Evidence of Marlowe’s Heterosexuality in the Plays


from A.D. Wraight's
The Story That The Sonnets Tell

 

 

 

Marlowe has frequently been called a homosexual. Before such an emotive allegation is made we must be very sure of our facts. The evidence when examined (and it has never before been fully researched) does not uphold this. If he were inclined to homosexuality one would expect to find indications of this in his adolescent writings when his sexual attitudes were being established. We are fortunate in being able to study his youthful poetic works, written at Cambridge, and we can also draw conclusions from what was undoubtedly an early, full scale dramatic work, probably his very first written when he was seventeen or eighteen. The plays is now lost, but its source can be consulted, for this was, again, a dramatization of history. These early works all show only heterosexual attitudes, without any doubt and, indeed, most emphatically.

 

At Cambridge the youthful Marlowe began consciously to develop his poetic style by translating from the Latin authors, Lucan and Ovid. These were tasks he set himself for his own edification and interest; they were indulgences worked at surreptitiously, for the university would not have approved these activities, especially if they had known what he chose for the subject of his translations! He could have selected from a wide range of classical literature, including works having a homosexual element but he deliberately chose Ovid’s Amores, which are as heterosexual a collection of poems as one could imagine. Anyone reading these forty-eight love-poems, which are of varying length, some as much as three pages, representing a choice celebration of erotica mainly devoted to the poetic description of Ovid’s love-affair with his mistress, Corinna, will not gain the impression that their self-employed translator was a young man interested in homosexuality!

 

Many of the Amores are explicitly erotic poems. Marlowe named his translation Ovid’s Elegies, perhaps to mask their erotic nature. They were eventually published in an undated, surreptitious and unauthorized edition bearing the imprint ‘At Middlebourgh’ in the Netherlands, where much illicit literature was printed and smuggled abroad. The book was condemned by Archbishop Whitgift and the Bishop of London and copies consigned to the flames, but several have survived. It was evidently a popular book.

 

Young Marlowe was learning his sex education from the heterosexual Ovid, of that there can be no question at all. These poems are totally uninhibited and quite explicit. A selection of two are given below to provide a sampling of this luscious literature in which the young poet was employing his leisure hours.

 

Elegy V. Book I

 

In summer’s heat and mid-time of the day

To rest my limbs upon a bed I lay;

One window shut, the other open stood,

Which gave such light as twinkles in a wood,

Like twilight glimpse at setting of the sun,

Or night being past, and yet not day begun.

Such light to shame fast maidens must be shown,

Where they may sport, and seem to be unknown.

Then came Corinna in a long loose gown,

Her white neck hid with tresses hanging down,

Resembling fair Semiramis going to bed,

Or Lais of a thousand wooers sped.

I snatch’d her gown; being thin, the harm was small,

Yet striv’d she to be cover’d therewithal.

And striving thus as one that would be cast

Betray’d herself, and yielded at the last.

Stark naked as she stood before mine eye,

Not one wen on her body could I spy.

What arms and shoulders did I touch and see,

How apt her breasts were to be press’d by me!

How smooth a belly under her waist saw I”

How large a leg, and what a lusty thigh!

To leave the rest, all lik’d me passing well,

I cling’d her naked body, down she fell;

Judge you the rest; being tir’d she bade me kiss;

Jove send me more such afternoons as this.

 

Ovid also tells of unsuccessful sexual liaisons.

 

Elegy VI. Book III

 

She on my neck her Ivory arms did throw

Her arms far whiter than the Scythian snow.

And eagerly she kiss’d me with her tongue,

And under mine her wanton thigh she flung.

Yea, and she soothed me up, and call’d me sire,

And us’d all speech that might provoke, and stir.

Yet like as if cold Hemlock I had drunk,

It mock’d me, hung down the head, and sunk.

 

. . .

 

Why mock’st thou me? She cried, or being ill

Who bade thee lie down here against thy will?

Either th’art witch’d with blood of frogs new dead,

Or jaded cam’st thou from some other bed..

With that her loose gown on, from me she cast her,

In skipping out her naked feet much graced her.

And lest her maid should know of this disgrace,

To cover it , spilt water on the place.

 

The young Marlowe was clearly getting his sexual education from Ovid! Marlowe’s Hero and Leander is redolent with recollections of his translation of the Amores but they are here transmuted by his innate delicacy, and the passionate intensity of first love is exquisitely depicted, touched with an integrity of feeling which lifts this erotic poem into a sphere far above Ovid’s sensuous eroticism. There is a streak of genuine purity and idealism in Marlowe’s make-up, which, warring with his passionate nature, creates turbulence in him.

Marlowe’s first play, or so I judge it, now lost, was sold to the Earl of Oxford’s men. The True History of George Scanderbeg, tells of a Christian Prince of Albania who saved his country from the Turks. The source he used was evidently the account by John Shute in his Two Very Notable Commentaries (1562). The British Library’s copy of this rare book has marginal annotations in an Elizabethan hand that may well be Marlowe’s. In it we find this description of Scanderbeg:

 

Scanderbeg was of a goodly stature, and fayre, well sewtrid of al his members and of an excellent complexion, wel able to endure hete, cold, and al kinde of trauaile, as touching ye virtues of his minde, he was wise, circumspect, and magnanime, ful of liberalitie, and cortesie, and juste both in dede and worde, as moughte be possible, valiante & merciful, apte to forgeue wronges itf it were required of him, he was an enemie of al vice, and especially of that of the Citie of Gomorra, he wolde neuer suffere his souldiours to slay women nor children of his enemies, nor that anye woman shoulde be enforced, in prosperitie he was neuer proude, nor in aduersitie neuer discoraged . . .’

 

This history relates the extraordinary life of this noble Albanian prince who was taken hostage as a child to the court of the Turkish emperor, who brought him up and trained him in arms to become a marvelous warrior, treating him with great favour, giving him charge of his armies. Being secretly converted to Christianity, he escaped to join his own people and led them to victory against the Turks. It is an inspiring and dramatic story. Scanderbeg was a man of pristine and chivalry, a brilliant military tactician, heroic and intelligent. He taught his soldiers his values, and was especially noted for his hatred of the sin of sodomy. One has the sense that Scanderbeg was a hero-figure for the youthful Marlowe. I have already mentioned this play in relation to Gabriel Harvey, who knew the young Marlowe at Cambridge, perhaps more intimately than we realized, and associated him with this character, naming him ‘Scanderbeg’ and ‘the Scanderbegging wight” in his Gorgon. Certainly no young homosexual would have chosen to dramatize the life of George Scanderbeg!

 

Since Marlowe’s earliest known play dramatized the life of the virtuous Christian Prince Scanderbeg, who hated the sin of sodomy, and who loved his wife dearly, and in Tamburlaine (who likewise mightily fought the Turks) Marlowe introduces out of his own invention the love-story of the great Scythian warrior and Zenocrate, it cannot then be argued that he was a homosexual because he chose to dramatize the tragic life of a homosexual English king in his Edward the Second. Yet that is what some of his critics have claimed, despite the evidence in this play of scornful comments from the rebel noblemen utterly despising Edward for his abject attachment to Piers Galveston, who is shown in anything but a favourable light. He is a corrupter of the ‘pliant king’, and a base-born fellow with base principles, while Edward cuts a weak, pathetic figure, an unfit king, who is taunted and spurned by his noblemen.

 

Young Mortimer

 

The idle triumphs, masks, lascivious shows,

And prodigal gifts bestow’d on Gaveston,

Have drawn thy treasury dry, and made thee weak;

The murmuring commons, overstretched, break.

 

Lancaster

Look for rebellion, look to be despos’d:

Thy garrisons are beaten out of France,

And, lame and poor, lie groaning at the gates;

The wild Oneil, with swarms of Irish kerns,

Lives uncontroll’d within the English pale;

 

. . .

 

Young Mortimer

 

Who loves thee, but a sort of flatterers?

 

Lancaster

 

Thy gentle queen, sole sister of Valois,

Complains that thou has left her all forlorn.

Thy court is naked, being bereft of those

That make a king seem glorious to the world,

I mean the peers, whom thou shouldst dearly love;

Libels are cast against thee in the street;

Ballads and rhymes made of thy overthrow.

 

    King Edward the Second 11. 960-981

 

The horrendous murder of the pitiful king devised by Lightborne – surely one of the most coldly cruel and fiendishly evil characters ever created – by driving a red hot iron rod up his anus, is sufficient evidence that this is not the dramatist’s self-identification with the practice of homosexuality. The scene arouses the most powerful emotions of pity and horror in the audience of any scene ever written. I do not believe that anyone who was himself a homosexual could have written this play. How can any sentient person argue this?

 

The touching love and loyalty of the youthful King Edward III for his deposed and murdered father, despite his depraved and condemned life, ends this play on a note of deep compassion which does not excuse or exonerate the king’s faults, but sees them as expiated in his tragic death, and brings just retribution to his murderers. This play is the strongest dramatic condemnation of homosexuality that has ever been written; although Marlowe himself remains the dramatist standing in the wings, presenting these historical characters with compassionate humanity, weaving his theatrical magic with tolerance and understanding for human frailty.

 

His treatment of the French King Henry III in The Massacre at Paris similarly depicts the utter scorn which other characters in the play show towards him for his indulgence of his homosexual courtiers while his portrait of the king is nevertheless sympathetic.

 

Guise

I love your minions! Dote on them yourself,

I know none else but holds them in disgrace.

 

11. 779-780

 

The sole origin of the identifications of Marlowe as a homosexual is the informer Baines’ infamous dossier on him in which he reports that the Poet had been known to express the opinion ‘That all they that loue not Tobacco & Boies were fooles.’ Those who have credited Baines’ ‘Note” have attempted to deduce homosexuality from Marlowe’s works, citing the little scene that opens Dido Queen of Carthage, showing Jove dallying with Ganymede as ‘evidence’. They seem not to have realized that this scene fulfils the essential dramatic purpose of presenting the reason for Juno’s jealousy which underlies the tragedy of this play; it is not gratuitously introduced. In the context of this Greek legendary tale it shows Jove in his traditional, hedonistic character, in a little scene so delicately handled it could not give offence to a Victorian prude. Artistic license would baulk at altering the nature of Jove! Is every writer on classical mythology supposedly a homosexual? The argument is fatuous. Similarly, these hunters for ‘evidence’ of Marlowe’s alleged homosexuality point to the episode in Hero and Leander in which the god Neptune tries to seduce Leander as he swims the Hellespont. Leander repudiates his advance in alarm: ‘You are deceiv’d; I am no woman, I’, which angers the god. Once again, this episode has a dramatic purpose in the story, for had Marlowe completed the poem he would, I believe had harked back to Neptune’s rejection to present Leander’s watery death as the god’s jealous revenge for spurning his amorous advances. The poem has another such digression, which has nothing to do with homosexuality. This relates the courtship of a beautiful country maid by the god Mercury, which equally has a dramatic purpose. The moral of this episode is to show why true lovers are star-crossed. These two commentaries drawn from the classics establish the style in which the poem is conceived by the author. They are an essential part of the artistic intent.

 

One might ask, what are we to make of the heterosexual evidence in Edward the Third? This apocryphal play – long believed to be at least partly by Shakespeare – has now been attributed unassailably to Marlowe, as his first English history play written in 1588 in celebration of the great victory over the Spanish Armada, in which he himself fought with the English navy. “In this play, King Edward III, who was a notorious womanizer, relieves the castle of the Countess of Salisbury which was held by the Scots,, who at once flee upon the arrival of Edward with his army, whom the Countess then entertains, her husband being absent fighting in France. Edward is immediately smitten by the Countess’ beauty and sects about determinedly to seduce her, ordering his courtier, Lodowick, to compose a love poem to her declaring his illicit love. It was Marlowe’s first essay in romantic comedy, foreshadowing the great romantic comedies he was to write later. It is the only play of this early period that is not a tragedy, which was still his main inspiration.

 

In King Edward’s speeches there are strong echoes of the Scythian conqueror Tamburlaine’s famous invocation to Beauty s he contemplates the power that Zenocrate’s beauty has over him, which is given opposite in full for comparison. Tamburlaine’s soliloquy is one of the best loved of all the great speeches in the play and would have evoked immediate recognition in his Elizabethan audiences.

 

TAMBURLAINE’S SOLILOQUY

 

Ah, fair Zenocrate! – divine Zenocrate!

Fair is too foul and epithet for thee,

That in thy passion for thy country’s love,

And fear to see thy kingly father’s harm,

With hair dishevell’d wip’st thy watery cheeks;

And, like to Flora in her morning’s pride,

Shaking her silver tresses in the air,

Rain’st on the earth resolved pearl in showers,

And sprinkles sapphires on thy shining face,

Where Beauty, mother to the Muses, sits,

And comments volumes with her ivory pen,

Taking instructions from thy flowing eyes;

Eyes, when that Ebena steps to heaven,

In silence of thy solemn evening’s walk,

Making the mantle of the richest night,

The moon, the planets, and the meteors, light;

There angels in their crystal armours fight

A doubtful battle with my tempted thoughts

For Egypt’s freedom and the Soldan’s life,

His life that so consumes Zenocrate,

Whose sorrows lay more siege unto my soul

Than all my army to Damascus’ walls;

And neither Persia’s sovereign nor the Turk

Troubled my senses with conceit of foil

So much by much as doth Zenocrate.

What is beauty, saith my sufferings, then?

If all the pens that ever poets held

Had fed the feeling off their masters’ thoughts,

And every sweetness that inspir’d their hearts,

Their minds, and muses on admired themes;

If all the heavenly quintessence they still

From their immortal flowers of poesy,

Wherein, as in a mirror, we perceive

The highest reaches of a human wit’

If these had made one poem’s period,

And all combin’d in beauty’s worthiness,

Yet should there hover in their restless heads

One thought, one grace, one wonder, at the least,

Which into words no virtue can digest.

The First Part of Tamburlaine the Great Act V, scene 1, 11.135-173

 

Edward the Third is probably the next play he wrote after Tamburlaine for in the hectic activity of Armada year he would hardly have had much time to devote to dramatic composition. The speech below is one of the many stylistic identifications of authorship that mark Edward the Third so clearly as Marlowe’s work containing many echoes of Tamberlaine’s soliloquy.

 

King Edward

 

Now, Lodowick, invocate some golden Muse,

To bring thee hither an enchanted pen,

That may for sighs set down true sighs indeed,

Talking of grief, to make thee ready groan;

And when thou writest of tears, encouch the word

Before and after with such sweet laments

That it may raise drops in a Tartar’s eye,

And make a flintheart Scythian pitiful;

 For so much moving hath a poet’s pen:

Then, if thou be a poet, move thou so,

And be enriched by thy sovereign’s love.

For, if the touch of sweet concordant strings

Could enforce attendance in the ears of hell,

How much more shall the strains of poets’ wit

Beguile and ravish soft and human minds?

 

Lodowick

To whom, my Lord, shall I direct my style?

 

King Edward

To one that shames the fair and sots the wise;

Whose body is an abstract or a brief,

Contains such general virtue in the world.

Better than beautiful, thou must begin;

Devise for fair a fairer word than fair,

And every ornament that thou wouldst praise,

Fly it a pitch above the soar of praise.

For flattery fear thou not to be convicted;

For, were thy admiration ten times more,

Ten times ten thousand more the worth exceeds

Of that thou art to praise, thy praises worth.

Begin; I will to contemplate the while:

Forget not to set down, how passionate,

How heart-sick, and how full of languishment,

Her beauty makes me.

 

Lodowick

Write I to a woman?

 

King

What beauty else could triumph over me,

Or who but women do our love lays greet?

What, thinkest thou I did bid thee praise a horse?

King Edward the Third Act 2 scene 2 11.65-98

 

With this parting shot of ironic wit the King leaves Lodowick to his composition, while he himself muses on his passionate love and the art of composing a love poem. The gallant and beautiful Countess, who foreshadows Lucrece in her chastity, skillfully outwits the lecherous King Edward and shames him out of his infatuation by her dramatic offer to kill herself rather than to submit to his illicit desires. This episode reveals Marlowe’s undoubted gift for romantic tragic-comedy, and it may with far more validity be cited as evidence of his heterosexuality, together with the cumulative evidence of his other early works, than the examples cited as alleged evidence of his homosexuality.

 

Such arguments as applied to detection of Marlowe’s sexuality may now be seen as the fallacious opinings of critics who have a distorted image of Marlowe in their sights. We are dealing with a dramatist of protean mind, which reflects, as light through a prism, all the many-coloured and multi-faceted aspects of human nature, and whose restless and supremely innovative genius from its first emergence is characterized by the continual search for new material for his pupil pen, preferably in contrast to what he had done before. It is a trait remarked on by Dr Bakeless. This was, I suggest, the attraction that drew him to follow his dramatization of Scanderbeg with that of Tamburlaine, both tremendously successful fighters against the Turks but of totally opposing characters, the one a virtuous Christian Prince who was canonized as a saint by his people after his death, the other a cruel and tyrannical, but brave, pagan. Similarly, his dramatization of the decidedly heterosexual King Edward III, whose womanizing exploits brought some scandal on the crown, and the only play from his pen prior to 1593 that is not a tragedy, he followed up with his dramatization of the tragic history of Edwa4rd II. This he would first have noted during his research in Holinshed, where the two reigns overlap, for Edward III became king in his minority upon his unhappy father’s deposition. It is the compassion with which Marlowe deals with Edward II’s sexual crime, that his modern critics have misinterpreted as the dramatist’s self-identification with the pitiful, homosexual king. In this gross misunderstanding of the dramatist’s art and soul, they have condemned Marlowe for this “Shakespearean’ quality of blessed broad-mindedness and humanity. Such misconceptions are rooted in historical prejudice.

 

The two sharply contrasted English history plays, Edward the Third and Edward the Second, the one an extravagantly heterosexual, successful and popular monarch the other his tragic, homosexual father – fascinating material for a student of humanity such as our poet-dramatist – provide effectively the missing link in the chain of Marlowe’s development as a dramatist from early Marlowe to mature Shakespeare.

 

In assessing what kind of man this genius was on such an emotive subject as his sexuality, it is the historical period in which he lived that provides the landscape in which we try to comprehend the mind and nature of this essentially Elizabethan, late English Renaissance poet whose sonnet-sequence reveals his life and character. The language in which he expresses himself is Elizabethan English, and just as we need some  guidance in the language of the emblems, so we have to appreciate what the word ‘lover’ meant as used between Elizabethan men. In Julius Caesar, Brutus addresses the assembled crowd as ‘Romans, countrymen and lovers!’, and he names Caesar his ‘best lover’. In Coriolanus, Menenius speaks of his good friend Coriolanus as his ‘lover’. Never has there been an age when friendship was more highly valued, this ethic receiving its inspiration from Renaissance Neoplatonism. It is in this sense that the term is constantly used in the Sonnets also; and only in this sense as spoken between men, plain, frank, in the language of love addressing a patron.

 

Menenius

 

I tell thee, fellow,,

Thy general is my lover. I have been

The book of his good acts, whence men have read

His fame unparallel’d haply amplified;

For I have ever verified my friends –

Of whome he’s chief – with all the size that verity

Would without lapsing suffer.

Coriolanus Act 5 scene2 11.14-19

 

Those who see a sexual connotation in the sincere expression of ardent adoration of the Patron in the Sonnets, denying that such emotional attachment can be innocent, are really denying that a deeply-grounded love can ever exist between two people without also developing into a sexual relationship. Such an assertion is the most ignorant nonsense, for love is by definition a transcendent power. Parental love, brotherly and sisterly love, the love between true friends – which is perhaps the rarest of all – are as real and true and deep, often far more so, than that which is sexually evoked, of which the flame burns fiercely and is often as quickly spent. Whilst sex is an undeniably potent force in human relationships, it is the emotional need for love, appreciation and sympathy that is of prime importance, particularly in highly-developed beings whose yearning for a true love is paramount. Love and sexual attraction are not necessarily the same. Yet this is the fallacious assumption behind the misinterpretation of the language of love used in the Sonnets as evidence of homosexuality. Many people go through life without ever finding a true soul-mate, though most will find a sexual partner who may be more or less satisfactory equally is it rare for marriage to be a true union at a spiritual level. Disillusionment boosts the divorce rate.

 

To find a true-loving relationship with a true and faithful friend is an unaccountable blessing. In Marlowe’s case, who was so blessed, there must have been those intrinsic qualities in his own nature which called forth the loving friendship that was offered so whole-heartedly, and the relationship he had with Thomas Walsingham gained in depth and poignancy through the danger from which his Patron saved him – virtually he owed him his life, so that the ties that bound him were immeasurable strong and bespeak a friendship of complete trust and harmony.

 

The Renaissance Platonic Ideal

 

The Renaissance brought with it, alongside the rediscovery of the rich heritage of the Greek legends with their pantheon of pagan gods displaying uninhibited hedonism and plural sexuality, the knowledge of Plato and the Greek philosophers whose teaching the poets, writers and intellectuals of Elizabethan England took to their hearts. The Platonic ideal was a powerful inspirational influence on the mores of the time, elevating friendship to the most sacred of human relationships. Shakespeare’s plays are full of examples, and we see it also among women in the delightful portraits of Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It.

 

Whilst Plato extolled beauty of heart and spirit as the ultimate, far beyond mere physical beauty, and, as though to emphasize this, presents his ideas through the mouth of Socrates, a physically very ugly man, he also taught that the path to the elevated, ideal state of Platonic Love was through the contemplation of beauty in all its manifold forms in the physical world as well as the spiritual. In his adoration of beauty, the Poet of the Sonnets reveals himself as one who is aspiring to attain the ideal state of Platonic Love. Many of these sonnets are his outpourings in eulogistic language celebrating the beauty that his soul loved and which his eye saw in the ‘lovely Boy’, as well as in  Walsingham, who must also have been an exceedingly handsome man as is evident in Sonnets 98 and 99, which praise his beauty and are certainly addressed to Walsingham, not Hatcliffe. But it was Walsingham’s spiritual qualities that the Poet loved above all, and his enduring soul-love for his magnanimous Patron is wonderfully expressed in one of the most justly famous of all the sonnets.

 

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no, it is an ever fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand’ring barque,

Whose worth’s unknown although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickel’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Sonnet 116

 

This beautiful sonnet takes on an even deeper meaning in the context of the tragedy that was the Poet’s life-experience, when he speaks of love that ‘alters not . . . But bears it out even to the edge of doom;. I Marlowe and Walsingham we have that rate example of two friends who are in the perfect relationship of Platonic Love, as commended by Plato and Ficino and Pico della Mirandola as the highest condition  to which man can aspire. The sonnets eulogizing physical beauty always associate this with virtue in his patrons in celebration of ‘soul love’ between faithful friends – that ‘dear religious love’ referred to in Sonnet 31. This is the Platonic concept: it is in his adoring contemplation of beauty and virtue that the artist gives birth to his inspired poetic works. A patron was seen to be the more greatly hounoured, the more brilliant the poetic works that were produced by those he patronized, giving status and merit to the patron. In this one can see a strong incentive for Walsingham’s protection of his Poet, though in his case unselfishly for he was also obscured by the same anonymity as his Poet. This man of fine discrimination and artistic judgment may have sensed the importance of saving Marlowe for posterity.

 

‘The Vision of Eros’ is how W.H. Auden describes this perfect spiritualized love, which Wordsworth had glimpsed in his Ode to Immortality, where it is, however, an entirely depersonalized vision as a love of Nature and the beauty of the natural world that brings a glory into the child’s life. ‘It would seem that, in our culture, this vision is not uncommon in childhood’, he writes, and we cannot doubt that the transcendent power of beauty was felt by the child, Christopher Marlowe, as much as  by the young Wordsworth, and it remained the inspiration of his life. Auden continues:

 

‘The vision of Eros, on the other hand, is concerned with a single person, who is revealed to the subject as being of infinite sacred importance. The classic descriptions of it are found in Plato’s Symposium, Dante’s La Vita Nuova, and some of these sonnets of Shakespeare.

  ‘The Vision of Eros is probably a much rarer experience than most people in our culture suppose, but, when it is genuine, I do not think it makes any sense to apply to terms like heterosexual or homosexual. Such terms can only be legitimately applied to the profane, erotic experiences with which we are all familiar, to lust, for example, an interest in another solely as a sexual object, and that combination of sexual desire and philia, affection based upon mutual interests, values, and shared experiences which is the securest basis for a happy marriage.

 ‘That, in the Vision of eros, the erotic is the medium, not the cause, is proved, I think, by the fact, on which all who have written about it with authority agree, that it cannot long survive an actual sexual relationship.’

 

The works we know as Marlowe’s and Shakespeare’s demonstrate an attitude towards sex of uncompromising integrity. Lucrece, Cymbeline, Tamburlaine, Edward the Third present us with heroines who will choose death rather than sexual defilement, and in contrast, we have the horrible lasciviousness of Goneril. These creations of the dramatist’s art demonstrate an intensely felt approach that is typically Elizabethan, but in the Sonnets is expressed personally. Although no Puritan, his strong hatred of lust and lasciviousness is a notable characteristic. It is an undeniable fact that our Poet has a self-tormenting, ambivalent attitude towards the sex act, a love-hate, guilt-ridden longing yet aversion to its consummation. This, in itself, would preclude a sexual aspect intruding into his perfect relationship with his beloved Patron.