As fourth monk in the Pope's Banquet scene in Dr. Faustus, though not fully appreciating the forewarning of the tonsure - I knew a bit about Marlowe!
Ten years later and a Canterbury bookseller, a man entered the bookshop wearing around his neck a long scarf & pair of binoculars. Dressed in an overcoat in July he said it was apt that the building had become a bookshop as this was where Christopher Marlowe's uncle, George Auncell, a grocer had lived. The man was Dr. William Urry, the redoubtable Cathedral Archivist, who had the ability of making Canterbury's history live. I was hooked; I was running a bookshop on hallowed ground. Probably the only vernacular building in Canterbury that Marlowe had actually walked in. I was determined to find out more. Like most I knew the urban myths; fiery homosexual; atheist; died in pub brawl at Deptford; may have written the plays ascribed to Shakespeare.
Canterbury produced three Elizabethan playwrights within 10 years of each other. John Lyly, writer of Euphues (euphemism), Stephen Gosson, failed playwright who turned cleric and wrote an anti-stage tract The Schoole of Abuse, and Christopher Marlowe, baptised at the Church of St George the Martyr on 26th February 1564, son of John Marlowe from Ospringe, - a quarrelsome and impecunious cobbler - and Katherine Arthur from Dover.
In 1578 he went to The King's School for two years. The first of many mysteries. Who paid the school fees? As with so much of Marlowe's life there are many theories from the sensible to the fanciful. The fees may have been a pension for a choirboy whose voice had broken. He might have been sponsored by local worthy, Sir Roger Manwood, for whom Marlowe wrote a Latin eulogy at Manwood's death, and curiously before whom he appeared in Court after a fight in London. Another explanation states that he was the illegitimate son of Archbishop Mathew Parker (the original 'Nosy' Parker) and one of his maids.
At seventeen, he went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, paid for by a Mathew Parker scholarship. He gained his BA in 1584 & was admitted for an MA in 1587. He absented himself several times from the University as shown in the Buttery Books, a record of meal payments. As a result the College authorities withheld his MA. However, a letter from the Privy Council, Queen Elizabeth's closest advisers, told the University to give Marlowe his degree: Whereas it was reported that Christopher Morley was determined to have gone beyond the seas to Rheims & there to remain, Their Lordships thought good to certify that he had no such intent, but that in all his actions he had behaved himself orderly & discreetly wherebie he had done her Majestie good service & deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealing.
The English College at Rheims was a training ground for Catholic priests to infiltrate Protestant England.
In 1587, Tamburlaine, Marlowe's first play was performed in London. Revolutionary in its use of blank verse, a form developed & perfected by Marlowe, it forced plays previously written in prose to he rewritten in blank verse. Algernon Swinburne called Marlowe, 'The father of English tragedy and the creator of English blank verse'. Plays of the Queen's men, such as The Troublesome Reign of King John were revised into blank verse. Other plays followed, Doctor Faustus', The Jew of Malta, Edward II, The Massacre at Paris, Dido Queen of Carthage, and a lost play George Scanderbeg. He also translated Ovid's Elegies, Lucan's Pharsalia and wrote poetry, Hero and Leander and The Passionate Shepherdess.
By the beginning of 1593, the apprentices of London were rioting, as posters appeared accusing foreigners (refugees from the Low Countries) of taking their jobs. One extant poster reads:
You strangers that inhabit in this land,
Note this same writing, do it understand;
Conceive it well, for safe-guard of your lives,
Your goods, your children & your dearest wives
The Privy Council responded by arresting Thomas Kyd, as a potential writer of the seditious notices. He was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London where he was tortured. His lodgings at Southwark were searched and 'certain atheistic papers' were seized. When asked whose they were he replied that they belonged to Marlowe with whom he had once shared the lodgings. The papers contained the basics of a lecture given by Sir Walter Raleigh to a group of freethinkers named 'The School of Night'.
Marlowe was arrested on the same charge as Kyd hut not imprisoned. He was released on bail and ordered to report to The Court once a day. A week later, he kept an assignation at Deptford Strand at the house of Eleanor Bull, a respectable woman, widow of Richard Bull Gent. and cousin to a Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen, Blanch Parry, (not the brothel of urban legend).
The details of the meeting were only discovered in 1924 by an American academic, Leslie Hotson, who discovered the Coroner's Inquest report on the death of Marlowe. All of those present at the meeting were in the employ of Sir Francis Walsingham, creator of the Elizabethan intelligence network. Robert Poley, a senior member, instrumental in the entrapment of William Babbington leading to Babbington's execution for plotting the assassination of Elizabeth, Nicholas Skeres and Ingram Frizer, both Elizabethan con-men. They met at noon & by six o'clock there was an argument over 'the reckoning', Marlowe drew Frizer's dagger from Frizer's belt & hit him over the head. Frizer grabbed the dagger and plunged it into Marlowe's eye. Marlowe died, blaspheming - or so the Puritan spin-doctors reported it later.
There appears to be so many things wrong with the scene at Deptford. The death was not reported until next day. The Queen's Coroner, Sir William Danby convened the Coroner's Court of 16 jurors. Danby's appointment was unusual as the Queen was at the time at Nonesuch Palace at Cheam and therefore Deptford was not within the 'verge', i.e. 12 miles of the person of the Queen.
The Deptford Coroner would normally have convened the Court.
There was a corpse that Danby could have access to, the Marprelate activist, John Penry who had been executed the evening before.
So, did Marlowe survive?
Marlowe attracts strong feeling on many levels. In the 1880's, a wealthy American Baconian thought he could prove that Francis Bacon had written the plays of Shakespeare by counting word frequencies and sentence lengths, 'stylometric analysis'. He commissioned Dr Thomas Corvin Mendenhall to prove his theory. Mendenhall, however, decided that Marlowe's vocabulary agreed with Shakespeare's and this was to be expected as Marlowe and Shakespeare wrote plays for public performance whereas Bacon wrote mainly Philosophical and Legal works. Stylometric analysis is now more sophisticated with the use of computers and new results are soon to be published.
In the fifties, Calvin Hoffman, an American Broadway Critic, discovered some 400 'Parallelisms', phrases or stanzas that are the same in Shakespeare and Marlowe.
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals
And I will make thee a bed of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies.
Marlowe Passionate Shepherdess to his love
To shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals
There will we make our beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies.
Shakespeare Merry Wives of Windsor
Holla, ye pampered Jades of Asia
What, can ye draw but twenty miles a day
And hollow pampered Jades of Asia
Which cannot go hut thirty miles a day.
Shakespeare Henry IV Part 2
Hoffman wrote up more than 400 such parallelisms. Was this the same author, plagiarism or more likely, collaboration? John Fletcher got equal billing with Shakespeare at a recent production of Two Noble Kinsman at The Globe. In 1602, Philip Henslowe, theatrical entrepreneur, paid two lesser known writers, William Bird and Samuel Rowley, four pounds, 'for ther adicyones in doctor fostes' probably the knockabout farcical scenes. T.S Eliot wrote, 'as often with Elizabethan dramatists, there are lines in Marlowe, besides the many lines that Shakespeare adapted, that might have been written by either'.
Hoffman published The Man who Murdered Shakespeare. He was convinced that the death at Deptford was a fake. That Marlowe escaped down the Thames and probably ended up in Italy, maybe in Padua or Mantua where the Gonzaga Family welcomed artists on the run. How could such a talent be silenced? Marlowe continued writing plays and sent them via the Walsingham intelligence network hack to England where they were copied and passed to the actor William Shakespeare.
Hoffman was so convinced that he thought Walsingham had taken the secret literally to his grave. In the 70's he arranged a faculty to open the Walsingham Family tomb at St.Nicholas' Church at Chislehurst hoping that it would contain documentary evidence. The opening was shown on BBC Television. Unfortunately Victorian interments had crushed the Elizabethan coffins & nothing was found. Ask why internal evidence shows such a disparity of styles between say Dr.Faustus and say Hamlet, and the answer is the shock of exile. Why is Picasso's 'Blue Period' so different from his Cubist period? Artists move on, they change and develop. Hoffman discovered that Washington Irving and the American Ambassador to Spain on a trip to Italy had seen papers stating that one Petro Basconi had looked after a reclusive English Poet named Marlowe until his death in 1627. A recent look at the Padua phone hook lists two pages of Marleys, one of the forms of Marlowe's name. The Taming of the Shrew is set in Padua.
When Hoffman died in the seventies he left his considerable fortune to The King's School, Canterbury.
This endows an annual essay prize but also states that if anyone can 'satisfy the world of Shakespearean scholarship that all the poems & plays now attributed to Shakespeare were written by Christopher Marlowe', half the principal a six figure sum is the reward. This, of course, is unwinnable.
More recently, A.D. ('Dolly') Wraight, who died this year, wrote the standard biography of Marlowe, In Search of Christopher Marlowe. In her hook Shakespeare, New Evidence, from her research of the papers of Anthony Bacon at Lambeth Palace, she suggests that Marlowe did not die at Deptford.
This is not such a startling idea. Francis Tresham, one of the more ambiguous figures involved in the Gunpowder plot was apparently allowed to withdraw abroad after his spurious death in the Tower. She identifies the exiled Marlowe as an English intelligencer, Monsieur LeDoux, living in France. LeDoux is a Huguenot name, only found in England at Canterbury. On his death LeDoux left a coffer containing his library of some 40 books. Many of these books can be directly related to plays of Shakespeare, such as Les Harangues Militaires de Cesar. Compare this to England's greatest living playwright describing no books in his will and leaving his second best bed to his widow, Anne Hathaway.
Who doubts that Shakespeare wrote the plays? Henry James said: 'I am haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practised on a patient world.'
Charles Dickens: 'The life of William Shakespeare is a fine mystery, and I tremble every day lest something should turn up.'
George Bernard Shaw on the man from Stratford, 'He did not write Shakespeare's works'.
Only 16 of Shakespeare's plays had been published as quartos before the First Folio of 1623 was produced containing 36 plays. Of the 16 quarto plays published whilst Shakespeare was alive, six were published anonymously. From the year that Shakespeare emerged as an author in 1593 to his death in 1616 only nine plays were printed naming Shakespeare as the author. So this, coupled with his name on the first folio printed posthumously with the dedicatory epistle by Ben Jonson, is the only evidence to say that the plays were written by Shakespeare. Between 1595 and 1611 some eight plays were published that bore some permutation of Shakespeare's name: Locrine (1595), Sir John Oldcastle (1600), The True Chronicle History of Thomas Lord Cromwell (1602), The London Prodigal (1605), The Puritan (1607), A Yorkshire Tragedy (1608), Pericles (1609), The Troublesome Reign of King John (1611). Only the one play, Pericles is acknowledged to be by Shakespeare, so what is the validity of the name on any play?
Could Marlowe have written the plays attributed to Shakespeare? There is no record of Shakespeare attending Stratford Grammar School, but the records merely might have been lost. It is more unusual that the wealthy William, having retired from the London stage, acquired a Coat of Arms and bought New Place at Stratford, did not endow the school that gave him his education. He left Stratford quickly -possibly having poached deer, and found Richard Field, a bookseller/printer in St.Paul's Churchyard, (also from Stratford) who had printed Marlowe's poem Hero and Leander.
Four months after the Deptford murder, Field published Venus & Adonis, the first work using the name William Shakespeare.
So where does that leave Christopher Marlowe? He is underestimated. The Shakespeare industry overshadows all other Elizabethan dramatists. This will soon be rectified. The Marlowe Society gained the support of literary figures such as Andrew Motion, Seamus Heaney and Stanley Wells to convince The Dean of Westminster, Wesley Carr, that Marlowe should have his memorial.
In February, this year, a service was held at St.Nicholas's Church, Deptford, to remember Marlowe. This is to be an annual event.
On July 4th, after Evensong at Westminster Abbey a stained glass window to commemorate Marlowe will be unveiled.
At Easter, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge are to hold a one day symposium.
On 23rd April, (Shakespeare's birthday), a film made by the Australian Broadcasting Commission omission is to he televised on BBC2. It shows Marlovians & Stratfordians arguing over the merits of their men and has already been the co-winner of the Calvin Hoffman Essay Prize this year.
John Hunt, Albion Bookshop.
None of this will detract from the greatness of Shakepeares's plays, whoever wrote them.
Written by: John Hunt, Albion Bookshop