Q: Sam, you knew Calvin Hoffman (image at left), the legendary Marlovian who pioneered the "Marlowe as hidden hand behind Shakespeare" theory in the mid 1950s. How and when did you first come to meet him? Also, I know you believe some of his claims in The Murder of the Man Who Was "Shakespeare" do have shortcomings. Please elaborate.
Sam: As you know, Carlo, it was Hoffman’s book that turned me into a Marlovian. Before reading that book I believed, like so many college graduates, that Shakespeare’s authorship had been firmly established by indisputable documentary evidence. But Hoffman’s book showed that this was not the case.
At that time, in the late 1950s, I was editor of Grosset & Dunlap’s quality paperback line, and Calvin had come to my office to persuade me that we ought to publish a paperback edition of his book. So I had to read it, and reading it changed my life. It not only opened my eyes about Shakespeare, but it introduced me to the magnificent genius Christopher Marlowe, whom Calvin believed was the true author of the works attributed to Shakespeare.
Hoffman had spent years reading both Marlowe and Shakespeare and was convinced that the two canons were written by one man - Christopher Marlowe. The convincing point for me was the uncanny fact that Marlowe’s career supposedly ended with his murder in a barroom brawl at age 29 and that Shakespeare’s writing career suddenly began shortly after that event also at the age of 29. As coincidence would have it, both men were born in 1564.
Hoffman does a great job demolishing the Shakespeare myth, referring to the many works written on this subject by those who preceded him. But the real heart of the book is his assertion that Marlowe had not been killed as reported but had been the subject of a faked death in order to save him from Archbishop Whitgift’s prosecution of him on charges of atheism, punishable by execution.
In 1955 when Hoffman wrote his book, not much was known about the events at Deptford in 1593. But in 1925, Harvard Professor Leslie Hotson discovered the Coroner’s Inquest which described in great detail what was supposed to have taken place at the Deptford tavern or guesthouse. The Coroner’s report, written in Latin, had been buried away in Queen Elizabeth’s government archives and had not seen the light of day for over 300 years until the good professor dug it out.
Anyone who reads that document today in its English translation will see that it poses more questions than it answers. Marlowe was a member of the Secret Service and he was saved because he was too valuable an asset to Lord Burghley, Elizabeth’s right-hand man, and his son Robert Cecil.
In the research I did for The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, written fifty years after Hoffman’s book was published, I realized that some of the conclusions Hoffman had come to about Marlowe’s life were questionable.
Most of the biographers of Marlowe believe he was a homosexual. But if you also believe that he is the author of the thirty-six plays in the First Folio, it is hard to believe that they could have been written by someone who had not loved women. So where did this assertion about Marlowe have its origin? We find it in the accusations of his arch enemy, Richard Baines, whose damning letter to the inquisition accused Marlowe of not only being a blaspheming atheist but also a homosexual. But Baines’s credibility has been challenged by none other than Charles Nichol, author of The Reckoning.
Of course Marlowe was well aware of homosexuality. He had read the ancient classics and he wrote about such male affections in Dido and Edward II. But because he could write about male homosexuality does not mean that he himself was homosexual.
There is no question in my mind that Marlowe, at age 15, had an affair with the Countess of Pembroke, Philip Sidney’s sister, and fell in love with her. And I believe that Venus and Adonis is the story of the countess’s attempted aggressive seduction of young handsome Christopher, who finally became aroused when she became passive, letting him make love to her in his own way.
In other words, Marlowe was repelled by sexually aggressive women, but enjoyed them when they passively invited his love making. You can see that in Hero and Leander, where Leander is the aggressor.
As for his friendship with Thomas Walsingham, also a member of the Secret Service and a year older than Marlowe, it was no doubt a strong, affectionate friendship, but not a sexual one. In those days, the word love was used among men to denote friendship, loyalty, devotion, and affection. It was not used to denote sexual desire or attachment.
There are other points I can quibble with in Hoffman’s book. Suffice it to say that the power of Hoffman’s book is in its strong assertion that Marlowe lived beyond his purported death in 1593 and went on to write the most magnificent dramas in literary history.
Editor's Note: Sam edited the 1960 paperback edition of Calvin Hoffman's The Murder of the Man Who Was "Shakespeare." Sam and Calvin Hoffman co-founded the Marlowe-Shakespeare Society of America in 1960. Although the Society is extinct, the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, of which Sam is a founding member, is alive and well.
© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, January 2009
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