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compassionate touch, George Chapman, Hero and Leander


Chapman begins his continuation of Marlowe’s Hero and Leander by announcing that he intends to “censure the delights” which the lovers have enjoyed without the sanction of ceremony. However, the narrator does not maintain this attitude of stern judgment. As readers of Chapman’s Hero and Leander have often noticed, the narrator continuously shifts his tone, sometimes censuring the lovers and sometimes sympathizing with them. Chapman’s poem is thus as deeply concerned with the problem of appropriate compassion as it is with the containment of Eros. The narrator’s vacillation between censure and compassion can be fruitfully considered by examining early modern understanding of the passions as contagious. Compassion is a matter of being literally touched by the emotions of others. While Chapman argues that this powerful experience may overwhelm good judgment, he also defends it as useful and humanizing. Chapman portrays the ceremony of the Eucharist as gracing this precarious but essential experience of compassion.