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Who completed Hero and Leander? 

by Martha J. Worrell

Jessica, an Illinois high school student asks

Marlowe was writing a poem- "Hero and Leander" -- when he was killed-- it was unfinished until George Chapman finished it and published it in 1598 ( the same year Much Ado About Nothing was written) - why did George Chapman finish it instead of Shakespeare - and why - if Marlowe was alive- didn't he finish it earlier? If I had faked my death in the middle of a poem one of the first things I would want to do is finish it.

Started by Marlowe, Completed by Chapman? In April, 1593 - one month before Marlowe's arrest, the narrative poem "Venus and Adonis" was registered anonymously with the Stationers' (i.e. Printers) Company. Marlowe "met his end" one month later, and about two weeks after that, "V&A" was published. Four months later (in September), the partially finished "Hero and Leander" (indisputably by Marlowe) was also registered with the Stationers. These two poems are alike in style and subject matter, and contain many echoes of each other.

Flash forward to 1598: After The Rape of Lucrece (the "graver labor") was published in 1594, not much was heard from the Shakespeare name IN PRINT. A few plays had been published, but only two had WS's name. Undoubtedly at this time the name WS was most widely known as the author of the two narrative poems V&A and Rape of Lucrece.

In 1598, Marlowe had been in exile for five years. Naturally, he hopes to regain his good name, but he can't blow his cover: To do so would bring retribution not only on himself, but on those (the Earls of Essex and Southampton, probably Francis Bacon) who abetted him. Believing that his crimes were no crimes at all, Marlowe tries a desperate gambit. He induces a friend, publisher Edward Blount (who will publish the Collected Plays in 1623), to issue the first two sestiads (sections) of Hero and Leander, the poem Marlowe was writing at the estate of his friend and patron, Thomas Walsingham, at the time of his "fell arrest." Blount, a mutual friend of poet and patron, writes a dedication testifying to the love shared between the poet and his friend.

This is where the plot thickens. That same year another publisher issues Marlowe's "Hero and Leander," completed by Marlowe's fellow poet and mutual friend of Matthew Royden, George Chapman. Chapman writes a dedication to AUDREY Walsingham, Tom's wife, in which he refers to the "strange instigation" to complete the poem and concludes:

This poor Dedication, in figure of the other unity betwixt Sir Thomas and yourself, hath rejoined you with him, my honored best friend, whose continuance of ancient kindness to my still-obscured estate, though it cannot increase my love to him, which hath ever been entirely circular, yet shall it encourage my deserts to their utmost requital, and make my hearty gratitude speak; to which the unhappiness of my life hath hitherto been uncomfortable and painful dumbness.

By your Ladyship's vowed in most wished service:
George Chapman


In Chapman's continuation, there is a strange passage that begins on line 183:

a footnote in the Revels Edition of the poem reads in part:

This well-known passage conceals (perhaps deliberately) within a cloud of rhetoric Chapman's motives for concluding Marlowe's poem. Compare 'by strange instigation' in the dedicatory letter.

It is well asked: why didn't Marlowe simply complete the poem and have it issued in his own name?  It appears that the Blount edition was published without Marlowe's knowledge. All he could do was issue the continuation he had written in the name of another: his friend Chapman, who, by agreeing, stood to gain in the patronage of the Walsingham's. I think that the above-quoted lines are the only part of the poem that Chapman actually composed. When this completed edition was published, Marlowe's name was in larger type, despite the lengthy continuation.

Marlowe Lives!