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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: July 2011

10 - The narrative poetry of Marlowe and Shakespeare

Summary

1599 was an important year in the after-life of Christopher Marlowe, as well as in the life of William Shakespeare. In As You Like It (probably written in 1599), the self-consciously Petrarchan Phoebe falls for Ganymede (Rosalind in disguise) and says: ‘Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might: / “Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?”’ (3. 5. 82–3). Shakespeare, on whose writing thus far Marlowe had already had a considerable influence, here quotes directly from the erotic narrative poem, Hero and Leander (sestiad 1. 174–6), published in 1598, probably for the first time. Why should Shakespeare have called Marlowe a ‘shepherd’ and what might this say about Marlowe’s ongoing reputation as well as the relationship between the two poets?

1599 also saw the anonymous publication of Marlowe’s poem, ‘Come live with me, and be my love’ in an anthology called The Passionate Pilgrim. It became one of the most famous and influential of all Elizabethan love lyrics, provoking responses from, among others, Sir Walter Raleigh and John Donne. The poem was first published without a title but became known as ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’ in England’s Helicon, published a year later. A generation of poets wrote lyrics inspired by it. Shakespeare, who had implicitly referred to Marlowe many times already, responded with a whole play rather than a poem. When Phoebe praises the ‘dead shepherd’, whose observations about love at first sight she is now experiencing at first hand, it is as if there is also a covert acknowledgment of the debt of gratitude Shakespeare owed his dead, and passionate, counterpart.