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, 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.
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