As Samuel Blumenfeld clarifies in his latest book, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, "The specific event that led to the unforeseen dangerous consequences for Marlowe [i.e., his arrest] was the Dutch Church Libel [of May 1593], the nailing of a 53-line doggerel poem on the wall of the Dutch churchyard in Broad Street. It threatened the Dutch immigrants living in London with harm and violence if they did not leave." The libel was written in iambic pentameter (a meter Marlowe knew very well, of course, employing it in his pioneering blank verse), was signed "Tamburlaine" (the title of Marlowe's first successful play), and contained references to Marlowe's plays. As Blumenfeld is careful to remind us, the libel must be considered in light of the rivalry between the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Ralegh (a friend of Marlowe), who were in serious competition for Queen Elizabeth's favor. Blumenfeld postulates that Essex had his hands in framing Marlowe, and in so doing, framing his nemesis Ralegh: since Ralegh favored the expulsion of resident aliens (while the Queen did not), a libel allegedly written by Marlowe would thus discredit his pal Ralegh, as well, and would pave the way for an investigation of Ralegh's atheism (and his "School of Night" circle) by Whitgift's Privy Council (see 7/14 Penry post). "In fact," writes Blumenfeld, "Marlowe's reputation as an atheist and blasphemer stems from reports about the goings on among" Ralegh's intellectual coterie. Blumenfeld also concurs with Charles Nicholl, who in The Reckoning argues that the libel was probably written by one of Essex's servants.
Let's further keep in mind that Francis Bacon had allied himself with Essex by now in order to advance in Elizabeth's government, which placed him in natural competition with Lord Burghley's son Robert Cecil. According to Lisa Jardine and Alan Stewart, in their Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon, "Bacon's prospects were obstructed throughout his career by Sir Robert Cecil." Also, with the death of spymaster Francis Walsingham (see 6/19 Walsingham post), Essex and Francis Bacon were creating their own spy network to rival the Cecils (see 6/23 Cecil post). Thus, the Cecils had to be thinking that any charges brought against their spy operative Marlowe (and erstwhile Walsingham operative Ralegh) would also discredit them.
Get to Marlowe to get to Ralegh, and discredit the Cecils, too.
© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, August 2008
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