Monday, September 20, 2010

More Doubts About Will - 4: The (Real) Death of Marlowe by Isabel Gortázar

And so we are coming to the end of my story: My hypothesis that Christopher Marlowe died, or killed himself, in the last months of 1621 is based on a series of events occurring between September 25th of that year and the summer of 1622, so six years after the death of William Shakespeare. (See Part I: "The Chancel"; Part II: "Enter Iago"; Part III: "The Swan Song"; and the Time-Schedule below).

The printing process of the First Folio (FF) started around April 1621,1 to be stopped on 21st October by order of the Lord Chamberlain2(Mary Sidney’s eldest’s son); by then, all the Comedies except The Winter’s Tale were already printed. According to the dates for the Frankfurt Catalogue,3 by April 1622 it had already been decided to attribute the works in the FF to William Shakespeare.

The tantalizing flight of wishful thinking that emerges from a combination of all facts and dates is that Marlowe’s friends, including Edward Blount and Ben Jonson, angered by this injustice but powerless to redress it, undertook to plant a series of clues in the Introductory Pages of the FF and in the Chancel of Trinity Church in Stratford, where William Shakespeare had been buried.

In his Introductory Poem, dedicated to my beloved, the author, Mr William Shakespeare, Jonson hails him as one who had “small Latin and less Greek,” and, in another line, as the “Soul of the Age”. In those days, when the knowledge of Latin was taken for granted in every educated person, the contradiction between those two expressions would have sounded most bizarre. Theirs was the Age of the Renaissance, the “rebirth” of classical culture. No amount of creative genius could make a man with “small Latin and less Greek” the “soul” of such an “age."

To these and other oddities, Jonson added the puzzling words: “You are a Monument without a Tomb,” a line all the more remarkable if the Tomb had been there since 1616, while the Monument was just being erected.4

In the middle of an erratic process in which the publication of the FF was delayed by more than two years, The Tragedy of Othello was registered and published, as we have seen,5 with a villain named Iago, the Spanish name for King James. At the time when this registration and subsequent publication happened, the man who was responsible for giving it the green light was Sir George Buck, Master of the Revels (MR) since 1610. But Ben Jonson had been appointed Deputy Master of the Revels (DMR) on October 5, 1621.6 If Buck had really gone mad, as was later reported, Jonson could have taken advantage of the situation.

A letter dated May 3, 1619, forbidding publication of plays owned by the King’s Men without their consent, coincides in time with the period of publication of the Pavier Collection (see Time-Schedule). Since then Walkley had obtained permission to publish three plays owned by the King’s Men, all three by Beaumont and Fletcher.7 This suggests that perhaps the Lord Chamberlain was not so much interested in controlling the publication of the King’s Men’s plays, but of Shakespeare’s plays, maybe because the project for a Folio volume was already being discussed, and Marlowe was revising the plays for it. The Comedies show plausible signs of having been revised after 1618.8

If Othello had been the old Moor of Venice, the play would have belonged to the King’s Men. That being the case, I find it difficult to believe that with more than ten unpublished Shakespeare plays, Pembroke would have made an exception precisely with Othello. However, if the text were a new one, Walkley would have been in a position to equivocate, which he seems to have done, printing on the title page that the play had been diverse times acted at the Globe and at the Black Friars, by His Majesty’s Servants.

And here is another conjecture for what it is worth: Given his standing orders about publication, once the 1Q Othello appeared in print, the Lord Chamberlain would have seen it, made enquiries, realized the imposture, declared the Master of the Revels to be insane and had both Buck and Jonson sacked; but there was little else he could do if indeed the play, being new, did not belong to the King’s Men, had been properly registered by Buck, and no attempt was being made to show it in performance. Once 1Q Othello was published Jaggard could include the full text in 1623; leaving out of the FF a recently published “Shakespeare” play would have been more suspicious than including it.

But who had the MS of Othello? After months of rumours, Sir George Buck was officially declared insane in April 1622. Following the brief appointment of Sir John Astley, Sir Henry Herbert (a relative of the Lord Chamberlain) was appointed Master of the Revels in 1623. Buck’s family was requested to deliver to the new MR all papers from Sir George’s Library, and that’s the last we see of them. Ben Jonson’s library was burnt to the ground at about the time the FF was registered. It seems that as from November 1623, all possible Shakespeare MSS that were not under the direct control of the Herbert family had gone up in flames.

Whoever, and for whatever reason (presumably in agreement with, or by order of, King James), decided to obliterate Marlowe's name for posterity, it seems the Herbert family (and that includes, of course, “The Inimitable Pair”9) were instrumental in the cover up. As Oscar Wilde would put it: to lose one manuscript may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose thirty-six looks like carelessness.10 The destruction of those two libraries could have been an accident, but in view of all the circumstances, those fires smell as rotten as the State of Denmark.

Among the Poems of Ben Jonson, there is one with the title An Execration of Vulcan, published in December 1639 or early 1640, so two years after his death on August 6, 1637. Jonson addresses Vulcan thus:

And why to me this, thou lame lord of fire,
What had I done that might call on thine ire?

The Poem has 216 lines in which Jonson mentions just about every important book or literary character (including those in the learned Librarie of Don Quixote) he might have sacrificed to Vulcan “Had I fore-knowne of this thy least desire.” The general discourse of the Poem is obscure and the following lines struck me as intriguing:

All the madde Rolands and sweet Oliveer’s;
To Merlins marvailes and his Caball losse . . .

Merlins marvailes!
Well, well, well!

For all the unanswered questions, theses conjectures, when seen together with the dates of refurbishment of the Chancel, the erection of the Monument,11and the first visit of the “Poet’s” theatre friends to Stratford,"12 plus the renewal of the printing process of the FF in November 1622, seem to present us with an intriguing scenario that runs broadly between May 1619 through to the end of 1623, with a flurry of activity heavily concentrated in just under one year, from October 1621 to the summer of 1622.

Why? What had happened to justify this sudden interest in William Shakespeare six long years after his previously unnoticed death? My hunch (alas, I cannot prove it) is that Marlowe died in the last months of 1621, and his friends decided to direct our attention to the one place where, after the publication of the First Folio, “Shakespeare” would continue to be investigated: Stratford.

When that stone is rent,
And Time dissolves thy Stratford Moniment,
Here we alive shall view thee still.

To dissolve means also to solve: When...Time solves thy Stratford Moniment. The word Moniment, spelt with i instead of u appears twice in the Introductory Pages; it would derive from the Latin Monitio, “warning.”

So, perhaps Marlowe was finally dead. This possibility is particularly suggestive in the light of a theory, apparently propounded by Washington Irving, to the effect that an Englishman whom he thought was Christopher Marlowe died in Padua14 in 1627, at the home of one Pietro Basconi or Bosconi.15 Irving is supposed to have seen the relevant letter in 1843.

I found no Basconi or Bosconi families in the Padua records. The Padovan Archivists suggested that Irving may have misread the family name and advised me to look for the Bassani family in the relevant period; there I found one Antonio Bassanio curiously enough, though I could not find details about his life. And here is a tricky one for Stratfordians: Apart from three students called Rosenkrantz, and one Ioannes Gulderstiern16 I found the family of the Ottelli, (spelt variously as Otelli, Ottelli and Othelius), which means there would have been individuals walking the streets of Padua surnamed “Otello.”

As for the date 1627, during the Renaissance and later, the digit 1, as in 1621, was often written as the alpha letter in the Greek alphabet; if Irving misread the name Bosconi in the letter he saw, he might as easily have misread the date α62α (1621) for 1627.17

So here is the chain of events again:
1616: April 23rd: William Shakespeare dies.
1619: Thomas Pavier publishes a collection of “Shakespeare” plays, which contains ten titles, of which only three are accepted as Shakespearean texts.
1619: May 3rd: The Court of the Stationers’ Company receives a letter from the Lord Chamberlain (the Earl of Pembroke), forbidding the printing of any plays belonging to the King’s Men without their consent.
1621: April: The printing of the FF gets started.
1621: May 1st: Francis Bacon is convicted of taking bribes on twenty-three charges.
1621: September 25th: The Swan of Avon, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, dies in Wilton House.
1621: October 5th: Ben Jonson is appointed DMR.
1621: October 6th: Thomas Walkley registers the 1Q Othello.
1621: October 21: Printing of the FF is stopped by order of the Lord Chamberlain.
1622: Early months: Walkley publishes the 1Q Othello under the name of William Shakespeare.
1622: March: Ben Jonson is removed from his job as DMR. Rumours start that Sir George Buck has gone mad.
1622: March 29th: The reversion of the Mastership of the Revels is granted to Sir John Astley.
1622, April 12th: Sir George Buck is officially declared insane.
1622: c. April: The refurbishment in the Chancel begins and the Stratford Monument is finally erected.
1622: c. April: The Catalogue of the Frankfurt Book Fair is being prepared including the announcement of a Folio volume with the works of William Shakespeare.
1622: May 16th: Buck is required to surrender his office, and his relatives are requested to deliver all the Revels papers.18
1622: Summer: The King’s Players visit Stratford and receive 6 shillings in compensation (solatio) for not being allowed to play in the Hall. According to Fripp, there are no other records of payments to the King’s Men in the Minutes and Accounts, between 1616 and 1622. (See Part 1 for Edgar Fripp)
1622: c. November:  The printing of the FF is resumed.
1623: c. August: The Tragedy of Othello is included in the FF.
1623: Sir Henry Herbert succeeds Astley as master of the Revels. He will keep the post until 1642. During his mandate, Herbert said that many of Buck’s books and papers had been lost in a fire.
1623: November 8th: The FF is entered into the Stationers’ Register incomplete. Troilus and Cressida as well as the Introductory Pages will be included at a later date.
1623: c. November: The library of Ben Jonson is burned to the ground.19
1624: c. February: A maximum 1000, probably less than half, copies of the FF became ready for sale at one pound each.

The Earth covers him; the people mourn him; he is in Olympus.

Isabel Gortázar

© Isabel Gortázar, August 2010    Dead Man in Deptford Riley Burgess
Isabel Gortázar is an independent scholar, specializing in Shakespeare and Marlowe studies. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Marlowe Society (UK) and a founding member of the International Marlowe Society. She divides her time between London and Bilbao, Spain. 

1W.W. Greg: The Shakespeare First Folio. (Oxford. Clarendon Press, 1955). Unless specified to the contrary, all information about the First Folio (FF) contained in this essay, has been obtained from Greg’s book, allegedly the most important work published on the subject.
2William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke.
3See Time-Schedule.
4See Part 1: "The Curious History of the Chancel."
5See Part II: "Enter Iago."
6The entry in the SR says: Thomas Walkley. Entred for his copie under the handes of Sir George Buck, and Master Swinhowe warden, The Tragedie of Othello, the moore of Venice." This seems to clear Jonson of all responsibility, but Buck was declared insane shortly afterwards.
7Greg. Op cit.
8My reasons for this conjecture are that I find information in the early Comedies on political events occurring after May 1618, which may be a coincidence, or perhaps not.
9The two sons of Mary Sidney, the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, are The Inimitable Pair to whom Hemminge and Condell dedicate the First Folio, in a text that is suspected to have been written by Ben Jonson. Montgomery succeeded his brother as Lord Chamberlain in 1626, so the control of the Herbert family over Shakespeare’s plays continued after Pembroke died in 1630.
10Thirty-eight, if we count Cardenio and Pericles. My quotation is from O. Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
11As we know, the Monument was carved by “one Gerard Johnson," according to Sir William Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire, published in 1656. This is a complex subject that deserves to be treated separately.
12See Part I: "The Chancel."
13L. Digges: First Folio, Introductory Pages.
14The City of Padua was part of the Venetian Republic.
15I owe this information to my colleague, John Hunt, Vice Chairman of the Marlowe Society, who obtained it from a letter written by Calvin Hoffman to a German colleague on 23/7/83. Unfortunately, the information about Irving’s trip to Padua has inexplicable errors.
16The spelling of the names varies. I am indebted to my colleague Dr. Bastian Conrad of Munich for confirming the existence of students with these names also at the University of Wittemberg.
17The “death records” in Padua are listed alphabetically; no Marlowe, Marlin, Marley or similar name, appears in those years, but he may have been using another name.
18Some of these dates I have obtained from Gwynneth Bowen: "The Incomparable Pair and 'The Works of William Shakespeare.'" Shakespearean Authorship Review (English): Autumn 1961.
19The date of this fire is not known. Sources vary between the beginning of 1624 and November 1623, the month when the FF was entered into the SR.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

History Play: a question for author Rodney Bolt

(this post originally appeared on January 4, 2009)

We caught up with writer Rodney Bolt, whose immensely enjoyable 2004 speculative biography, History Play: The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe, imagines Christopher Marlowe faking his own death, escaping England, and going on to write the works we attribute to Shakespeare. Of the novel, Judith Flanders of the Spectator (UK) praises: "A triumph . . . It has both a serious remit and enough puns and anagrams to make Shakespeare (or possibly Marlowe) blush. It made me laugh out loud. And, most of all, it made me want to go back to the plays. This was a book that needed to be done perfectly or not at all. It is perfect."

Rodney’s latest biography, The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte – Mozart's Poet, Casanova's Friend, and Italian Opera's Impresario (2006), has been lauded as “irresistible reading” by Megan Marshall in the New York Times.

Rodney was born in South Africa and was educated at Rhodes University in South Africa and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He is an award-winning travel writer and has also written and directed for the theatre. He presently resides in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Q: Rodney, thanks for taking time to chat with us. I’m curious. Did Marlowe channel you while you were at Cambridge, or is the explanation for your writing History Play a bit more conventional and rooted in perhaps your skepticism with Shakespeare biographies? And certainly you had to know you were delving into the kind of territory that unsettles a lot of Shakespeare lovers and that you were perhaps placing yourself in the middle of some academic crossfire.

Rodney: At Cambridge, I studied English at Marlowe’s old college – so I guess he was always a presence looking over my shoulder. Perhaps, unconsciously, that was where it all began. Certainly, while I was writing History Play I was aware of wanting his ghost’s approval. More than that of living academics. I realized that what I was doing was going to create quite some huffing and puffing – though in the end, I was surprised at how few howls of anger there were. But this awareness did mean that History Play had to be absolutely watertight in its play with historical fact – if Marlowe and Montaigne have a conversation, it has to be completely possible that they were both in that place at the time; the plot that Marlowe becomes embroiled in (which leads to his staged death) is a real one, and his involvement perfectly feasible: that sort of thing. (For that reason, the Spectator review you quote is quite my favourite.)

But as you suggest, the main impetus for writing the book was indeed a scepticism about Shakespearean biography as a whole. We have just so many facts about Shakespeare. Those and no more. Every single Shakespearean biography there is has only this handful of hard fact to work with – the rest is speculation and (though authors generally deny they are doing it) extrapolation from the works themselves. One of my favourite quotes unearthed during research was Mark Twain’s, likening writing a biography of Shakespeare to reconstructing the skeleton of a brontosaurus, using "nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster of Paris." I wanted to throw those old bones in the air, and let them land in a different pattern. To show that, using the same method, you could create an entirely different story. So I am not a true Marlovian, in the sense that History Play is a work of fiction (although it looks and reads like a straight biography). I’m probably closer to the people who in the UK recently signed a Declaration of Reasonable Doubt about William Shakespeare. The deeper I got into the research, the more sceptical I became – and certainly, for me, Marlowe is the most feasible candidate for an alternative authorship.

Q: Of all the things you uncovered in your impressively detailed research (many of the characters and events mentioned in History Play, by the way, have been discussed here at our blog), is there any one thing that really floored you about Marlowe, Shakespeare, a shadowy figure, or perhaps some historical incident? Any eureka moments, perhaps?

Rodney: The discovery that absolutely fascinated me was that there were troupes of English players travelling through continental Europe, hugely popular for performing in English. This struck me as an ideal cover for a spy, given the mobility of players. A poet-player (especially a university man like Marlowe) would have access both to servant’s gossip, and to the lords themselves (more often as not when they were drunk and relaxed after a meal), as well as a jester’s immunity in crossing borders (both social and political). And indeed, the same troupes performed for both sides in the war between the Spanish and the Dutch (a war in which England had a crucial role, and from which Queen Elizabeth’s court would be most desirous of inside information). This discovery was made even more exciting by my realization that Marlowe’s mysterious absences from Cambridge, doing "her majesty good service" in "matters touching the benefit of his Country" coincided with the players’ prime touring season. It also makes sense that high-action dramas such as Tamburlaine were written with one eye on a non-English-speaking audience . . . and there was a troupe present at the festivities surrounding the inauguration of Kronborg Castle at Elsinore (Kronborg’s topography bears a startling resemblance to that of the castle in Hamlet), a troupe that included the Shakespearean clown Will Kempe.

Q: I need to ask you about Roland Barthes’s “death of the author” argument. Should an author’s identity matter when we’re interpreting a text?

Rodney: For me, the plays written by (or attributed to) Shakespeare are unassailable. Having worked with them practically (as a theatre director) as well as academically, I stand in awe . . . and it does not matter one jot who wrote them. So, in that sense perhaps, I’m with Barthes. But with works so great, one cannot help but be intrigued to find out more about the hand behind them. I can be very cynical about academics who claim that you cannot move from the works to information about the author – and then go right ahead and do so, to fill out the pages of a biography that would be naked without such speculation. And I find the whole industry that surrounds the man Shakespeare – up there with Queen Victoria and Churchill as great national symbols, an icon subject to extraordinarily lucrative commercial, tourist and academic exploitation – most offensive.

Q: Care to clue us in on what you’re working on now?

Rodney: I’ve moved to the late-Victorian/early-Edwardian period for a (true) book about the Benson family – the spouse and offspring of an Archbishop of Canterbury. When the domineering, stuffy archbishop died, his wife changed her name from Mary to Ben, and took one Lucy Tait into her bed. Her brood were all famous in their own right (E.F. Benson for his Mapp and Lucia books, Arthur as the author of England’s unofficial national anthem "Land of Hope and Glory," Maggie for her archaeological excavations in Egypt, and more). They knew everyone, from Queen Victoria to Oscar Wilde, and not one of them (to use the idiom of the time) was "the marrying sort."

Q: Rodney, many thanks for sharing some thoughts with our audience. Please join us again, we hope? We’ll do lunch in downtown Sarasota when you’re on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Rodney: Great!

(Bolt photo by Armando Guerra)

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, January 2009

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