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In Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander (1598), gender binaries are challenged from the very beginning of the poem through use of sensory description. The term ‘gender binary’ can be defined as an artificial division of what is classed as “masculine” and as “feminine”. However, the term is a socially constructed one and has no scientific basis.The strong history and presence of the gender binary in our society plays into essentialism about people’s choices with regard to their gender role.Marlowe uses explicit but sensual language throughout to subvert the traditional perspectives of gender. The images he creates are markedly sensuous through the use of touch ,sight, hearing, smell and taste. In the opening description of Leander, he is described to have  “dangling tresses that were never shorne” and “orient cheeks and lippes”, perhaps to highlight Leander’s most feminine features and to provide an image of a female form. The narrator announces that “some swore he was a maid in mans attire. / For in his looks were all that men desire”. Marlowe hints at the idea of same-sex desire while challenging the stereotypes of what characteristics males and females are expected to possess by the society that surrounds them. This technique overturns reader’s expectations and creates a sense of confusion throughout the poem. However, Marlowe’s descriptions reinforce gender binaries when an appraisal of Hero in the opening passage exhibits admiration and focus entirely on her appearance. She is offered a burning throne where she could “sit for men to gaze upon”. This image of Hero being admired entirely for her physical appearance conforms to the stereotype that women are items of possession and exist only as sexual objects to please their male counterparts. This can be linked to the ‘Male Gaze’ theory, first developed in the 1970s by Laura Mulvey. The ‘male gaze’ explores the ways in which women in film (now also applied to arts and literature), are presented as objects of desire – but through the perspective of a male spectator.  Mulvey suggests that “the pleasure of looking has been split between active/male and passive/female”. Perhaps Marlowe objectifies Hero in the poem, reinforcing gender binaries, to mock the stereotype that being biologically female automatically causes women in society to become objects to admire. Although Marlowe somewhat reinforces gender binaries with Hero’s descriptions, he ultimately presents an ambivalent attitude towards gender, where the boundaries normally found in male and female stereotypes are explored and ridiculed. Marlowe reinforces gender binaries when describing Hero’s ornate attire, “Her kirtle blue…her veil was artificial flowers and leaves…about her neck hung chains of pebble-stone”. There is a clear juxtaposition between the natural and the artificial in this description through the artificial flowers and the stones around her neck. The pebbles perhaps serve as symbol of enslavement, and the synthetic flowers as a clear reminder that Hero is not parallel with nature because she relies on man-made products to look beautiful. It can be argued that Marlowe uses stones to make the point that Hero is merely a component of a world that is male-dominated.From the opening of the the text we are introduced the to the “opposite” cities Sestos and Abydos where Hero and Leander reside, cleverly setting the two protagonists in opposition. An immediate imbalance emerges when Marlowe describes Hero as “Hero the fair”, whereas Leander is described as “Amorous…beautiful and young”- even carrying an extra syllable, further magnifying Leander’s beauty and acting as Marlowe’s indication that Leander should be admired. Once again, this confuses the reader and confuses gender binaries. One could argue that the words ‘beautiful’ and ‘amorous’ are normally associated with females (and therefore with Hero rather than Leander). However, Marlowe, perhaps on purpose, makes it a point to not conform to the stereotype that women are delicate and exist purely to be admired for their external appearance. It can also be argued that these initial descriptions of the two main characters of the poem are used to immediately confuse the reader. When reading the title of the poem, it could also initially be assumed by most that ‘Hero’ is in fact the male protagonist as most heroes are stereotypically strong, very masculine men. However, it can then be argued that Marlowe further reinforces gender binaries when he uses his descriptions to change readers’ perceptions of the two characters. Marlowe uses language that almost caress the young man’s body, “upon his breast, his thighs, and every limb”. It creates a sense of desire and superiority, forcing the reader to assume that Leander is so perfect that he must be analysed inch by inch. Contrastingly, Marlowe uses more of a mocking tone when describing Hero, repeatedly using hyperbole to make Hero seem ridiculous: “beat from thence, have lighted there again”, when bees attempt to enter her mouth for honey; decorative sparrows perched on her buskins and filled with water, “chirrup”, while she giggles ridiculously. Such moments mirror her later humiliation and with Marlowe’s focus on her clothing rather than her body, the reader is distracted of her beauty as she is painted in such a negative light. Readers are instead forced to directly compare the two characters, where Leander is seen as desirable and superior, but Hero as irresponsible and less intelligent. Therefore reinforcing gender binaries as typically, women are unfortunately seen to be less intelligent, and less capable of responsibility than men- a view that would have been typical in Marlowe’s time. Furthermore, gender binaries are reinforced when Marlowe highlights Leander’s unwavering pursuit of Hero. Leander uses comical similes, “Like untuned golden strings all women are, /Which, long time lie untouched, will harshly jar”, to persuade Hero that virginity is not something that should be possessed by any woman and that she should never remain “untouched”. Marlowe uses Leander’s satirical language to display his use of manipulation to get what he wants and there is a clear parallel between the instrument and Hero, sending the message that women are objects that should be possessed or handled by men. It also reinforces gender binaries because it conforms to the stereotype that men should be in control merely because of the gender they were born as; as displayed by Leander’s desperate need to be in power of Hero and make her decisions about being sexually intimate for her.Further into the poem, we see gender binaries confused when Leander is mistaken for a female by Neptune, “You are deceived, I am no women I’. At this point, Neptune continues to flirt with Leander purely because of his attraction to his aesthetic appeal. This attraction, according to society’s standards, say that a male should not desire another male. However, Edmund Burke discusses the power of aesthetic beauty and appeal in causing sensations that are far more powerful than many of the social conventions that would have existed in Marlowe’s time. Burke explains that individuals that are from the same or similar class will, most of the time, feel an attraction or connection towards one another because they have similar social qualities. As Leander seeks Hero, Neptune seems to be sensually courting Leander. “Cast a many lustful glance/ And throw his gaudy toys to please his eye”, Leander is stuck between Hero and Neptune, but also between conventional heteroseuxal desire and homoerotic desire. The poem rejects gender conventions and gender binaries of Marlowe’s time by provoking homoerotic desire through Leander. Technically, Hero and Leander are socially acceptable as a couple, whereas Neptune and Leander as a couple would defy what society sees as normal and acceptable for their gender binary.  Marlowe presents unconventional notions of masculine and feminine by inverting gender roles and gender binaries in Hero and Leander. The desire that Hero has for Leander is stronger than the desire that Leander holds for Hero, an unconventional circumstance in the society that Marlowe lived in. Hero initially resists Leander’s attempts at pursuing her, ‘Leander stooped to have embraced her, /But from his spreading arms away she cast her’. However, when Hero eventually yields to Leander’s advances, Leander steps back. When Leander steals Hero’s heart, and also her virginity, he ‘took leave, and kissed’, while Hero ‘wrung him by the hand and wept,/ Saying “Let your vows and promises be kept” / Then standing at the door, she turned about,/ As loath to see Leander going out’.  JOHN LEONARD? Hero’s eagerness to initiate intimacy – intimacy that was initially sought out by Leander, is then rejected.

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