Whether Marlowe’s Hero and Leander was left unfinished at the author’s death or is a complete poem has been a much debated issue in the twentieth century. Since Muriel Bradbrook defined it as an epithalamion, celebrating the triumph of love, the idea of a “missing” tragic ending has been questioned. Critics have produced textual evidence for both possible solutions, considering the text either as a fragment where narration halts at the moment of the fulfilment of passion, or as a mock-heroic epyllion, skilfully devised to keep death at a distance. A definitive answer may never be found, but the text presents several interesting features which seem to hint self-referentially at its own form. At different levels the poem, rather than being structured as a linear and uninterrupted narration, contains separate static elements which defy any teleological tending towards a conclusion. The insertion of, or the reference to, different classical myths seems to reproduce the notion of the whole text as a fragment. Moreover, oppositions between different fields, such as the world of gods and goddesses and that of human beings, or the generic universe of male and female identities, merge into an ambiguous coincidentia oppositorum, where differences are abolished. Just as Hellespont at the same time separates and unites the two cities, as well as the two lovers, other figures are representative of the connection between diverse natures: tritons and mermaids, Centaurs, but also sex, hermaphroditism and homosexuality. All of these seem to thematize and mirror the double identity of the poem itself, which mixes together comedy and tragedy, so that neither can prevail.
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