Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Analysis of "The Face That Launch'd a Thousand Ships" by Christopher Marlowe

Original poem reprinted online here:  "The Face That Launch'd a Thousand Ships" by Christopher Marlowe
Originally read: August 26, 2013
More information about the Poet:  Christopher Marlowe


The poem is not secretive about the allusion, Helen.  Not from the title, but also the mention of her name constantly within the title.  So why have an appositive in the title rather than the name?  This is where the speaker admits that he's looking at the concept rather than the actual person.  The actual person is the ruse, he power behind beauty is all that matters, "Was this face that launch'd a thousand ships, / And burnt the topless towers of Illium?"

The speaker continues with the talk of beauty, but how it would affect the speaker, "Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss / Her lips suck forth my soul: see where it flies!"  Kind of succubus, but note the over-the-top nature the action is which is parallel to the idea of a face launching a thousand ships.

"Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips / And all is dross that is not Helena"  Over exaggeration of the  real to the over exaggeration of the self, "I will be Paris, and for love of thee, / Instead of Tory, shall Wittenberg be sack'd"  and here is the reference to a place "Wittenberg" which is also a place in Germany where Dr. Faustus takes place.  So, theoretically, the speaker is the voice of Faust.  However, I feel that the speaker and Faust could be interchangeable here because the focus is character development than the Faust allusion.

"And I will combat with weak Menelaus, / And wear thy colours on my plumed crest,"  The key here is "will" for the beauty of Helen.  "Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel, / And then return to Helen for a kiss" note that the key here is that Helen would give the speaker a kiss for his actions.  There is no personality or thought behind "Helen," rather her physical self.

Then the last seven lines refocuses on  Helen's beauty to a greater degree, "Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter" Past me wrote, "foresaking Gods in order to build up Helen. More lovely than the monarch of the sky / In wanton Arethusa's azur'd arms"  This line refers to Arethusa, but I don't know in what form: the stream, the struggler, or one afraid.  In this sense, how one interprets the allusion is the turn in the basis of subterfuge.

However, the end line, "And none but thou shalt be my paramour!" doesn't change that the speaker is in a state of infatuation based on the personal and not of the reality.


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