‘Did he not draw a sort of English priests from Douay to the seminary at Rheims, to hatch forth treason ‘gainst their natural queen?
’ says Henry of Navarre of the Duc de Guise in Marlowe’s play The Massacre at Paris.
Shelley inherits the failure of myth, and the disillusion of English radical thought after two centuries of trade and power supported by a Christian Church serving the interests of the State. What is difficult for us was already intensely difficult for Shelley. They reflect each other in the same darkened mirror. His dedication of the first part of Hero and Leander in 1598, a poem later finished by Chapman and first printed after Marlowe’s death, pays tribute to the dead friend.
True, Faustus repents, in fear, and recognises his sin like Adam’s of reaching for forbidden knowledge.‘Sir, we think not ourselves discharged of the duty we owe our friend, when we have brought the breathless body to earth: for albeit the eye there taketh his ever farewell of that beloved object, yet the impression of the man, that hath been dear to us, living an afterlife in our memory, there putteth us in mind of further obsequies due to the deceased...these meditations (as by an intellectual will) I suppose my self executor to the unhappily deceased author of this poem.’ ‘The breathless body..beloved object..impression of the man...hath been dear to us...by an intellectual will .....’ it is a heartfelt tribute.Even this work, Hero and Leander, has impact on Elizabethan poetry, on Shakespeare particularly.On a summer’s morning, a small group of people gathers to witness the disposal of the body of their friend. University educated, he carried his love of Greek and Latin lightly, utilising the myths to serve his poetic purposes.Dead at the age of twenty-nine, a devastating loss to literature. Sceptical, freethinking, atheistic, radical, cynical of those in power, but also possessed of an unusual idealism, a rarified quality which infused his best verse with the radiance of the high sunlit or moonlit sky. His imagination was complex, difficult, fuelled by conflicting energies, shadowed.
Single mindedness to the point of recklessness
He is homosexual or bisexual in a world where that is still officially unacceptable.He belongs to that homosexual group that includes the bisexual Shakespeare, Francis and Anthony Bacon, the Earl of Southampton, and other members of the Essex set.The beauty of the poetry, the delight in words, also seemed to lead to the edge of what words can describe. Reality was a phantasmagoria, a theatre of life, where the mind must continually labour to rise above doubt and uncertainty, in intensity and rapture, to outsoar, in a struggle against the odds.He has put the spirit before the letter, and believed in redemption rather than original sin. Shelley, at the end of it, struggles to understand why liberty has not been achieved.
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