Does the Welsh Puritan martyr, John Penry, play a role in the fake death of Marlowe? You bet, writes Samuel Blumenfeld in The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question. Penry had protested the draconian policies of John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, according to Blumenfeld, "began to plan his own little reign of terror against the Puritans." Whitgift had imposed major prohibitions against preaching and printing--essentially, he had enacted an era of strict censorship--in the hope of crushing any Puritan attempts to weaken the Anglican Church. Penry's satiric underground pamphelteering against Whitgift and the Anglican Church eventually led to his arrest on treason and subsequent execution.
Of interest, observes Blumenfeld, is the fact that Penry was sentenced to die on May 25, 1593, but his execution at the gallows was delayed until May 29 (Penry had written to Lord Burghley and the Earl of Essex in the hopes of a commutation). May 29 is one day before the "murder" of Christopher Marlowe in Deptford (Marlowe had been arrested on heresy and released on bail over a week before), only a few miles away from Penry's execution at St. Thomas-a-Watering. According to Blumenfeld, the body examined at the coroner's inquest (by Queen Elizabeth's coroner, by the way) that was supposed to be that of the "murdered" Marlowe was really the body of John Penry, and credit Lord Burghley and/or his son Robert Cecil with arranging for Penry's corpse to be at Deptford. As Blumenfeld also affirms, "None of [the] sixteen witnesses to the coroner's inquest had ever known Marlowe or Penry and thus were in no position to certify the identity of the corpse they were looking at." Interestingly, Penry's burial place is unknown.
© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, July 2008
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