Monday, May 18, 2009

Marloviana: Measure for Measure & Kit Marlowe's Mother by Isabel Gortázar

Measure for Measure, Act III, scene 2, 190-1

Mistress Overdone:
My Lord, this is one Lucio’s information against me.
Mistress Kate Keepe-downe was with child by him in the Duke’s time;( … )

A name such as Mrs. Kate Keepe-downe is likely to draw the attention of those of us who believe that Kit Marlowe was the true author of the Shakespearian Canon. Kit’s mother, Katherine Arthur, married John Marlowe, a cobbler from Canterbury, becoming, therefore, Mrs. Katherine Marlowe. On the other hand, while Marlowe left to the murderous Catherine of Medici her full name in The Massacre at Paris, Shakespeare seems to have had a soft spot for the more familiar Kate. The shrewish but lovable Kate Minola is a good example. Then there is the French princess, Catherine de Valois, who marries Henry V; he calls her Kate from the start, even in the early version of the play, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fift. So, maybe, Katherine Marlowe was Kate for her family.

However, that was very flimsy evidence. I wondered whether there could be a hidden connection between Mistress Kate Keepe-downe and the real Mrs. Kate Mar-lowe? There is.

The Dukes of Vienna in Measure for Measure represent the Austrian Habsburg Emperors.1 This fact is clear from one of the two generally accepted sources for Measure: G. Cinthio's Story of Epitia, adapted by Shakespeare from one of the novellas in Cinthio’s collection of One Hundred Tales (Gli Hecatommithi), published in 1565.

In Cinthio’s story, the Emperor in question is referred to as Maximilian of Innsbruck, Innsbruck being for many years the capital of the Austrian Empire. Given the date of publication, Cinthio might have meant to refer to Maximilian II, who had succeeded to the Imperial Crown on the previous year. But whether Cinthio was referring to Maximilian I or Maximilian II, it seems that our wily author used his source, Epitia, to point at the Emperor Maximilian II, whose coronation took place in the year 1564.

Going back to the line: Mistress Kate Keepe-downe was with child (…) in the Duke’s time, we realize that the words in the Duke’s time are nonsense, because every time would have been one Duke’s time or another (Duke following Duke). So if we assume that Mrs. Overdone is referring to one specific Duke, then the sentence should be understood as something like: at the time of the (last) Duke’s death, or at the time of the (present) Duke’s coronation.

Now, two ladies possibly relevant to this line in Measure for Measure and its Mrs. Kate Keepe-downe were with child at the start of 1564: Mrs. Mary Shakespeare and Mrs. Kate Mar-lowe.

© Isabel Gortázar, April 2009

1The Habsburg family not only held the Holy Roman Empire for generations, but after Charles V (or Carolus), they held the Spanish Empire as well. Queen Elizabeth’s archenemy, Philip II of Spain, was Charles’s son and the head of the Habsburg family. After 1604 we will find Habsburgs in several Shakespearian plays; only in The Tempest there are six of them. But we also find Habsburgs in Marlowe’s Jew of Malta and Dr. Faustus.

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


Dave Herber said...

Would Marlowe base the character of a whore on his own mother? That seems to be highly insulting. what I find more interesting in the back story of Measure for Measure is the potential parallel between Ragozine and Penry.

Isabel Gortázar said...

I don't see that Marlowe is calling Mrs Kate Keep-downe a whore; she is not even a character in the play and Mrs Overdone seems to be trying to defent herself by accusing Lucio; in any case, either Kate Keep-downe is a reference to Marlowe's mother, or it isn't. If it isn't, all I can say is the coincidence in the name and the date when she was with child, is remarkable.
As for Ragozine and Penry, I have always find that very intriguing. Ragozine is a common criminal (rogue-assasin) while Penry was not. Ragozin is executed at the last minute to provide a head instead of Bernardine. I suspect Bernardine may be Penry, whose corpse could not be used for some reason. However, it's all conjecture.