Saturday, March 21, 2009

On the treacherous Richard Baines by Samuel Blumenfeld

Bastian Conrad’s light scolding of Peter Wales in the comments section of my Calvin Hoffman piece brings the whole issue of Richard Baines front and center. Bastian is right to deplore the fact that a distorted image of Marlowe dominates academic thinking due to so many biographers’ uncritical acceptance of what Baines wrote about Marlowe in his diatribe. But the real truth is that Baines was a despicable psychopath with a record of treachery going back to his days at the seminary at Rheims.

Baines, born a Catholic, was of an older generation from Marlowe’s. He had attended Cambridge and received his M.A. in 1576. Two years later he enrolled in the seminary at Rheims and in 1581 was ordained as a full priest. But it turns out that during all of this time he had been working as an agent for Francis Walsingham.

He tried to recruit another seminarian to his cause, but the seminarian turned him in to Dr. Allen, head of the seminary, who had Baines arrested in 1582. After spending a year in prison, Baines wrote a six-page confession in which he revealed that he had been possessed by the devil and intended to destroy the seminary by poisoning its water supply.

After recanting his sins, he then made a solemn pledge of loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church and vowed to “detest, execrate, reject and abjure from my mind all heresies, schisms, sects, especially the heresies of Luther and Calvin.” He further pledged to “defend with all my power and faith” the teachings of the church.

Was Baines acting in that faith when he denounced Marlowe, who had written a great anti-Catholic play, The Massacre at Paris ? All of this interesting background about Baines can be found in Roy Kendall’s 2006 book, Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys Through the Elizabethan Underground.

If Baines could destroy Marlowe, he would be acting on his avowed duty to destroy an enemy of his church. Thus, the text of that damning letter should be read for what it was: an expression of venomous hatred for Marlowe and the free spirit he represented.

Was Marlowe an enemy of the Catholic church? The Marlowe-Shakespeare canon reveals a remarkably open mind when it comes to religion. He mocked the Puritans in Twelfth Night. After all, the Puritans wanted to close the theaters. He knew the Bible backwards and forward. But he wrote about religion more like a reporter than an advocate of any particular sect. In Doctor Faustus he made fun of the Vatican. But Whitgift’s inquisition accused him of atheism and blasphemy. What shall we believe? A full study of Marlowe’s attitude toward religion has yet to be written.

Samuel Blumenfeld

© Samuel Blumenfeld, March 2009  Burgess Sam Riley Deptford

Samuel Blumenfeld, a World War II veteran of the Italian campaign, has authored more than ten books. His latest, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, was published by McFarland. He is a former editor in the New York book publishing industry and has lectured widely. His writings have appeared in such diverse publications as Esquire, Reason, Education Digest, Vital Speeches of the Day, Boston, and many others. He is a regular contributor to MSC.

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.

10 comments:

DrLevy said...

and "conventional" history, when writing about Marlowe, makes it all a fait accompli that he was an atheist, yet Mr. Blumenfeld is saying that Marlowe's accuser was quite an unhinged zealot of sorts; fascinating how lazy historians could be--this Baines info doesn't seem too hard to dig up, but thanks for doing it Mr. Blumenfeld

Santo76 said...

Yes, kind of mind boggling how this important info has been overlooked by scholars; many Stratfordians scholars, I guess, are very interested in having Marlowe discredited. Baines was a nutcase.

Sebastian said...

Baines was a snake, there's no other way to describe him . . .and so much of the "record" of Kit Marlowe is based on Baines's rage.

Mercurial said...

great piece, Sam

Anonymous said...

I'm glad people are exposing Marlowe's main accuser as a really bad, unhinged person.

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel

ElviraCardigan said...

Hang on a minute - "snake'? "Psychopath"? Aren't we all getting a tad carried away?

Far as I can make out, Baines was a British intelligence agent, much as Marlowe was, and pretty much everything he said in public probably should be read in this light first and foremost. Why do we have to assume any of it was personally motivated? Isn't it more likely he was just following the directives of whatever bigger set of interests was controlling him? His 'notes' against Marlowe were obviously inspired by the same big political move that seemed aimed at Raleigh and his like. This doesn't look like spite so much as timely intervention at someone's behest.

And isn' it pretty clear both Marlowe and Baines *were* coining or posing as coiners? I mean they're holed up abroad with a goldsmith, right? The only puzzle is why Baines decided to spill the beans on M and blow the whole thing wide open. Maybe that was personal, but surely it's just as likely to have been the result of some weird ramification of the whole bizarre spying business? I mean, look at the Babington Plot - people posing as Catholics posing as agents posing as Catholics and denouncing each other left and right as convenience and policy demanded. It seems to me more likely it was something like this at the root of Baines's treatment of Marlowe. There may have been a personal element I suppose, but it doesn't seem anything like as clear and proven as it's being expressed here.

Sam Blumenfeld said...

Dear Elvira,

You should definitely read my book in order to understand the Marlowe-Burghley relationship and also Kendall's book to get an idea of Baines's background. I know my book is expensive, but you may be able to get a copy through your library system. I truly admire your wonderfully inquiring mind and willingness to read our blogs and comments. But I'm sure you'll have many more interesting comments to make once you've read The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection and Roy Kendall's book.

ElviraCardigan said...

Sam - thanks! I'm sure I'm woefully ignorant in some ways, but I *have* read Nicholl and Pinksen, and so far as I can understand they both are of the opinion Baines was an intelligence operative, like Marlowe himself. Isn't that sufficient explanation to broadly cover his behaviour? Why do we need to proceed on the unlikely assumption he became a genuine convert to Catholicism and persecuted Marlowe as a heretic?

I mean, is there any actual evidence for this?

Or will I have to read your book to find out? ;-)

Sam Blumenfeld said...

Dear Elvira,

I'm so impressed with your insatiable curiosity re matters Marvlovian that I hope you will get a copy of my book from your library and read it. Once you become convinced that Marlowe was the only writer with the genius to write the 36 plays in the First Folio, then you can begin looking for the evidence that will confirm his life after death. It's a waste of time and energy to fight Stratfordians, or Oxfordians, or Baconians. Our energies and research must be concentrated on finding proof of Marlowe's life after Deptford. I'm surprised that Antony Kellett is still an agnostic when it comes to making a leap of faith into Marlovian certainty. Once you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. It doesn't matter what Jonson knew or what Baines knew. Once you've achieved the Nirvana of Marlovian certitude, you will be very happy.