William Cecil (also known as Lord Burghley) was Queen Elizabeth's chief advisor and the most powerful man in her government. According to Samuel Blumenfeld in The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, the beginning of the relationship between Burghley and Marlowe is not clear, "but it may well have begun when Marlowe was a mere boy of eight and recruited as a page for Philip Sidney, in whom Burghley had taken great interest." Given Burghley's close ties with Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster, we should not be surprised by Burghley's further interest in Marlowe as an intelligence asset. In fact, writes Blumenfeld, when Cambridge was denying Marlowe his MA degree due to excessive absences and because it was suspected that he may have converted to Catholicism, Burghley intervened. His signature appears on a letter from the Privy Council to the university, stating that Marlowe had been in loyal service to Elizabeth and should be granted his degree. According to Blumenfeld, "That letter from the Privy Council with Burghley's signature on it, is evidence of what was certainly a close working relationship between the young poet and the most powerful man in the realm." We should also consider that Burghley's son Robert (the future secretary of state for Elizabeth) was at Cambridge with Marlowe and was also a protege of spymaster Francis Walsingham. As Blumenfeld writes, "[T]he friendship between Marlowe and Robert Cecil would be crucial in the events that would take place in 1593 . . . Whose idea it was to stage a phony death for Marlowe, we do not know. But it may have been the inventive Marlowe himself or perhaps Robert Cecil who had become adept in the spy business with its phony identities and passports." Fascinating.
© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008
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