Cixous describes in her "The Laugh of the Medusa"—a symbol of the woman chained within patriarchal systems rather than one who remains free to counter such myths. (p. 880) Ultimately, I argue, it is only by acknowledging the poem's transforming displacement—from body to art—that we as readers can uncover Hero's actual body long enough to ask what speech, what flesh, and what laughter remain to Hero aside such bodily estrangement.

Though the love poetry out of which "Hero and Leander" is born does deploy a version of Picasso's petrifaction circuit that champions the stone form over the living woman, this poetry is certainly not the first, or even the primary literary model that mixes female bodies and stone. Marlowe's "Hero and Leander" is highly indebted to Greek and Roman literature and mythology, especially the mythic landscape of Ovid's Metamorphoses. This landscape forms much of the version of Hero and Leander that Marlowe tells; more particularly, however, it explicitly forms the backdrop of Venus's temple within which Hero worships. Notably lacking, however, in the litany of "gods in sundrie shapes/ Committing headdie ryots, incest, rapes" that surround Hero there are two of Ovid's most stone-centered tale—that of Pygmalion, and that of Medusa. (143-144) In Ovid's Pygmalion myth, the artist-driven aspect of Picasso's circuit is highlighted: here, Pygmalion, who couldn't "fynd in hart to take a wyfe," used his artistic skills to compose himself a perfect mate, one "of such proportion, shape, and grace as nature never gave/ nor can to any woman give". (X, 264, 266-267) The eventual transformation of Pygmalion's ivory woman into real flesh through the grace of Aphrodite elides his preceding obsession with "his Art," the stone creation that he kisses, clothes, bedecks with jewels, and even sleeps beside. (X, 271) In this myth, the perfect sculptural body about which Pygmalion obsesses is not a realistic artistic rendering of human beauty. 5 Rather, art and humanity are split by the statue, and Pygmalion's work of art surpasses humanity in the creation of a body that is truly his—totally under the control of the male will as sculptor—and more beautiful than living flesh because of this.

By contrast, the Medusa myth could demonstrate the abject other of Picasso's circuit: the uncontrollable female body that, instead of giving itself up to be rendered in stone by the male artist, becomes itself the wielder of the stone. 6 Medusa, the "ougly" Gorgon monster "bespread with snakish heare," is given the ability to transform "living things to stones" when they look at her hair and face. (Ovid, IV, 859, 953) Initially, then, we might read this myth as one that signifies male insecurity about gazing on the female body. Rather than submitting to the sculptor's scalpel of control, in the Medusa myth, the object intended to be beheld looks back; unlike the benign statue Picasso draws, however, Medusa looks back with a vengeance—transfixing the male body, ravishing him with her gaze, turning him into stone.7 Indeed, this hint of Medusa's deadly gaze aligns with the Renaissance usage of the term ravishment, which Deborah Burks notes signified not only "rape" but also to "carry away" or "'transport with delight,'" a verbal confusion in which a woman can be said to be ravishing, in control, and the one who carries away males with her physical presence by the same term that signals her own violation. (769-770)

The danger of this confusion—that the woman might be blamed or held responsible for any ensuing physical violation because of her "ravishment" of the male—is not lost in the Medusa myth itself. For Medusa only gains her power to astonish through her own physical violation: she was, according to Ovid, once a renowned beauty who was, because of her beauty, "abusde by Nepune…/in Pallas church". (IV, 975) Rather than punishing her rapist, Pallas (Minerva) transformed Medusa into an ugly Monster, in particular turning "hir seemely heare," her once most prized attribute, "to lothly Snakes" (IV, 977-978); power, for Medusa, is gained at the cost of both her beauty and any actual persecution of her rapist. Moreover, this ambivalent power is bestowed in the myth only to be subsequently surmounted by male trickery. As the Metamorphoses continues, Medusa is eventually slain by Perseus, and her decapitated head becomes not a means by which Medusa can "put hir foes in feare" but rather a weapon that Perseus, her killer, wields in battle against his own foes. (978) The spectre of power in the abject female body is resurrected only to be subsumed under eventual male control. Medusa is only powerful when she is looked at, and the men circumvent her anger by averting their eyes and concentrating, instead, on their own tools. Perseus views Medusa through "his monstrous brazen shield," the tool of a warrior; likewise, the male artist has a means of countering her physical presence through his own distinct version of the inoculating mirror—the stone statue. (IV, 954)

Marlowe makes explicit the mythic debts of "Hero and Leander's" physical renderings of the female body from the first moments Hero is described. The narrator depicts her as "Hero the faire,/ Whom young Apollo courted for her haire." (5-6) Like Medusa, Hero's crowning glory is her mane, and these locks are the locale of both women's particular desirability, a physical attractiveness that makes them objects of not only men's, but also gods', affections. Apollo becomes so enamored of Hero that he "offred as a dower his burning throne,/ Where she should sit for men to gaze upon". (7-8) Thus, from the start, the poem bestows upon Hero the static role of one looked-upon by the male gaze. The beauty that the narrator ascribes to Hero sits oddly between nature and artifice. On the one hand, we are told that Hero is so beautiful that "nature wept, thinking she was undone;/ Because [Hero] tooke more from [nature] than she left,/ And of such wondrous beautie her bereft". (46-48) Such statements seem to claim that Hero's and nature's beauty are derived from the same substance; yet, instead of a bodily blazon of Hero's anatomical attributes, the narrator gives us a description of "garments," "sleeves," "kirtle," "vaile," "peble stone," and "buskins," suggesting that, ultimately, she is more surface than anatomy. (10, 11, 15, 17, 25, 31)

As the narrator displaces the traditional bodily blazon for one of clothing, the reader is left with a text that, as Cindy L. Carlson notes, leaves the flesh of the female body "unexplored, undescribed, absent from the text that is presumably much concerned with Hero's physical desirability".(p. 32) This mock-blazon stands in contrast to the blazon of Leander, in which the narrator praises Leander in the nude. Like Hero's blazon, Leander's begins with the "dangling tresses," then moves on to praise his "bodie"—specifically the "neck," "shoulder," "brest," "bellie," and "backe," the last of which sports an erotic "heavenly path, with many a curious dint". (55, 61, 64, 65, 66, 69, 68) Many critics have importantly discussed the homoerotic transgression of such a male-centered blazon, yet what seems most essential to recognize here is that Leander's body, though objectified and described, is left as a body.8 Hero, who is offered a throne as a pedestal for the beauty she's stolen from nature, is transformed by the blazon into a merge of flesh and clothing that emphasizes not her active body, but the image of ornament.

Hero, as a female image, is initially granted a power to act, affect, and even encroach upon the male body. Taking up the Medusa myth, Hélène Cixous declares as part of her passionate entreaty in "The Laugh of the Medusa," that men have "riveted us [women] between two horrifying myths: between the Medusa and the abyss" (885). "Hero and Leander" joins these myths, visually fixing them in the figure of the ravishing woman who manages to kill men without a body from which to kill. Hero's aggressive history is documented not on her hands but on her skirts, which are stained with "the blood of wretched Lovers slaine," and David Lee Miller notes that the narrator's description of Hero's stricken lovers who await her death sentence "transform[s] the rapture of gazing on feminine beauty into the horror of beholding death, as if their emotional subtext were the myth of Medusa". (Marlowe, 16, Miller, 765) This connection, I contend, is more than subtext. When Leander first sees Hero, she (like Medusa) is worshiping in a temple; however, rather than worshiping the god of wisdom, Hero is doing honor to Venus, the goddess of love. In this temple decorated with stone carvings and images of sexually violent mythic scenarios referenced above, Hero is explicitly situated as a part of the decor: "And in the midst a silver alter stood,/ There Hero sacrificing turtles blood". (157 –158) The conjunction "and" serves to accentuate her placement as one in a list of violent aggressors; Hero, as one of the stone carvings, takes on the central role of the three-dimensional statue—the keenness of her danger dulled via her petrification. Yet she is also a statue with a difference: she can still open her eyes and look.

As Hero looks up from her bloody past and gazes at Leander, he in turn seems initially relegated by the narrator to the position of Medusa's victims—the "ravished" stone statue—as action for him stops and he stands "stone still" to "gaz[e]" "evermore" (163). Here, Leander remains under Hero's Medusa-like power without any narrative of response—for one line. But, unlike Medusa's own victims, Leander is ravished by "Loves arrow," not a monstrous woman. (161) Thus, out of the depths of his stony stillness, he is able to retaliate by the next line and strike "Heroes gentle heart" with "the fire that from his count'nance blazed". (165, 164) The two, struck so suddenly by what the narrator tells us is "true love," remain "mute" and "stan[d]" "amazed," and Marlowe here provides a moment of mutuality in his poem of sexual conquest. Interestingly, this moment takes place in silence. As both Hero and Leander exhibit stone-like postures in which their "power" and "will…is over-rul'ed by fate," neither are made into static statues; though they have lost their tongues, they "parled by the touch of hands" (167, 168, 185). These "dum signs" allow for a linguistic exchange outside of the poem's visual power circuits—as Leander regains his control over his astonished body, and as Hero descends into astonishment, there is a moment of meeting in which "their yielding hearts entangled". (186) After the poem leaves this space, such equal exchange becomes impossible. With Leander's ascent out of stoniness and into flesh, it becomes clear that Medusa's permanent sentence of male petrification is the stuff only of myths. Leander thaws, regains emotive agency, and "display[s]/ Loves holy fire, with words, with sighs and teares," while the sentence of stone returns to the female, Hero. (192-193)

Once Leander revivifies, he begins the process of "accost[ing]" Hero; as he seeks to conquer her as the object of his sexual desire, he seems to also understand her as an ornament.9 Her chastity is likened to aesthetic wealth—an "idoll," "jewell," "inestimable gemme"(269, 535, 562). Claude J. Summers comments that Marlowe's "materialist perspective" acts as his "refusal to place love within a transcendent vision" like Petrarchan idealization (p. 139). Yet this material commodification of the loved body perpetrates its own version of transcendence, as Leander transmutes a body of organic material into a valuable object of art. He begins to transform Hero and seek ownership over her wealth with the courtly scalpel of "Rhetoricke," his own articulations that are designed to "deceive". (338) Here, Leander is allowed to jump from one myth to another; no longer prey to Medusa's vicious gaze, he becomes Pygmalion the artist, and with his words, Leander attempts to form, from the material of Hero, his own living statue. She, as the ivory woman, cannot engage equally in this type of parlay and must either "tur[n] aside" or "cut him off". (195, 196) When she does speak, she places herself in jeopardy.

Miller describes this difference between Hero and Leander by declaring that "Leander is the subject of speech, and Hero is its object": Leander, according to Miller, can "'display' passion (192–193)," while Hero can "only betray it". (769) For though, as Hero is describing her home to Leander, she beckons him to "come thither," according to the narrator, these words are spoken against Hero's conscious will. (357) The narrator claims the following:

As she spake this, her toong tript,
For unawares (Come thither) from her slipt,
And sodainly her former coulour chang'd,
And here and there her eies through anger rang'd. (357–360)

Unlike Leander, who uses words to win what he wants, Hero's words of seduction, her "come thither," are admitted against her conscious mind, and to her shame (357). Words, then, not only betray Hero's desire which she would keep secret, but, as undesigned utterances over which she has no control and that she cannot take back, they make her an unwitting accomplice to her own petrification.10 Leander, on the other hand, retains his control over his speech in his own moments of seduction. As Leander swims in the Hellespont to reach Hero in her tower, he finds himself accosted by Neptune as the god attempts to seduce him. Leander's vocalized rebuff of Neptune may be based on a naïve assumption of the god's heterosexuality ("You are deceav'd, I am no woman I" ), but it contains a serious truth underneath the humor. (676) In the wooing of men, "deepe perswading Oratorie" can "fail[e]" to bend them, and Leander, who is neither stone nor woman, is allowed to refuse Neptune's suit. (710) Leander's assertion that he is not a woman, then, might be understood to be less about the assumed heterosexuality of the god than about the distinct disadvantage that the female gender faces in moments of seduction.

In keeping with this difference, we see that in contrast to Leander's linguistic—and thus physical—freedom, Hero increasingly becomes entrapped by her physical form as the poem advances, a form that in turn becomes progressively less of a body and more like the stone image of Pygmalion's fashioned lover. As the poem continues to deny her will and constrict her linguistic agency, the final scene of Hero's seduction takes on, as many critics have suggested, a valence of rape rather than mutual lovemaking.11 When the naked Leander, fresh from his swim, enters Hero's bedroom at night, she is "afrighted" and flees from him, "seeking refuge," only to hide herself in the most dangerous of sanctuaries—her bed. (737, 728) The bed becomes the temple in which Hero, like Medusa, loses her jewel of virginity; however, rather than this jewel being "once lost, lost for ever" as the narrator earlier suggests, Hero's virginity, once lost, is replaced with another aesthetic treasure—the silent, stone body of the woman herself. (570) Significantly, the poem's seduction scene directly inverses the myth of Pygmalion's erotic animation of his ivory lady. Both Leander and Pygmalion transform their lovers in their lover's own beds through physical contact with the lips and breasts; however, whereas sexually intimacy in Pygmalion's myth vivifies the stone woman, Marlowe's Leander mobilizes sexuality as a weapon against Hero; he, taking on the powerful petrifying role of Medusa, transforms the object of his gaze into a stony object.12 For while "the Ivory" of Pygmalion's statue's breast "wexed soft" and "yielded underneathe his fingars" into the first signs of her burgeoning life (X, 308, 308, 309), Leander's touch upon "the rising yv'rie mount" of Hero's "quivering" breast prefigures her full displacement to the shamed, sexually experienced body, petrified and on display under Leander's Medusa-like eye. (757, 773)

The sexually initiated Hero quickly becomes static stone victim to her potential shame and ruin. In the moment of consummation, Hero cannot respond "yes" to Leander's demands for sex; instead she can merely "yeeld her selfe" bodily to his influence (766).Their sex is not romantic; Leander's artistic tools of love are "deaffe and cruell, where [they mean] to pray," and the image of the sexual female is conflated, through metaphor, with a bird being wrung in someone's hands. (782)13 By way of this metaphoric victimization, the poem returns to an anxious and vulnerable Hero, who, "knew not how to frame her looke,/ Or speake to him who in a moment tooke,/ That which so long so charily she kept" (791–793). In the face of such disabling petrification, Hero still tries to avoid becoming a further victim and attempts to run. She doesn't get far. Caught immediately by Leander's "cling[ing]" self, she spills out on the floor, then "stood upright," finally taking her place in Picasso's circuit on the pedestal that Apollo would have given her as a worshipped, yet immobile and silent, stone image. (798, 801)

No longer a responding subject but the nude form of art, Hero becomes more valuable than any single jewel when she is "all naked to [Leander's] sight" displayed; the narrator tells us that from Hero, "his admiring eyes more pleasure tooke,/ Than Dis, on heapes of gold fixing his looke". (808, 809–810) Tellingly, it is Hero's reddening surface material that allows this aesthetic objectification. It is her blush—her "ruddie cheeke"—that breaks the "twilight" as a false morning, heralds the day's inevitable exposure, and compromises her value as a human woman who has lost her virtue. (807, 803) Hero, who once might have been granted Medusa's power to transform men to stone, has thus herself been transfixed by the daylight that her own shame calls forth. The man she once ravished with her eyes has physically ravished her, and the difference in power accorded to each leaves her stripped of her power to petrify back. No longer even a weapon that can harm other men with her in-tact virtue, Leander's sexual intervention allows her to be formed into an image of pleasure, not fear.

How then can such a Hero laugh? In her revision of the Medusa myth, Cixous pinpoints the crux of the issue for gendered entrapment in the following explanation of men's fears regarding women:

Wouldn't the worst be, isn't the worst, in truth, that women aren't castrated, that they have only to stop listening to the Sirens (for the Sirens were men) for history to change its meaning? You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she's not deadly. She's beautiful and she's laughing. (p. 885)

Cixous's Medusa's laughter—out in the open, yet often undetected—signals that many of our modes of understanding texts, including everything I've thus far written, reside within a history of female representation that is invested in not quite seeing straight. In Picasso's circuit of petrification, the physical body of the woman—like the laughter of the Medusa—is literally set aside. Not viewed. Though the modernist circuit splits the bodies available to us as viewers of Picasso's "Sculptor's Studio," these two figures are more accurately, within Marlowe's poetry, doubles of one form. The model and mold are here joined within one body, making Picasso's art object and live woman two facets of the same creature. It seems conceivable, then, to view the "Hero betrayd" as just one of the two possible bodies of Hero that we, as readers, could see manifested in that single closing image that Marlowe gives us of Hero by the bedside. (807) And it is the flesh-and-blood option, the woman who Picasso depicts as present physically but ocularly absented by the male gaze, who is neither the deadly Medusa who is rendered inert nor the dead stone of Pygmalion's creation. This fleshly woman is the Hero that a history of petrification doesn't display, and it is this Hero who might, I contend, be able to laugh.

By displacing the onus of transmuting bodies into art onto the petrifying circuit, I have sought to allow us access not only to this stony Hero, valuable to men for her artistic worth, but also to the abject body, the remainder of flesh, of will, of speech, and of laughter that exists, forgotten, to the side of Hero the blushing statue.14 I have demonstrated the ways in which the Medusa myth that purports to give women the power to ravish men is used rhetorically in "Hero and Leander" to justify male incursions upon, commodifications of, and petrification of what is, ultimately, a more limited female body like the one created in Pygmalion's studio. Through the topos of stone, the female body becomes controllable and benign under male eyes and hands; however, the stone woman that Marlowe's poem leaves us with is only, we must recognize, an artwork: the false shadow woman to the whole, fleshly Hero we might still find available to us if we take Cixous's caution seriously.

What, then, of the Medusa herself, the Hero we might see when we view her head-on? In the final image of the poem, one could read Marlowe's indication of this whole woman. Hero's face, like Medusa, shines "through the heare" and "betray[s]" her to Leander's sight—but what exactly is betrayed by the blush if not death, and what version of "her" does he see? (803, 807) Marlowe's evasive language that we've read as surface and art could also be evidence of an embodied Hero, one whose blush and nudity could signal, instead of the exposed, statuesque Hero, Leander's first visual acknowledgment of the bare, beautiful woman who has experienced with him "the pleasure of this blessed night" (788). It is betrayed, perhaps, that Hero finally does have a body that cannot be contained in stone or statue, and that Leander's simple act of seeing her in the light—a light, moreover, created by Hero herself—helps to banish the night's negative emotions of "anguish, shame, and rage" to a hell that attends not sexual experience but the refusal to see. (818)

If we were to acknowledge Hero as a body, far from denying the real violence done to women like Medusa (who are raped by men, then later destroyed by a system put in place supposedly to protect them), it would be possible to see and emphasize such violation. Such emphasis could take place since by moving away from the woman as stone object to a consideration of the fleshly woman herself, we might allow for an investigation and consideration of female humanity rather than inviolable stoniness. By reading Marlowe's poem for evidence of both of these Heroes, the stone woman and the living body, we enable ourselves to read rather than to accept the circuit of petrification; what might at first appear to split Hero into disparate selves, I argue, is the best means we have of actually seeing her. Cixous cautions: "censor the body, and you censor breath and speech at the same time". (p. 880) A blush is certainly not a voice with which to speak back to Leander, back to the audience. Yet it could be the fledgling signal of a body, one we could look toward for strains of Hero's displaced laughter. For her voice, the one that Picasso's circuit can only ever bring to our eyes as silence.



1 Cixous particularly takes on the psychoanalytic treatment of images and representations of female bodies and sexuality. For an apropos example of the kind of treatment to which her essay responds, see Sigmund Freud's "Medusa's Head," reprinted in The Medusa Reader, pp. 84–85.

2 See Forster's The Icy Fire: Five Studies in European Petrarchism, p. 191, for his interpretation of "Miss Sexy-Ice".

3 See Georgia E. Brown's article "Breaking the Canon" for an exploration of the way Marlowe's work diverges from both literary and gender norms in Renaissance England. See Warren Boutcher's article "'Who taught thee Rhetoricke to deceive a maid?'" for a comprehensive discussion of the ways in which various versions of the Hero and Leander story compare to the Musaeus original, particularly Marlowe's divergent comic treatment of a serious textual lineage.

 4Of course, there are many critics, even ones who emphasize Marlowe's transgressive aspects, who also discuss the more limited components of "Hero and Leander," including Werner Von Koppenfels, in his article "Dis-covering the Female Body." Such negotiations between "Hero and Leander's" aspects of "sexual comedy" and its "penumbra of tragedy" are also discussed by Claude J. Summers in his article "'Hero and Leander': the arbitrariness of desire" and Pamela Royston Macfie's "Marlowe's Ghost-Writing of Ovid's Heroides" (Summers, p. 133).

 5 "Hero and Leander" is certainly not the only English Renaissance text to feature the Pygmalion myth. Most notably, Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale could be seen in part as a rewriting of this myth. For a broader discussion of the myriad moments in which the trope of the living statue arises in art and literature, see Leonard Barkan's article "'Living Sculptures': Ovid, Michelangelo, and The Winter's Tale."

6 For a thorough history of the many ways in which Medusa has been appropriated and represented from antiquity to contemporary discourse, see The Medusa Reader by Marjorie B. Garber and Nancy J. Vickers.

7 For a discussion of the rhetorical and vocal rather than the visual aspects of Medusa's vengeance, see Lynn Enterline's chapter "Medusa's Mouth: body and voice in the Metamorphoses" from her book, The Rhetoric of the Body from Ovid to Shakespeare.

8 For discussions of the homoerotic, androgynous, and gender-bending aspects of Marlowe's blazon of Leander, see Cindy L. Carlson's "Clothing Naked Desire in Marlowe's Hero and Leander," Georgia E. Brown's "Breaking the Canon" and "Gender and voice in 'Hero and Leander,'" and David Lee Miller's "The Death of the Modern."

9 See Miller's discussion of Hero as ornament and treasure of male virility and the male gaze (pp. 769–779).

10See Carlson's comments regarding Hero's betrayal in these lines: "It is one of many instances when Hero's speech simply slips past what she might have intended to say and so betrays her or when speech is simply duplicitous, for the narrator is sure that her 'no' means 'yes'" (pp. 34–35).

11See Barbara J. Baines, "Effacing Rape in Early Modern Representation" and Werner Von Koppenfels, "Dis-Covering the Female Body."

12Here, though Hero can comfortably embody the "victimized" Medusa, the latent feminist power implicit within the Medusa myth to turn men to stone who look at her is, significantly, denied to Hero and appropriated by Leander.

13 One could consider the metaphor here an allusion to another common myth from Ovid, that of Philomela—the raped woman who was deprived of speech after her violation by a rapist who cut out her tongue, and who was later transformed into a nightingale. See Pamela Royston Macfie's "Ghostly Metamorphoses."

14Francisco Calvo Seraller, critic of the Vollard Suite, writes about the self-involved sculptor's depicted "forgetting" as a "creative incursion into madness, an indecipherable absolute because it obeys no law other than the delirious monologues of its own, absolutely self-engrossed creator" who only looks at his artwork (Picasso, p. 38).

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