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Spenser and Marlowe – God’s Spies

By Gerald Therrien

“Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies …”

[from King Lear, Act V, scene iii]

This is a story about ‘William Shakespeare’.

While some scholars assert that a different writer was the actual author of Shakespeare’s plays, like Francis Bacon or the Earl of Oxford, there’s not much evidence for these two. However, one other theory that gathers much evidence is that Christopher Marlowe was the actual playwright. Much has been written about Marlowe and much has been written about Shakespeare, and while some of it is very interesting, some of it is merely hearsay or gossip or imagined. Trying to unravel what is myth and what is possible, and what we should believe about their lives, is often a painstaking and thought-provoking exercise, but one that however might bring us a little closer to seeing the real ‘William Shakespeare’ and the real Christopher Marlowe, and to glimpse a story of what might have been.

Act 1 – Too Many Bloody Marys                               

To be able to look at the life of Christopher Marlowe and to look at if Marlowe became ‘William Shakespeare’, we will have to look at Queen Elizabeth and to look at what was going on in the world when she became queen. First, we shall try to add a short overview of the overall political situation in England and in Europe at that time. [it is somewhat hard to follow, because there are just so many bloody marys in the tale.]

The biggest problem for England at that time was Charles Hapsburg, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, the Netherlands and parts of Italy. The only thing that stood in the way of total Hapsburg (and Venetian) domination of Europe was France. So, what side would England be on?

When Henry VIII died in 1547, his 9-year-old son Edward (son of Henry VIII and his 3rd wife, Jane Seymour) became king but he died 5 years later, in 1553. But in his last will, Edward named Lady Jane Grey as his heir – not his stepsisters, Mary or Elizabeth. Jane Grey was grand-daughter of Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII – not to be confused with Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII.

Mezzotint of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Mary I and Elizabeth I.

A fight broke out over the succession, with the Duke of Northumberland wanting Jane Grey to remain as queen, and others wanting Mary Tudor (daughter of Henry VIII and his 1st wife, Catherine of Aragon) to become queen.  Mary’s supporters militarily prevailed, and the Privy Council which had at first made Jane queen, reversed its decision, and installed Mary I as queen. Northumberland and Lady Grey were afterwards arrested and executed.

The execution of Lady Jane Grey

When Mary I was two years old, she was promised in marriage to Francis Valois of France, but that promise was broken, and later she was promised to Charles Hapsburg, but that promise was also broken. Then a marriage was arranged between Mary I and Philip Hapsburg. England was now part of the Hapsburg orbit. [Note the political in-fighting going on in England over the succession and marriage alliances]

In September 1558, Charles V died, leaving the Holy Roman Empire to his brother Ferdinand, and leaving the kingdom and the empire of Spain (including the Americas and the Netherlands) to Philip (the husband of Mary I). But when Mary I died in November 1558, Elizabeth (daughter of Henry VIII and his 2nd wife, Anne Boleyn) became queen, and it was then proposed that she marry Philip of Spain, but this was delayed and then was rejected.

King Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I

Then, a proposal came from Emperor Ferdinand for Elizabeth to marry his son, Charles, but that was also rejected. Soon, a marriage proposal was also attempted between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, the son of Northumberland (after Dudley’s first wife died in September 1560). This was the world that Elizabeth entered as Queen of England. Which side would Elizabeth ally with – France or Spain? Elizabeth’s policy initially was simply defensive, trying to stall any ‘Catholic’ uprisings in Scotland, from Spain or from France, which could be used by those wishing to replace Elizabeth with Mary Stuart – even though Henry VIII’s will had excluded the Stuarts as heirs to the throne. [Mary Stuart was a grand-daughter of Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII]

Henry II of France had declared war, over Italy, against the Holy Roman Empire in 1551, and made strategic alliances with Suleiman, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and with protestant German princes, against Charles[1].

[Aside: one of the admirals of Suleiman was Admiral (Reis) Piri, known for his famous world maps!!! How much of the nautical knowledge, to be found in Arabic, Persian and Turkish writings, was shared with the French ?!?]

Caption: Admiral Piri Reis and his famous 1513 map showcasing not only Argentina but even the coast of Antarctica

In 1557, under Mary I, England declared war on France and had sent troops to assist Philip in the Italian war, that would temporarily end in 1559. In 1559, Philip of Spain married Elizabeth, daughter of France’s Henry II! But in July, Henry II died, and his brother, Francis II became king. When Francis was 4-years-old, he had been betrothed to 6-year-old Mary Stuart, daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise – (the Guise faction in France was backed/bankrolled by the Hapsburgs, and advised by the Jesuits), and so Mary moved to France where she was raised, and they were married in 1558.

A treaty between England (Elizabeth) and France (Francis and Mary) for the withdrawal of troops, both English and French, from Scotland was drawn up in July 1560. But Mary of Guise (regent of Scotland on behalf of her daughter Mary Stuart) died in June 1560, and Francis died in December 1560, and his 10-year-old younger brother Charles IX became king of France. Mary Stuart, who now became Queen of Scotland, was advised not to ratify the treaty because it declared Elizabeth to be Queen of England, as Mary had her own claim to be the queen of England – Henry II had proclaimed Francis and Mary to be king and queen of England.

Mary Queen of Scots

In 1562, the massacre of hundreds of Huguenots at Vassy, France by troops of the Duke of Guise started the ‘war of religion’ in France. Elizabeth sent troops to aid the protestants at Le Havre but they had to retreat, and a peace treaty was signed with France in April 1564 (after Elizabeth had recovered of nearly dying of smallpox).

[Aside: Elizabeth was to say that she had no complaint against ‘the French nation’, but ‘only against the house of Guise’; and that Francis and Mary were manipulated by ‘the principals of the house of Guise’.]

Elizabeth would not accept a marriage of Mary to another son of France, or to a Hapsburg, Spanish or Austrian, but wanted instead to see her marry an English nobleman, and proposed that she marry Robert Dudley, now the Earl of Leicester. When Mary insisted in turn, on a recognition of her right in the English succession, Elizabeth refused, and the proposal was ended.

Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

Instead in 1565, Mary would marry Henry Stuart, grandson of Margaret Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII, which put him also in the succession picture. To oppose this claim of succession to the throne of England, it was proposed, again, that Elizabeth marry Charles Hapsburg of Austria, or to marry Henry Valois, the Duke of Anjou, son of Henry II.

[Aside: For herself privately, Elizabeth decided not to marry, as a marriage would force her to share half of her ruling power and would also force her into alliances based on a marriage contract and not on sound policy. And, in not naming a successor, she would remember when Mary I was queen, and she was ‘second’ in line to be successor – “I am sure not one of them, was ever a second person, as I have been, and tasted of the practices against my sister. I stood in danger of my life; my sister was so incensed against me: I did differ from her in religion, and I was sought for divers ways. And so shall never be my successor.”]

When Henry Stuart was murdered in February 1567, less than 6 months later, Mary married James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, who many of the Scottish lords had suspected of being behind the murder of Henry Stuart.

left to right: The murdered Henry Stuart and the man who is suspected of killing him and marrying his wife, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell (echoes of Hamlet?)

The armies of these opposing lords forced Bothwell to flee to Norway. The Scottish lords forced Mary to surrender and to abdicate the throne, in favor of her infant son, James. Elizabeth, although condemning Mary’s actions, tried unsuccessfully to have Mary restored on the throne. Mary later escaped her imprisonment and sought safety in England, with Elizabeth. Would Mary be kept a semi-prisoner in England (where intrigue would attempt to place her on the English throne) or be returned to Scotland (where intrigue would throw Scotland into renewed turmoil), or be sent to France (where French intrigue would stir up her claim to the English throne)?

After a failed attempt at marrying the Duke of Norfolk to Mary, and a failed northern rebellion against Elizabeth that followed, a bull was issued in March 1570 by Pope Pius V (the former inquisitor general) that declared Elizabeth to be a heretic, and excommunicated her and all her adherents, and absolved the English Catholics of any obedience to her or they would also be excommunicated. Papal funds would be promised for Spanish troops to invade England and join with Mary and her supporters. When the plot was uncovered, Norfolk was arrested for treason, tried and executed. A bill was debated but did not pass that would have tried Mary for treason, but when a bill was passed by Parliament that denied Mary’s right to succession, it was vetoed by Elizabeth.

[Aside: Elizabeth would punish or disapprove any rebellion but also defend the established order, as a means for stability.]

In France, an attempt to stop the French civil war was made through two arranged marriages to form alliances – in 1570, Charles IX married Elizabeth Hapsburg, daughter of Maximilian, Holy Roman Emperor; and in 1572 Charles’s sister, Margaret, was married to Henry Navarre, a leading French Huguenot. But as people, including dignitaries and nobles – Catholics and Huguenots, thronged into Paris for the wedding of Henry and Margaret, the Duke of Guise had Gaspard de Coligny, the leader of the Huguenots, murdered, and in the aftermath, the Paris mob erupted into the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, and religious war broke out in France.

the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre

Charles’s health deteriorated rapidly after this, and he died in 1574. His brother, Henry III now became king of France. His youngest brother, Hercule, who changed his name to Francis, ‘supposedly’ differed with his brother Henry III, and so he fled the court to join with Henry of Navarre, who had also fled the court, and their combined forces would force the king to grant the freedom of worship to the protestants of France.

Henry IV of Navarre

In 1579, a marriage was proposed between 24-year-old Francis Hercule and 46-year-old Elizabeth, forming an alliance between England and France – promising to end the religious war by toleration of Protestants in France, promising to end Catholic conspiracies against Elizabeth in England, and proposing the support of both England and France (plus the Ottoman ally of France) for the Dutch revolt in the Spanish Netherlands. Henry III and Elizabeth did agree to jointly finance Francis Hercule, who was invited by William of Orange to become the Protector of the Liberty of the Netherlands. When his mission failed, and his engagement to Elizabeth was ended, he returned to France. But in 1584, Francis died of ‘malaria’ in June, William of Orange was assassinated in July, and in December a treaty was signed between Philip of Spain and the Guise’s Catholic League to recognize Cardinal Charles Bourbon as heir to the throne of France, and to oppose the next-in-line to the throne, his nephew, Henry Bourbon, King of Navarre, who had been an ally of Francis Hercule.

An outline of the religious lines of division across Europe in 1580 demonstrate the contours around which wars and alliances were manipulated

In response, Elizabeth signed the treaty of Nonsuch in August 1585, pledging to assist the Dutch in their fight against the Spanish army. Philip II (now the king of Spain and Portugal) considered this an act of war by England against Spain – the war that Elizabeth had done everything to avoid, by delaying and evading and noncommitting. Elizabeth also made an alliance with Ahmad al-Mansur, the Sultan of Morocco. It is at this crisis point, this most important crossroads in the history of England, that we see the entry onto the world stage of Christopher Marlowe.

Act 2 – Marlowe and Spenser

During this attempted alliance between France and England, we see the appearance of Jean Bodin in England. France’s ambassador to England, Michel de Castelnau had promoted the marriage of Francis Hercule with Elizabeth. When Francis visited England in 1581, he was accompanied by a leading member of the ‘politiques’, Jean Bodin. In 1576, Bodin had published his ‘Les Six Livres de la Republique’ and he rose to be President of the Third Estate in the French Parliament. He was part of those ‘Catholics’ who wanted Henry III “to unite his subjects … by all holy and legitimate means without war” and organized for a national council to resolve matters of religion, as opposed to the other ‘Catholics’ under the Duke of Guise who sought violent means to settle the religious question.

Michel de Castenau (left) and Jean Bodin (right)

It was Castelnau who then brought Giordano Bruno to England in 1583-85 to attack the scholastics at the universities, and to educate certain university students in the art of epistemological warfare.

Perhaps, Marlowe was one of these fortunate university students, who would learn from Bodin and Bruno of the ongoing cultural and political war between the humanists (i.e. Platonists) and the scholastics (i.e. Aristotelians). [Because, without understanding this war between two bitterly opposed elites through three millennia of recorded history – ‘the secrets known only to the inner elite’ – then nothing can truly be known of history, and one can easily be led astray down the garden path of strangely-connected fictitious narratives.]

Giordano Bruno

There are actual school records to show with certainty that Marlowe attended Cambridge University from 1580 until he graduated in 1587, and there is a very revealing letter, from June 1587, that was sent to Cambridge University, and signed by Queen Elizabeth’s councillors, including Archbishop of Canterbury Whitgift and Chancellor of the University, Lord Burghley.

Historians A.D. Wraight and Virginia Stern cited an excerpt of this letter in their book ‘In Search of Christopher Marlowe’:

Whereas it was reported that Christopher Morley [Marlowe -ed] was determined to have gone beyond the seas to Reames and there to remaine, Their Lordships thought good to certefie that he had no such intent, but that in all his actions he had behaued him selfe orderlie and discreetlie to be rewarded for his faithfull dealinge: Their Lordships request was that the rumor thereof should be allaied by all possible meanes, and that he should be furthered in the degree he was to take this next Commencement: Because it was not her Majesties pleasure that anie one emploied as he had been in matters touching the benefitt of his Countrie should be defamed by those that are ignorant in th’ affairs he went about.

Cambridge University was withholding Marlowe’s Master of Arts degree on suspicion that he had attended the Jesuit seminary at Rheims in France, during his lengthy absences from the university during the 1584-85 and the 1585-86 academic years, where it can be assumed from the reference to ‘benefit of his country’ that he was employed with gathering intelligence for the English secret service of the Secretary of State, Francis Walsingham.

Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster Francis Walsingham

Cambridge University was a major recruiting ground for such intelligence agents – to gather information and to deliver information to Queen Elizabeth’s minsters. Rheims was the location in France for an English seminary for those exiled English ‘Catholics’ to study, and to then secretly be sent back to England as missionaries. It was also a hotbed of rumored and actual plots against Elizabeth – to place Mary Stuart on the throne in order to restore ‘Catholicism’ in England. The seminary was financially supported by Philip of Spain and Pope Gregory XIII.

Marlowe may have posed as a traitor – a convert escaping from England and wishing to study with the Jesuits at Rheims, but evidence demonstrates that he was in fact sent as a patriot to gather any information concerning suspicious activities against Elizabeth. Marlowe was intelligent, with a Bachelor of Arts degree, was fluent in French, and was presumably destined to enter the church after his studies. He had all the right credentials, and as the letter attests, he was employed for ‘the benefit of his country’ and earned ‘her Majesty’s pleasure’. At that time a secret plot was begun at Rheims to assassinate Elizabeth, to foment a rebellion in the ensuing chaos that would coincide with a Spanish invasion and to place Mary Stuart on the English throne. Walsingham’s spies were able to uncover the plot and to decipher the letters of the conspirators and Mary. Fourteen of the conspirators were arrested, tried for treason and later executed. Mary was put on trial, found guilty and executed in February 1587.

The years-long planned invasion by the Spanish Armada (130 ships, with 6,000 sailors and 30,000 soldiers) was launched in 1588, leaving Lisbon in May and sailing to the English Channel, where in July the Spanish fleet met the 200 ships of the English navy under Admiral Charles Howard and the English ‘Seahawks’ – Francis Drake, John Hawkins and Martin Frobisher. The Armada wasn’t able to invade the island, and while running short of food and water, was forced to sail north around Scotland and Ireland where many ships were wrecked on the rocky shores, and only 67 ships and 10,000 soldiers were able to arrive back in Spain.

[Aside: Admiral Howard was also the patron of the playing company, known as the Admiral’s Men, where Marlowe was later to find employment.]

A portrait of Elizabeth commissioned to celebrate the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 which changed the tides of world history (images of the victorious English fleet and the devastated Spanish Armada flank the queen

At the same time as the launch of the Armada in May 1588, the Duke of Guise staged an uprising in Paris, forcing Henry III to flee the city and to sign an edict to never conclude peace with the ‘heretics’ or to allow a ‘heretic’ to sit on the throne of France – thus excluding Henry Bourbon of Navarre from becoming king. However, in December the Duke of Guise and his brother Cardinal of Guise were assassinated by Henry III’s bodyguards, and the following August, Henry III himself was assassinated. France now became embroiled in a civil war over the succession – between Henry Bourbon of Navarre, backed by the Huguenots and England, or Cardinal Charles Bourbon, backed by the Guise’s League and Philip of Spain.

[Aside: at Henry Navarre’s wedding to Margaret Valois in 1572, Guise launched St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre.]

Elizabeth would agree to support Henry Navarre in the war against the Guise’s League, sending both money and troops – to Brittany under Norris, to Normandy under Willoughby, and to the siege of Rouen under Essex. Until July 1593, when Henry Navarre, in order to obtain a cease fire with the Guise League and to secure his reign, renounced Protestantism and converted to Catholicism, and Elizabeth then recalled all her forces from France. But would Henry IV continue to ally with Elizabeth in the war against the Hapsburgs of Spain? At this turning point, occurs the next chapter in the life of Christopher Marlowe, that leads towards his strange and mysterious ‘death’.

After his service for his country and his return to England (perhaps also maintaining his ‘double agent’ identity and perhaps returning as a ‘Jesuit spy’ sent back to England) and after finally graduating from Cambridge in 1587, Marlowe then went to London, where he would have become a part of the circle of poets and playwrights, and where he would receive payment for the manuscript of his play ‘Tamburlaine’ from the Lord Admiral’s Men, the actors troop of Admiral Howard.

At left: Admiral Howard standing before an image of the burning ships of Spain showcasing his leadership in the defeat of the Spanish Armada of 1588 and at right: a portrait of a young Marlowe dated 1585 who worked closely within a humanist network sponsored by the Admiral

Marlowe would go on to write other plays – ‘The Jew of Malta’, ‘Doctor Faustus’ and ‘Massacre at Paris’. But these plays were not published with his name as author until years later when they were then attributed to him – and when he was ‘supposedly’ dead, and so we may assume that he was the author. 

‘The Jew of Malta’ may have been performed as early as 1592, but the first known publication wasn’t until 1633. ‘Doctor Faustus’ may have also been performed in 1592, but it was not published until 1604. ‘The Massacre at Paris’ was performed in January 1593, before the theatres were closed due to plague, but only an incomplete and undated text survives (without the name of an author).

While living in London, Marlowe was likely introduced to an intellectual society, called the ‘Areopagus’ that was formed by two good friends, Gabriel Harvey (a don at Cambridge when Marlowe was studying there) and Edmund Spenser (who had studied at Cambridge with Harvey), and it also included Sir Philip Sidney, and met at Leicester House, the house of the Earl of Leicester, Sidney’s uncle. The ‘Areopagus’experimented with different meters for English verse and with the invention of new words – such as jovial, idiom, conscious and many others.

Left: Sir Philip Sidney, and right: Edmund Spenser – two leading members of the Areopagus with whom Marlowe would have been intimately involved

In 1579, Spenser anonymously published his ‘The Shepheardes Calender’, with Harvey as ‘Hobbinol’ and himself as ‘Colin Clouts’, as literary and political propaganda that presented the view of the circles around Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, and the proposed marriage of Elizabeth and Francis Hercule. [Note: the term ‘shepherd’ refers to a ‘poet’] 

Spenser was sent to Ireland in 1580 (probably with the help of Leicester), as secretary to Lord Grey, the new Lord-Deputy of Ireland, and would become Clerk of Decrees and Recognizances, and later would be awarded 3000 acres and the castle at Kilcolman, from some of the confiscated property that the English had seized from one of the Irish lords. While living there, Spenser would continue to work on his projected twelve books of the ‘Faerie Queene’ and he had three books completed by autumn 1589, when Sir Walter Raleigh visited him. Raleigh had also been sent to Ireland, to help put down another rebellion, and he also was rewarded with some of the confiscated property, making Raleigh and Spenser sort of neighbours. (Raleigh and Spenser were both born in the same year and perhaps being the same age may have helped them to hit it off so well.)

Raleigh was so impressed with Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queen’ that he insisted that Spenser return to London with him, where Spenser was able to present his poem to the Queen, and by early 1590 those three books were published, with an elaborate dedication to Queen Elizabeth, 6 poems written by his friends and 17 sonnets written by Spenser.

The book opened with A Letter of the Author’s, a letter written by Edmund Spenser to Sir Walter Raleigh, ‘expounding his whole intention in the course of this work’ and his reason for his use of King Arthur.

“… The general end therefore of all the book is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline: which for that I conceived should be most plausible and pleasing, being coloured with an historical fiction, the which the most part of men delight to read, rather for variety of matter then for profit of the ensample, I chose the history of King Arthur, as most fit for the excellency of his person, being made famous by many men’s former works, and also furthest from the danger of envy, and suspicion of present time.”

Spenser then speaks of his debt to the Greek poet Homer:

“In which I have followed all the antique poets historical; first Homer, who in the persons of Agamemnon and Ulysses hath ensampled a good governor and a virtuous man, the one in his Iliad, the other in his Odyssey …”

Spenser is trying to use the method of Homer, that was explained to us by Strabo, in his Geography (1.2.9): 

“Thus it is that our poet, though he sometimes employs fiction for the purposes of instruction, always gives the preference to truth; he makes use of what is false, merely tolerating it in order the more easily to lead and govern the multitude. As a man ‘binds with a golden verge bright silver’, so Homer, heightening by fiction actual occurrences, adorns and embellishes his subject; but his end is always the same as that of the historian, who relates nothing but facts. In this manner he undertook the narration of the Trojan war, gilding it with the beauties of fancy and the wanderings of Odysseus; but we shall never find Homer inventing an empty fable apart from the inculcation of truth.”  

Spenser then shows us his realintention – that England could rediscover those virtues, that could transform a Prince Arthur into a King Arthur.

I labour to portray in Arthur, before he was king, the image of a brave knight, perfected in the twelve private moral virtues as Aristotle hath devised; the which is the purpose of these first twelve books …So in the person of Prince Arthur I set forth magnificence in particular; which virtue, for that (according to Aristotle and the rest) it is the perfection of all the rest, and contains in it them all …”

[an entire book could be written here on the work of Spencer, Harvey, and the followers of the ‘Areopagus’ in developing the modern English language – especially the impact of ‘The Faerie Queene’ upon its readers.]

Spenser remained in London for more than a year, enjoying fame, making friends, and being awarded a yearly pension of £100. The treasurer protested that this sum was too much, to which the Queen said ‘then give him what is reason’. When Spenser’s promised pension wasn’t forthcoming, he wrote this poem and sent it to the Queen:

“I was promised on a time – to have reason for my rhyme;
From that time unto this season, I received nor rhyme nor reason.”

…whereupon the Queen immediately ordered his pension to be paid in full.

Sir Walter Raleigh

Spenser would write ‘Colin Clouts Come Home Again’, a sort of autobiography of his trip to London, that he dedicated to Raleigh, and that would be published later in 1595. During that fruitful year spent in London, 1590, Spenser most probably would have met with some of his old school friends that he hasn’t seen in ten years since he went to Ireland, like Thomas Kyd and Gabriel Harvey, and with friends of the ‘Areopagus’, and he also would have met with the circle of poets and playwrights that met at the homes of Walter Ralegh, of Edward de Vere (Oxford), and of Henry Percy (Northumberland). Spenser MUST have met Marlowe during that London stay – Spenser had been a classmate with Kyd at Merchants Taylors’ School, and Kyd and Marlowe would share lodgings in 1591, the next year, perhaps being sponsored by the same patron.

Spenser would return to Ireland in the spring of 1591, but shortly afterwards, his wife Machalyas died, and he would marry Elizabeth Boyle. In 1594, he wrote ‘Amoretti’ 88 sonnets dedicated to his love, for both his wives, and also for the goddess (the idea) of love.  Spenser would return to London in 1595 to publish three more books of the ‘Faerie Queen’ but also to publishhis ‘Amoretti’, and the ‘Four Hymns’ – “poems that concern his Platonic conceptions of love and beauty” – that would both have direct effect in the writing of ‘Shakespeare’s sonnets’!

At the end of July 1592, Walter Raleigh was imprisoned, but no ‘official’ reason is ever given for it. It is assumed that it was because Raleigh had married one of the Queen’s privy chamber maids (Elizabeth Throckmorton) without her permission (a secret marriage that could no longer be hidden after the birth of their son in March). It is also assumed that it was because while on a naval expedition against the Spanish, Raleigh did not immediately obey the Queen’s order to return to London. But there is also a rather curious attack on Raleigh by the Jesuit, Robert Persons.

In October 1591, the Queen had issued a proclamation against the ‘Catholic’ plots against her, especially the Jesuits, and in March 1592, Persons had written a pamphlet in reply to that proclamation, that included the lines –

“Sir Walter Raleigh’s school of atheism by the way, and of the conjurer that is M[aster] thereof, and of the diligence used to get young gentlemen to this school, wherein both Moses and our Saviour, the Old Testament and New Testament are jested at, and the scholars taught among other things to spell God backwards”.         

This Jesuit slander began the whisperings and rumours of Raleigh and of his ‘school’ as being ‘atheists’ – for the charge of atheism not only meant denying the existence of God, but also denying the sovereign’s God-given right to rule over the realm and its church.  It would be this charge of atheism that was also used against Marlowe.

And there’s another aspect to it.

In 1584, Elizabeth had granted a royal charter to Raleigh to explore and to colonize any undiscovered lands between Newfoundland and Spanish Florida. In return, the crown was promised one-fifth of all the gold and silver that might be found or mined in the colony. Two opposing policies can be seen in England – one, to begin the colonization of America (at the Roanoke Colony in 1585), or two, to take part in the rape and pillage of the Americas by stealing some of the loot from the Spanish Empire (i.e. to form an ‘English Empire’).

A 1585 illustration of the Roanoke Colony located on a small island near today’s North Carolina which was part of a broader colonization project led by Sir Walter Raleigh. Due to subterfuge and intrigue within the courts of Elizabeth I, this grand strategy was soon sabotaged, and no account of the lost colonists has survived to this day

These two overlapping tendencies – colonization or empire-building, would be at the center of political battles. Instead of developing colonies and a national navy, a piratical and privately-financed merchant marine would come to dominate England’s naval and trade policy. One wonders whether the Spanish armada’s 1588 invasion of England was timed to disrupt the establishment of that colony in America? Because, when a supply fleet was finally able to return three years later, the Roanoke Colony had disappeared and further plans were shelved.

[This continuing fight between colonization or empire-building is seen in the establishment of the British East India Company in 1600, but also the founding of the Virginia Company and the Plymouth Company later in 1606.]  

Act 3 – To Be or Not To Be                   

 It was shortly after this attack on Raleigh that there occurred an attack on Marlowe, that some people say led to the ‘event’ of his death, or, as other people say, led to the ‘invent’ of his death.

Early 1593 saw riots in England against the immigrant communities in London. In March, when Parliament debated a bill to extend the privileges for immigrant traders (Dutch merchants), one of those who argued against it was Raleigh. This opposition was not only to granting them concessions and privileges, but further called to expel them and end their stranglehold on the English economy. Soon, anti-immigrant posters began to appear – but ‘violently’ trying to echo Raleigh’s views. One anti-Dutch poster was put up at a church on May 5th and signed ‘Tamburlaine’ – the title of Marlowe’s play.

[Note: a copy of ‘A Libel, fixed upon the French Church Wall, in London. Anno 1593’ was discovered in 1971 – in ‘Marlowe, Kyd, and the Dutch Church Libel’, by Arthur Freeman, English Literary Renaissance, Winter 1973]

Lines from the poster read:

“Your Machiavellian Merchant spoils the state,
Your usury doth leave us all for dead,
Your artifex and craftsman works our fate,
And like the Jews you eat us up as bread.”

Further on the poster reads:

“Since words nor threats nor any other thing
Can make you to avoid this certain ill.
We’ll cut your throats, in your temples praying,
Not Paris massacre so much blood did spill.”

Whoever did pen this poster certainly knew of Marlowe’s play ‘Tamburlaine’ (performed in 1587) but also was referring to ‘Jew of Malta’ (performed in 1592) where the ghost of Machiavelli speaks in the prologue, and also to the “Massacre at Paris’ (performed in January 1593). The poster implies that the authorship of all the plays was by the same person – Marlowe, and that this libel was meant to directly implicate Marlowe and Raleigh.

A reward was offered for any information about the posters, and the Privy Council set up a special commission to arrest the authors of these ‘libels’. One playwright, a victim of an informer, was subsequentially arrested: Thomas Kyd (the friend of Spenser and Marlowe). When his lodgings were searched, no evidence relating to the poster was found, but it is ‘claimed’ that three pages of ‘atheistic’ writings were found instead. Kyd was tortured and it is ‘claimed’ that he confessed that these writings belonged to his former roommate – Christopher Marlowe.  

Caption: Playright Thomas Kyd (1558-1594) was an ally of Marlowe and author of Ur-Hamlet- which served as the basis for the later play Hamlet attributed to William Shakespeare

A warrant was issued for the arrest of Marlowe, who appeared before the Court, was released and granted bail, and told to wait until he was summoned. Meanwhile, an informer was sent to gather any hearsay and gossip that could be used against Marlowe at trial, where the punishment for such a crime was to be burned at the stake.

Were the arrests of Kyd and Marlowe done because of some ‘anti-Dutch’ poster placed at a ‘French’ church? Why would this be so upsetting to the Privy Council? Were the arrests of Kyd and Marlowe done because of the play about Doctor Faustus – and the scandal about magic and necromancy? or the play about St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre – and the threat of riots to start a ‘religious war’? Was this all part of an actual witch-hunt launched against Raleigh and his circle – that included Marlowe; and who were targeted by Persons ? Perhaps by those same Jesuit circles he had spied on at Rheims, that were implicated in the Babington plot?

As you can see from the preceding paragraph, at this point we are entering into the realm of intrigue and of imagination – but hopefully, not into a world of fantastic speculations where we are led by seemingly random chance and unexplained forces, but rather, into a world of reasoned hypotheses, where we attempt to piece together a rational ordering of people, places and dates. So, in preceding with our story, we should remember what Strabo says about Homer’s method of discovery – rely on our imagination, but never let it stray from the truth.

Continuing with our story, before Marlowe could be put on trial, he would mysteriously ‘die’ – on the last day of his bail, and the man who committed the ‘murder’, Ingram Frizer, would later be released, on the grounds of self defence. We can read the actual coroner’s report of this killing, written by William Darby, the Coroner of the household to our lady the Queen – not some local official, but the Royal Coroner!

“… Ingram Ffrysar … Christopher Morley … Nicholas Skeres … and Robert Poley … about the tenth hour before noon of the same day [May 30], met together in a room in the house of a certain Eleanor Bull, widow; & there passed the time together & dined & after dinner were in quiet sort together there & walked in the garden belonging to the said house until the sixth hour after noon of the same day & then returned from the said garden to the room aforesaid & there together and in company supped, & after supper the said Ingram & Christopher Morley were in speech & uttered one to the other divers malicious words for the reason that they could not be at one nor agree about payment of the sum of pence, that is, le recknynge, there, & the said Christopher Morley then lying on a bed in the room where they supped, & moved with anger against the said Ingram ffrysar upon the words as aforesaid spoken between them, And the said Ingram then & there sitting in the room aforesaid with his back towards the bed where the said Christopher Morley was then lying, sitting near the bed, that is, nere the bed, & with the front part of his body towards the table & the aforesaid Nicholas Skeres & Robert Poley sitting on either side of the said Ingram in such a manner that the same Ingram ffrysar in no wise could take flight: it so befell that the said Christopher Morley on a sudden & of his malice towards the said Ingram aforethought, then & there maliciously drew the dagger of the said Ingram which was at his back, and with the same dagger the said Christopher Morley then & there maliciously gave the aforesaid Ingram two wounds on his head of the length of two inches & the depth of a quarter of an inch; whereupon the said Ingram, in fear of being slain, & sitting in the manner aforesaid between the said Nicholas Skeres & Robert Poley so that he could not in any wise get away, in his own defence & for the saving of his life, then & there struggled with the said Christopher Morley to get back from him his dagger aforesaid; in which affray the same Ingram could not get away from the said Christopher Morley; and so it befell in that affray that the said Ingram, in defence of his life, with the dagger aforesaid of the value of 12d. gave the said Christopher then & there a mortal wound over the right eye of the depth of two inches & of the width of one inch; of which mortal wound the aforesaid Christopher Morley then & there instantly died”[2]

[Note the use of ‘le recknynge’ (the reckoning) to describe the cause of the argument that led to Marlowe’s ‘death’.]

So now, this is the story that we are given, to promote the idea that Marlowe was ‘killed’.

However, it seems that of the four people meeting at the inn that day when Marlowe was ‘killed’, that:

  1. Nicholas Skeares worked for the Earl of Essex;
  2. Robert Poley worked as a spy for Francis Walsingham and was part of the uncovering of the Babington plot;
  3. Ingram Frizer worked for Francis Walsingham’s cousin, Thomas Walsingham, who was also the patron of…
  4. Christopher Marlowe!

Why would one of these four friends, who all worked in the same political circle, want to have Marlowe killed?

 Or was Marlowe being set up as the ‘patsy’, the ‘fall guy’? Not to be killed, but to make it appear that way.

Perhaps, a different conspiracy had been quickly hatched, to claim that Marlowe had indeed been killed, and a staging of his ‘death’ had been done? This would have stopped any further attacks on Marlowe and his compatriots. But also, it would have provided Marlowe with a ‘cover’ for his ‘flight’, perhaps to the continent.

Now, it is at this juncture point, a most important crossroad in the history of England literature, that we see the entry onto the world stage of a man named ‘William Shakespeare’. And we should begin with an assertion that there really was a person in history named William Shakespeare, from Stratford-upon-Avon.

But there are very little details about the actual life of William Shakespeare – it’s as if he was the invisible man. It’s not even known when he was born – there is only the record of his baptism on April 26th 1564. So, some people made a guess that he was born three days before his baptism, so that it could be said that he was born April 23rd, St. George’s Day, and because it also could be said that he was born on the same day that he died (April 23rd 1616).

It is not known if he went to school, any school – not to university or not even to a grammar school. But because Ben Jonson wrote a eulogy to Shakespeare that was included in the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, that “though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek”, therefore it was assumed by some people that he had to have had some schooling somewhere, (to learn some Latin and less Greek) and so, speculations were written to try to account for the necessary education that Shakespeare would have required to be able to write any of Shakespeare’s plays.

It is not known when he was married – there is only the record of November 27th 1582, that at the age of 18, he obtained a special license to marry 26-year-old Anne Hathaway, and that six months later, a daughter Susanna was baptised on May 26th 1583, and that two years later, their twins, Judith and Hamnet (who were probably named after their neighbours, Hamnet and Judith Sadler) were baptised on February 2nd 1585.

We only learn further details about his life from Nicholas Rowe, in ‘Some Account of the Life, &c, of Mr. William Shakespeare’, from his 1709 edition of Shakespeare’s plays [over 90 years after his death]:

“He had, by a Misfortune common enough to young Fellows, fallen into ill Company; and amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of Deer-stealing, engag’d him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong’d to Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that Gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and in order to revenge that ill Usage, he made a Ballad upon him. And tho’ this, probably the first Essay of his Poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the Prosecution against him to that degree, that he was oblig’d to leave his Business and Family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London. It is at this Time, and upon this Accident, that he is said to have made his first Acquaintance in the Play-house. He was receiv’d into the Company then in being, at first in a very mean Rank …”

A further account as to what was meant by ‘a very mean rank’ is given in a later 1765 edition of Shakespeare’s plays, where a passage is added at the end of Rowe’s ‘Account of the Life of Shakespeare’ by Samuel Johnson, “which Mr. (Alexander) Pope related, as communicated to him by Mr. (Nicholas) Rowe”:

“ when Shakespeare fled to London from the terror of a criminal prosecution, his first expedient was to wait at the door of the play-house, and hold the horses of those that had no servants, that they might be ready again after the performance … In this office he became so conspicuous for his care and readiness, that in a short time every man as he alighted called for Will. Shakspeare, and scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse while Will. Shakspeare could be had. This was the first dawn of better fortune. Shakspeare, finding more horses put into his hand than he could hold, hired boys to wait under his inspection, who, when Will. Shakspeare was summoned, were immediately to present themselves, ‘I am Shakspeare’s boy, Sir’. In time, Shakspeare found higher employment: but as long as the practice of riding to the playhouse continued, the waiters that held the horses retained the appellation of, Shakspeare’s boys.”

This is what little we know of the early life of the actual ‘William Shakespeare’, and of how he came into association with the playhouses. Everything else that’s written about the early life of ‘William Shakespeare’ is someone’s speculation or imagination. And what little we do know, was written almost 100 years after he died!

Rowe continues in his ‘Account’ with the ‘so-called’ fantastical tale of how Shakespeare came to be a poet:

“But his admirable Wit, and the natural Turn of it to the Stage, soon distinguished him, if not as an extraordinary Actor, yet as an excellent Writer. His Name is Printed, as the Custom was in those Times, amongst those of the other Players, before some old Plays, but without any particular Account of what sort of Parts he us’d to play; and tho’ I have inquir’d, I could never meet with any further Account of him this way, than that the top of his Performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet …”

This is the ‘standard accepted theory’ and is to be simply assumed to be true. As I said – he’s the Invisible Man. But DID ‘William Shakespeare’, the son of a glove-maker, with no known education, and no known history – except for when he was about to be arrested for poaching on the estate of a lord, fled to London and found employment by waiting with the horses of patrons going to the theatre – suddenly become a published poet, and one of the leading playwrights in London ?!? Wow! But, why was he the only one able to pull off such a miracle?

 Let’s continue to look at what we do know to be true.

The first time that we will see the name ‘Shakespeare’ in print is in 1593 – the year of Marlowe’s ‘reckoning’. The poem ‘Venus and Adonis’ was registered in April 1593 (a month before the ‘reckoning’) and was published in June (perhaps a week after Marlowe’s so-called ‘death’) and while the title page did not show an author’s name, the dedication page (perhaps added later) was signed by ‘William Shakespeare’ (his first literary appearance).

In the autumn of 1593, after the ‘reckoning’, Marlowe’s unfinished poem ‘Hero and Leander’ was registered but was not published. [Five years later, in 1598, this unfinished poem would be published and posthumously dedicated to Thomas Walsingham, by the publisher Edward Blount.]

The next year, in May 1594, the poem ‘Lucrece’ was registered and was published, again with no author’s name on the title page, but with the dedication page (again, perhaps added later) signed by ‘William Shakespeare’ (his second literary appearance).

And, so by the end of 1594, a person named ‘William Shakespeare’ became a shareholder in a play company – negotiated with his offer of a play script and a promise of more.

However, an important point has to be remembered about this 1593-94 period – that the London theatres were closed, from the summer of 1593 until the summer of 1594, because of an outbreak of plague, so that our ‘William Shakespeare’ that waited with the horses of patrons attending the theatre, would have become very unemployed!!! Now, are we to believe that he just hung around and then, on a whim, looking for a new job, he decided to start writing poetry instead (and very good poetry for his very first attempt too, we might add) ?!?

Or may we more reasonably assume, that being presently unemployed and not wishing to be in London during the plague, he took this opportunity to return home, straighten things out with the Lord, rejoin his wife and children, and with his new-found confidence in his business ability, set up shop at Stratford-upon-Avon.

So, what if we hypothesize that these two finished poems, ‘Venus and Adonis’ and ‘Lucrece’, as well as the unfinished poem, ‘Hero and Leander’ were all written by Christopher Marlowe, and that while no author’s name was listed when the two finished poems were being prepared for publication, a dedication page was simply added later. But since Christopher Marlowe’s name could not be used as the author (to avoid restarting the witch-hunt) and since he was now considered to be deceased anyway, an unassuming name should be chosen, like the name of the simple peasant who watched patron’s horses (Shakespeare was a fairly common name in Warwickshire), and he was of the same age as Marlowe too.  And so the author’s name was given as ‘William Shakespeare’.

Let’s now restate our hypothesis before proceeding – that Marlowe’s ‘reckoning’ and ‘death’ was fake and staged, that after a ‘William Shakespeare’ had left London to return to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1593, the name of ‘William Shakespeare’ was used by Christopher Marlowe, to be the purported author of his poems and of his plays. Why should our hypothesis be any less valid than another person’s speculation and imagination? For to be honest, the story of William Shakespeare’s life is just that, an imagined story.

  Now with all that in mind, let’s continue to hypothesize the rest of our story and try not to stray from the truth. But for now, until things had quieted down a bit, Marlowe would have to leave England.

Act 4 – The Sonnets and a ‘Journey in my Head’

It must also be remembered that Marlowe accepted this deal too, and so he began his journey. Having to flee in a hurry, Marlowe may have left behind some manuscripts of his plays, that could be used to begin the career of his nom de plume, ‘William Shakespeare’. Perhaps, we may assume these plays to be some of his early comedies – ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, and ‘The Comedy of Errors’, and early history plays – ‘Henry VI, part 1, part 2, and part 3, and an early tragedy – ‘Titus Andronicus’.

Perhaps one of the first plays that he began after his ‘death’ was ‘As You Like It’. In this play, the character Touchstone says:

“When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.

Marlowe may be referring to the ‘le recknynge’ as ‘a reckoning in a little room’ that faked his ‘death’, that when a man’s (i.e. Marlowe’s) verses aren’t understood, or when his good wit isn’t understood by the ‘forward child’ (i.e. the purported author), then that man feels deader than from a great ‘reckoning’ (his supposed murder). And also as Jacques says in this play: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players”.                             

Later, Phoebe says: “Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might, Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?”

The dead shepherd (i.e. dead poet) and his saw (i.e. saying) then repeats, word for word – ‘whoever loved that loved not at first sight’ – a line that is taken directly from Marlowe’s ‘Hero and Leander’!!! [1st sestiad, line 158] that was not to be published or read by others until 1598! Only Marlowe could have written this!

Since this play was set in France, we may assume that this is where Marlowe fled. Another play that is also set in France is ‘Love’s Labours Lost’ – Marlowe’s report on the situation in France.

King Ferdinand of Navarre and his three companions swear off the company of women for three years, but their infatuation with the princess of France makes them break their promise. Could King Ferdinand be referring to (the future king) Henry Navarre and his three companions be referring to the Duc de Biron (i.e. Lord Berowne), the Duc de Mayenne (i.e. Lord Dumaine) and the Duc de Longueville (i.e. Lord Longaville). Could all this be referring to the three years of the war of succession, after the death of Henry III, until Henry Navarre denounced Protestantism and converted to Catholicism, for his love of France and to become king? Could the Spanish visitor be referring to the Spanish intrigues behind the succession? With his report on France done, Marlowe could continue on his journey.

Now, ask yourself, if you were a young 29-year-old aspiring playwright and about to start on your life’s journey, where would you want to go, to learn and hone your craft? Why, to Italy, of course – the home of the Renaissance, in painting, architecture, music, opera and especially in poetry, prose and plays!

[Aside: And perhaps, he may have wished to maintain his ‘double-agent’ identity, and so, he may have journeyed to that stronghold of Jesuit (and Venetian) thinking, the university at Padua, where he could both appear to be studying with them, but also gathering intelligence on them! Perhaps.]

On his journey, Marlowe may have taken with him a book, ‘The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland’, written by Raphael Holinshed in 1575, that he could use for ideas in writing more of his history plays, including: ‘Richard II and ‘Richard III, ‘King John’, and ‘Henry IV – parts I and II’.

Marlowe may also have taken with him another book, ‘Palace of Pleasure’ written by William Painter in 1575, that was filled with a hundred different stories, including some English versions of Italian novellas that were taken from Giovanni Boccaccio, Gianfranceso Straparola, Matteo Bandello and Giovanni Giraldo (Cinthio) – stories that Marlowe could use as sources for ideas in developing plots for more of his comedy plays.

Perhaps at this time, he may have received a copy of Edmund Spenser’s recently published ‘Amoretti’ sonnets and his ‘Four Hymns’ – to Love, Beauty, Heavenly Love and Heavenly Beauty, and so on his journey, Marlowe could have begun his own book of love sonnets, while also recognizing his need for anonymity:                     

Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage

            Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit
To thee I send this written ambassage
To witness duty, not to show my wit …
Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee,
Til then, not show my head where thou mayest prove me.” (sonnet 26)

But also in these sonnets, he could write of his other journey, ‘a journey in my head’ –                 

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired,
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired …” (sonnet 27)                                       

Another one of his plays, that is partly set in France and partly set in Italy, is ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’, whose plot is from a story in ‘Decameron’ by Boccaccio, wherein Helena fakes her death in order to entrap her husband. This same theme of ‘supposed’ death (like his ‘reckoning’) would be repeated in many of his future comedies. With this play’s setting in France and in Italy, perhaps, we can assume that Marlowe didn’t stay long in France, and slowly travelled on his donkey through the mountain paths of the Alps to Italy:

Full many a glorious morning have I seen,
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green;
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy (sonnet 33)                       

The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
Plods duly on, to bear that weight in me
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider loved not speed, being made from thee …” (sonnet 50)  

Marlowe would continue writing comedy plays, that he found stories for, in ‘Palace of Pleasure’, including:

‘Romeo and Juliet’, set in Verona and taken from Bandello, has Juliet feigning to be dead to avoid a marriage;

‘Much Ado About Nothing’, set in Messina and taken from Bandello, has Hero feigning death to cause remorse;

‘Twelfth Night’, set in Illyria and taken from Bandello, has Sebastion and Viola presuming each other dead;

‘Measure for Measure’, set in Vienna and taken from Cinthio, has Claudio assumed dead to avoid execution; and,

‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, set in Athens, has Pyramus mistakenly think that Thisbe is dead, and that makes use of ‘a play within a play’, to show that things may not always be as they appear to be.

[Aside: In ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ we have Oberon, king of the Fairies, and Titania, queen of the Fairies, that had to remind the audience of Gloriana from Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’.]

In ‘The Merchant of Venice’, set in and around Venice and taken from a novella by Giovanni Fiorentino, Portia is presented as a disguised, young male lawyer, and although she wins the court case on a ‘technicality’, she talks of a higher sense of justice, above simple logic – mercy.

It also presents the case of Shylock, and the way that Jewish people living in Venice were barred from all types of employment, except sellers of used clothing (rags) and owners of pawn shops (money lending) and were forced to live in ghettos. The way that Shylock is treated, is there any wonder at the way that he acts? But is this any different from the actions of those ‘Christians who were not Christians’, such as those of the Venetian Party who were intent on inciting both sides in religious wars.

Perhaps Marlowe used Portia in the same way that Aeschylus used Athena to change the Erinyes from seekers of justice through vengeance (i.e. blood for blood) into the ‘kindly ones’ of a new compassionate form of justice. A forced conversion is a technicality, it doesn’t provide a reason for a conversion. For a true ecumenical approach, one must get at the essence of justice, and not simply the mere appearance of legalistic dogmas, codes and rituals – things that may not always be as they appear to be.

Perhaps, Marlowe had in mind the 1598 Edict of Nantes. Henry IV of France (with troops sent from Elizabeth of England) finally ended France’s war with Philip II of Spain, forcing the surrender of the Spanish army in France at Amiens in September 1597. Then in April 1598, Henry IV signed the Edict of Nantes that restored civil rights to the Huguenots (and granted them protection from the Inquisition). In May 1598, the Peace of Vervins was signed, between France, Spain and the delegates of Pope Clement VIII, that recognized Henry as king of France, and that withdrew all Spanish forces from France – and withdrew Spanish support for Guise’s Catholic League.

Also, in 1598, a ‘William Shakespeare’ was listed as one of the actors in the cast that performed Ben Jonson’s ‘Every Man in his Humour’. But, was this actor, the uneducated and untrained ‘William Shakespeare’ from Stratford-upon Avon, or was it the Cambridge-educated and dramatist Christopher Marlowe – using his pen-name ‘William Shakespeare’? I would like to assume that Marlowe had by this time returned from his (5 year) exile to London, and that it was Marlowe that was this actor.

In the spring of the fateful year of 1598, to honour the wedding of Thomas Walsingham who had been a patron to both Christopher Marlowe and to George Chapman, Marlowe’s unfinished poem ‘Hero and Leander’ was published, and dedicated to Walsingham, by Marlowe’s friend, the publisher Edward Blount, on Marlowe’s behalf. A second publication was the finished poem, that included Marlowe’s two sestiads plus four additional sestiads written by Chapman (?) and dedicated to Lady Audrey Walsingham.

It would seem that Chapman had somehow received a posthumous request from Marlowe to finish the poem!?! Or perhaps, Marlowe had returned from his ‘exile’ and had finished the poem, but since he was ‘dead’ it couldn’t be attributed to him as the author, and was attributed instead to his friend, Chapman.

But that first dedication, written by Blount, isn’t about Walsingham at all, it’s about Marlowe:

“Sir, we think not ourselves discharged of the duty we owe to our friend when we have brought the breathless body to the earth; for, albeit the eye there taketh his ever-farewell of that beloved object, yet the impression of the man that hath been dear unto us, living an after-life in our memory, there putteth us in mind of farther obsequies due unto the deceased; and namely the performance of whatsoever we may judge shall make to his living credit and to the effecting of his determinations prevented by the stroke of death.

By these meditations (as by an intellectual will) I suppose myself executor to the unhappy deceased author of this poem, upon whom knowing that in his lifetime you bestowed many kind favours, entertaining the parts of reckoning and worth which you found in him with good countenance and liberal affection, I cannot but see so far into the will of him dead, that whatsoever issue of his brain should chance to come abroad, that the first breath it should take might be the gentle air of your liking; for, since his self had been accustomed thereunto, it would prove more agreeable and thriving to his right children than any other foster countenance whatsoever …” (emphasis added)

First, we look at the cryptic references to ‘will’ and the ‘reckoning’ – this could be a hint that Marlowe’s patron, Walsingham, and his friends, Blount and Chapman, knew that Marlowe was ‘Shakespeare’. That same reference to ‘Will’ can also be seen in two of his sonnets:

[Aside: in the 1609 publication of the Sonnets, ‘Will’ is capitalized]

“… So true a fool is love, that in your Will,      
(Though you do any thing) he thinks no ill.” (sonnet 57)                                

“… So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will,
If thou turn back and my loud crying still.” (sonnet 143)

Second, we look at the reference to his ‘good countenance’ rather than his ‘foster countenance’ – this could refer to a spate of slanders and defamations that began to appear against him, after his ‘reckoning’ and ‘death’. 

Thomas Beard (‘Theatre of Gods Judgements’, 1597) writes “not inferior to any former in Atheism and impiety, and equal to all manner of punishment was one of our own nation, of fresh and late memory, called Marlin …” Francis Meres (‘Palladis Tamia’, 1598) repeats “as Iodelle, a French tragical poet being an Epicure and an Atheist made a pitiful end: so our tragical poet Marlow for his Epicurism and Atheism had a tragical death …” William Vaughan (‘Golden Grove’, 1600) also writes that “not inferior to these was one Christopher Marlow by profession a playmaker, who as it is reported, about 7 years ago wrote a book against the Trinity: but see the effects of God’s justice … Thus did God, the true executioner of divine justice, work the end of impious Atheists.”

But Marlowe could only silently watch and listen as his good name was being dragged through the mud.                                    

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon my self and curse my fate … (sonnet 29)

Third, we look at the reference to an ‘issue of his brain’ and his ‘right children’ – this may refer to his brilliant use of metaphor that is seen in those first fourteen sonnets, that he would place at the beginning of the ‘Sonnets’. These first fourteen sonnets begin with the idea of our love of beauty and how beauty needs to be reproduced, not left to die, and secondly, to the idea that one’s beauty and truth can live on again in one’s offspring.

“From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory …” (sonnet 1)

“… Or else of thee this I prognosticate,
     Thy end is Truth’s and Beauty’s doom and date.” (sonnet 14)    

This is done so that those sonnets could be talking about either of these ideas or about both at the same time. Then in sonnets 15 to 19, we see that love of beauty and truth can also live in one’s verses – i.e. the ‘issue of his brain’:

“… And all in war with time for love of you
As he takes from you, I ingraft you new.” (sonnet 15)

“… Yet do thy worst old time despite thy wrong,
   My love shall in my verse ever live young.” (sonnet 19)

Now, Marlowe continues with sonnets 20 to 25, with a changed view of seeing what beauty and love are:

“… O learn to read what silent love hath writ,
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.” (sonnet 23) 

“… Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.” (sonnet 24)

Act 5 – Achilles and Ireland

In April of 1598, George Chapman would register and publish the first installment of his translations of Homer – books 1,2 and 7-11 of the ‘Iliad’ – the tales about Achilles, and he would dedicate them: “to the most honored now living instance of the Achilleian vertues eternized by divine Homere, the Earle of Essexe, Earl Marshall etc”.

In the dedication, like in Marlowe’s sonnets, Chapman talks of immortality – the eternity on earth for the soul.

“… So is poore Learning the inseparable Genius of the Homericall writing I intend; wherein notwithstanding the soules of al the recorded worthies that ever lived become eternally embodied even upon earth and, our understanding parts making transition in that we understand, the lyves of worthilie-termed Poets are their earthlie Elisummes; wherein we walke with survival of all the deceased worthies we reade of, everie conceipt, sentence, figure and word being a most bewtiful lineament of their soules’ infinite bodies, and, could a beautie be objected to sence, composed of as many divine member, and that wee had sences responsible for their full apprehension, they should impress no more pleasure to such a bodie than is sweetly enjoyed in this true manner of communication and combination of soules …”. 

Perhaps, with the lessons of the Trojan war, he was trying to influence Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex and the step-son of Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. I suspect that there must have been a reason why Chapman would want to publish a book of these few chapters, instead of waiting until he had finished his translations and could publish a complete version of Homer’s Iliad. There must have been an urgency for this first installment.

Marlowe also seems to have been a part of this study of Achilles, and perhaps, to try to influence the Earl of Essex in the question of leadership. This also hints that at this time Marlowe had somehow returned to London.

Marlowe’s play, ‘Troilus and Cressida’, is set in Troy, near the end of the Trojan war, and shows us the tragedy of Helen and Paris, of Troilus and Cressida, and of Achilles and Ajax and Hector – was this war worth all the fighting and hazards and losses? Marlowe starts the play with a ‘Prologue’, dressed in armor:

‘… To tell you, fair beholders, that our play
Leaps o’er the vaunt and firstlings of those broils,
Beginning in the middle, starting thence away
To what may be digested in a play.
Like, or find fault; do as your pleasures are.
Now, good or bad, ‘tis but the chance of war.’

and he tells us, the audience, that we must decide the merits or faults of the flaws of both Troilus and of Achilles.

In March 1599, Essex would be made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, by Queen Elizabeth. Since the time when Henry VIII had become the King of Ireland in 1542, the English policy toward Ireland had been what was called ‘surrender and regrant’ – the chiefs of the Gaelic clans would surrender their lands to the king, and after swearing loyalty, those lands would be returned to them but with a rent-charge, and with the English appointment of ‘Earl’.

This would place Ireland under the English feudal legal system, that often clashed with the former Gaelic system, and this conflict resulted in both clashes against the English, but also clashes between the Gaelic clans, that was often exploited by the English officials.

Essex arrived in Dublin in April, to put down the rebellion in Ulster, in northern Ireland, led by Hugh O’Neill, who was being aided by Spain and Scotland (and encouraged by the Pope). But with rumors of a Spanish armada being sent to attack England, the necessary supplies and ships, that were needed by Essex to launch his attack, were not sent, and with the added loss of many men due to disease, Essex instead negotiated a cease-fire with O’Neill, and O’Neill would send a document to Elizabeth, accepting English rule but also with his terms for peace.

But the actions of Essex in Ireland did not find support in the Privy Council, and on his return he was placed in solitary confinement while plots were designed to end his power at Elizabeth’s court. During this confinement, his household was dispersed, and Essex grew sick and depressed, and wished to be left to live a quiet country life. After 8 months of confinement, Essex was brought before an 18-member special commission to hear the charges that were presented by four lawyers – one of whom was a vindictive Francis Bacon!

[Aside: The political slime-mold Francis Bacon had become an advisor to the Earl of Essex in 1591, but on Essex’s return from Ireland, and seeing the way the wind was blowing against him, Bacon abandoned Essex and joined Cecil and those plotting against Essex.]

 Although Essex would finally be released from custody, he was banned from Court but was now bankrupt. Rumors were sent to Essex that Robert Cecil was secretly negotiating to have the Infanta of Spain succeed to the throne of England, and that the surest way to stop all this was for Essex to ally with King James of Scotland. Meanwhile, Cecil was himself secretly corresponding with James to assure him of his support in the succession! And so, Essex and supporters were drawn into a rebellion – to seize the Court, to topple Cecil and restore Essex to favour. The hastily ill-organized rebellion failed, and Essex and his supporters were arrested and charged with treason. Bacon was tasked with gathering evidence, from confessions of the prisoners, to use in the prosecution to prove the guilt of Essex, who was executed in February 1601.

Late in 1598, during that Irish rebellion, Edmund Spenser was forced to flee from his home in Kilcolman. Spenser had just finished writing ‘A View of the present State of Ireland’ in the form of a dialogue between Eudoxus and Irenius. Within three weeks of arriving back in London, Spenser would pass away in January 1599! It was ‘claimed’ that Spenser died of poverty or ‘died for lack of bread’, but this does not seem very likely since he was receiving a yearly pension from the Queen. Perhaps his death is more mysterious than we are led to believe.

He was buried, at what came to be called ‘Poet’s Corner’, in Westminster Abbey – where he would always be remembered as one of the great English poets.

“… near to Chaucer, at the charge of the Earl of Essex; his hearse being attended by poets, and mournful elegies and poems with the pens that wrote them thrown into his tomb”

Perhaps, Marlowe was thinking of Spenser when he wrote Sonnet 86:

“Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
Bound for the prize of all-too-precious you,
That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,
Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?
Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write
Above a mortal pitch, that struck me dead ?…”

            Perhaps, remembering his friend Spenser, and with Essex in mind, Marlowe wrote his history play, ‘Henry V’, where he introduces the Chorus as a prologue to start the play:

“… For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there, jumping o’er times,
Turning th’ accomplishment of many years
Into an hourglass; for the which supply,
Admit me chorus to this history,
Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray
Gently to hear, kindly to judge our play.”

            We, the audience, must now ‘judge’ the events of this play, where we discover Marlowe’s idea of a hero – Harry the King, with all his warts and scars, who wasn’t a typical genius or great warrior, but was an individual who nonetheless realized that, for whatever reason, by whatever accident, it had become his responsibility to lead – to drive the bus!

Marlowe hints at this idea of immortality in Henry’s speech before the battle of Agincourt:

“… By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive …

This story shall the good man teach his son,
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered –
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers …”

[Aside: Although in this play we hear of the death of Falstaff, earlier in ‘Henry IV’ we saw Prince Hal’s rejection of Falstaff, and in als’s rejection of Falsastaff the epilogue were promised that ‘… our humble author will continue the story with Sir John in it’. So perhaps, because of this promise and because of the popularity of Falstaff, Marlowe may have quickly written ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ to bring back Falstaff one last time for his English audience.]

Perhaps, again Marlowe had Essex in mind (who had not learned the lessons of Henry V) when he wrote the play ‘Hamlet’, when the question is asked, “To be, or not to be, that is the question …”

And when further on, he hints again at immortality:

“But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.”

[“Hamlet, the killer swordsman, is not frightened by dying, but by what might come after his death. So, he dies as a pathetic fool, taking his kingdom to disaster with him, not for fear of death, but fear of immortality.” – taken from ‘On the Subject of Tariffs and Trade’, by Lyndon LaRouche, EIR January 12, 2004]

Marlowe’s play ‘Macbeth’ although it is set in Scotland, could easily refer to Ireland and to Hugh O’Neill, and to the internecine battles between clan chieftains and to the English-Gaelic intrigues that were being fought out. But perhaps it may refer to James Stuart, king of Scotland and a possible heir to the English throne, and of the fight that had occurred over the Scottish succession – with Henry Stuart, Mary Stuart and the Earl of Bothwell.

Perhaps, he had in mind Macbeth’s denial of immortality:

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

            In Marlowe’s play, ‘King Lear’ perhaps we can imagine Elizabeth, as like to Lear, mad in the uncertainty of the succession, and perhaps we can see Essex, as like to Cordelia, who though in the right, fails to act to change Lear – ‘love and be silent’.

Although she marries the King of France, she returns to her father to try to restore peace. To which Lear, seeing his foolishness and seeking his daughter’s forgiveness replies:

“Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies


In 1599, Giordano Bruno was found guilty of heresy. In May 1592, because of a letter of accusations by Giovanni Mocenigo, Bruno was arrested and interrogated by the Venetian Inquisition. But while three witnesses were brought against him (two booksellers and a nobleman), nothing could be found to support these charges.

Venice, in response to a request by the Roman Inquisition, sent Bruno to Rome. For the next six years the Inquisition prepared a list of Bruno’s writings and searched throughout Europe for any copies that could be found. But the Inquisition was unsuccessful in building its case against him, until in 1599, the Pope made Jesuit theologian, Roberto Bellarmino, a cardinal and an Inquisitor placed on the Board of Inquisition, that then found Bruno guilty. In February 1600, Bruno was burned at the stake, so that his name might be infamously remembered.

Although Marlowe’s next plays are again set in Italy, I suspect that Marlowe however remained in London, perhaps fearing the Venetian Inquisition.

We know he was in London because around the year 1602, a ‘William Shakespeare’ rented a room in Cripplegate ward at the home of French immigrants, Christopher and Marie Mountjoy.

[Note: In ‘Henry V’, the French herald is named Mountjoy.]

This can be found in the legal documents from a court case that was heard in 1612 – ‘Belott v. Mountjoy’, a family dispute of Stephen Belott, the son-in-law and former apprentice of Christopher Mountjoy, French immigrants and makers of ladies decorative head attire – ‘tire-makers’. Belott claimed that Mountjoy promised him a dowry of £60 when he married Mountjoy’s daughter, Mary, in 1604, but it was never paid. One of the witnesses called was ‘William Shakespeare’, a lodger at Mountjoy’s residence at the time, who said that he knew both parties – ‘as he now remebrethe for the space of tenne years or thereaboutes’.

‘William Shakespeare’ (i.e. Marlowe) had moved from the Liberty of the Clink in Southwark, near the Globe theatre and the Rose theatre, to live at the Mountjoy’s, around 1602 or thereabouts.

[Note: The Deposition of ‘William Shakespeare’ of May 11th 1612 is found in ‘The Lodger Shakespeare, His Life on Silver Street’, by Charles Nicholl.]

But shortly before that time, in 1597, a large house was purchased in the name of a ‘William Shakespeare’ – the second-largest house in all of Stratford-upon-Avon. When his father, John, died in 1601, William would inherit his properties. So, why would a fairly prosperous merchant living in Stratford-upon-Avon, wish to rent a ‘room’ at the home of French immigrants. Especially if he didn’t speak French – which Marlowe did.

The Mountjoy house in Cripplegate would’ve been a short walk to St. Paul’s churchyard and booksellers’ stalls – the main market for the book trade.

St. Paul’s churchyard is mentioned in the 1600 publication of Marlowe’s English translation of Lucan’s First Book of Pharsalia (on the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey) – which would have been Marlowe’s research to be used for his play Julius Caesar, published by Thomas Thorpe.

In it, Thorpe writes an introduction to his friend Edward Blount, who had earlier published Marlowe’s poem ‘Hero and Leander’:

“Blunt, I propose to be blunt with you, and, out of my dulness, to encounter you with a Dedication in memory of that pure elemental wit, Chr. Marlowe, whose ghost or genius is to be seen walk the Churchyard, in, at the least, three or four sheets. Methinks you should presently look wild now, and grow humorously frantic upon the taste of it …”

Was Thorpe hinting that he had seen (or met) Marlowe at St. Paul’s?

Why would ‘Shakespeare’ want to take up residence with a French immigrant family in Cripplegate, unless he spoke French (like Marlowe) and used to live in France (like Marlowe) and where he could receive news (and intelligence) from France, and where he could also be near the St. Paul’s booksellers, where he could also receive news (and intelligence) of other playwrights? Perhaps this must have been Marlowe (i.e. ‘Shakespeare’ the ‘actor’).

The deaths of Bruno, and perhaps of Essex, may have been in Marlowe’s thoughts when he wrote the play ‘Othello’, set in Venice, again, and with the manipulative Iago, that should remind us of the Venetian disease that was beginning to infect England, as seen in Paolo Sarpi, and in Francis Bacon and Robert Cecil.

[Aside: It is a proven ‘fact’, that Bacon was in correspondence with the Venetian Sarpi, and that Bacon’s ‘so-called’ method was just a rehash of Sarpi’s and was promoted as if it was something original or meaningful.]  

Queen Elizabeth died in March 1603, and with the death of Elizabeth, came the end of Elizabethan England. Due to his secret correspondence with Cecil, James Stuart made a smooth transition from King of Scotland to become King of Great Britain, and he soon made peace with Spain, knighted Bacon, and made Cecil a Baron.

Set in Rome, are the plays ‘Coriolanus’, ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Antony and Cleopatra’,where Marlowe studies the ending of the Roman Republic and the beginnings of the Roman Empire, and the potential future of England. In ‘Julius Caesar’, we see this problem in the discussion between Cassius and Casca the cynic:

“CASSIUS – Did Cicero say any thing?
CASCAAy, he spoke Greek.
CASSIUSTo what effect?
CASCANay, an I tell you that, Ill ne’er look you i’ the face again: but those that understood him smiled at
one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me.”

The one person who could have saved the republic, Cicero, was not listened to or was not to be understood – it was Greek to me!!!We are reminded of what Thomas More, in the beginning of his ‘Utopia’, wrote:

‘This Raphael … is not ignorant of the Latin tongue. But is eminently learned in the Greek, having applied himself more particularly to that than to the former, because he had given himself much to philosophy, in which he knew that the Romans have left us nothing that is valuable, except what is to be found in Seneca and Cicero.’

‘The Tempest’ would be Marlowe’s last play. In the epilogue, Prospero (i.e. Marlowe) now that he has set free Ariel (i.e. his Muse) asks to be released from his exile. Since he has ‘pardoned the deceiver’ (i.e. relieved ‘Shakespeare’ of his responsibility) he wishes that all can be forgiven – ‘let your indulgence set me free’.

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

‘Shakespeares Sonnets’ would be published in 1609 in a small one-time printing for friends. No new plays by ‘William Shakespeare’ would be published after this, but it is believed that the ‘bard’ spent the rest of his remaining years, collaborating with other young aspiring playwrights to help them learn the poetic art.

How Christopher Marlowe actually died or when he actually died or where he was buried, we may never know. ‘William Shakespeare’ died in Stratford-upon-Avon in April 1616 and was quietly buried in Holy Trinity Church, but upon the news of his death, no eulogies or memorials were written by other poets or playwrights, no gatherings were held in London or elsewhere, no poems or pens were tossed into his grave, as it was done for other poets. Nothing was said or done about this William Shakespeare’s death. If he was so loved, why was nothing done upon his death, and why would six years have to pass before someone began the process to publish his works?

I suspect that Christopher Marlowe died in 1621, and that was why in 1622 the work began on collecting and type-setting his plays. In 1623 the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s collected plays would be published.

In 1632, the Second Folio was published, and which would contain a sonnet written by an anonymous poet –          

‘An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramatick Poet, W. Shakespeare’:                                           

“What needs my Shakespeare, for his honoured bones,
The labour of an age in piled stones?
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?
Dear son of Memory, great heir of Fame,
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou, in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a livelong monument.
For whilst, to the shame of slow-endeavouring art,
Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath, from the leaves of thy unvalued book,
Those Delphic lines with deep impression took;
Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,
Dost make us marble, with too much conceiving;
And, so sepulchred, in such pomp dost lie,
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.”                                      

            The writer of that anonymous sonnet to the immortality of ‘Shakespeare’, turns out to have been a 21-year-old young man named John Milton, who would later find employment as a private tutor (a school teacher) until he was called upon to become the Foreign Secretary of the English Commonwealth, under Oliver Cromwell.

Hmmm … it’s funny how this immortality thing seems to find a way to repeat itself.

“… And take upon us the mystery of things, as if we were God’s spies …”

For Further Inspiration:

Marlowe as Shakespeare: The Drama of Political Intelligence and the Education of a Citizenry
– a lecture by Martin Sieff, November 8, 2020 at

for Further Reading:

The Death of Christopher Marlowe, by J. Leslie Hotson

The Reckoning, the Murder of Christopher Marlowe, by Charles Nicholl

The Book Known as Q, a Consideration of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, by Robert Giroux

The Story That the Sonnets Tell, by A. D. Wraight

Marlowe Up Close, an Unconventional Biography, by Roberta Ballantine

Addendum on Shakespeare’s Monument

Also included in that First Folio (1623) was a poem written by Leonard Digges, that contained the lines:

“Shakespeare, at length thy pious fellowes give
The world thy Workes: thy Workes, by which, out-live
Thy Tombe, thy name must when that stone is rent,
And Time dissolves thy Stratford Moniment …”

The word ‘moniment’ differs from the word ‘monument’, and ‘moniment’ refers to a reminder or inscription – i.e. to the plaque that was placed on the wall of the Stratford church:

“Stay Passenger, why goest thou by so fast?
Read if thou canst, whom envious Death hath plast,
With in this monument Shakspeare: with whome,
Quick nature dide: whose name doth deck Ys (this) Tombe,
Far more then cost: sieh all, Yt (that) he hath writ,
Leaves living art, but page, to serve his witt.”

The first actual evidence of a ‘monument’ was published in ‘Antiquities of Warwickshire Illustrated’ in 1656, by William Dugdale, that contained an engraving done by Wenceslaus Hollar, and that was based on a sketch done by Dugdale in July 1634. Another engraving of the ‘monument’ also appeared in Nicholas Rowe’s 1709 edition of Shakespeare’s plays.

Left to right: Dugdale sketch, 1634, the Hollar engraving, 1656, the Rowe engraving, 1709 and the Vertue engraving, 1723

As can be seen in the sketch of the Stratford wall monument done by Dugdale, in the engraving done by Hollar, and in the Rowe engraving, ‘Shakespeare’ is holding a ‘wool-pack’ suggesting that he was a merchant.

The monument underwent significant restoration in 1649-1650 (after the Civil War), so that by 1725, (over a hundred years after his death) an engraving by George Vertue, in Alexander Pope’s edition of Shakespeare’s plays, shows Shakespeare holding a pen and paper.

After numerous restorations, repairs and re-paintings, the monument looks like this today.

This may have been how William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon looked like, although it looks nothing like the statue of William Shakespeare that is in London at Westminster Abbey (100 miles away).

There had been much talk of burying ‘Shakespeare’ (i.e. Marlowe) in Westminster Abbey, near Edmund Spenser. In 1741, a statue of Shakespeare was erected in Poet’s Corner by Alexander Pope, Richard Boyle, Richard Meade and Tom Martin. This is not the same face as that of the wealthy wool merchant that is buried in Stratford, but it resembles the portrait of Christopher Marlowe (done in 1585) that was rediscovered in 1953.

Perhaps, ‘William Shakespeare’ (i.e. Marlowe) is buried where he belongs, after all, in Poet’s Corner!

[1] This should show that it was not a religious war – certain protestant movements as well as the Jesuit movement were created and used to weaken the targeted nation states, making them less able to resist the new world order.

[2] The citation is taken from ‘The Death of Christopher Marlowe’, by Leslie Hotson

Author bio: Gerald Therrien is a historian and author of a four volume series on Canadian History entitled Canadian History Unveiled and has lectured on topics ranging from poetry, ancient Athenian culture, the renaissance and the Haitian Revolution.


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