Sunday, April 1, 2012

Did Marlowe Die in Padua in 1627? The Watterson-Zeigler Correspondence by Donna N. Murphy

In his recent Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection article “Did Marlowe Die in Padua in 1627?”, Peter Farey wrote that the correspondence between Henry Watterson and Wilbur G. Zeigler held at the Library of Congress would make interesting reading. Watterson, a long-time newspaper editor, was the author of the 1916 piece which presented the information that one Pietro Basconi nursed Christopher Marlowe during Marlowe’s final illness in Padua in 1627, while Zeigler, the first known Marlovian, was the author of the novel It Was Marlowe, 1895, wherein Zeigler portrayed Marlowe as the author of the Shakespeare works. Farey maintained that Watterson purposely made up the story about Basconi and Marlowe.

I live a subway ride away from the Library of Congress, visited its Manuscripts room, and examined the contents of the file entitled “Zeigler” within its collection of Henry Watterson’s documents. Following is a transcript of all three documents the file contains. Note in particular the line in Document 3: that Watterson “wrote the Shakespeare-Marlowe story more as a joke than anything else.”

1) In response to the April 23, 1616 article by Henry Watterson, Wilbur Zeigler sent the following telegram:

Western Union Telegram

11 May 1916




2) Watterson wrote an article published April 5, 1919 in the Saturday Evening Post magazine, one of a series by him called “Looking Backward,” telling stories from his eventful life and 50-year career as editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper. The article (click here to read a segment of the article relating to Marlowe and Shakespeare) again mentions the Marlowe/Shakespeare theory. In response, Zeigler wrote Watterson the following letter:

May 6, 1919

Dear Sir,

My attention has just been called to the Saturday Evening Post of April 5th, containing chapters of your interesting story “Looking Backward,” in which reference is made to the Marlowe theory. This has been a pet theory of mine since I studied law forty years ago. It was an original one with me and provoked by the similarity of vocabularies, versification and thought of the Marlowe and Shakespeare dramas. Many years later I wrote the book “It Was Marlowe,”—a romance woven around the theory. It was founded upon a plot which you, twenty years later, adopted as your own as appears in the Post, and appeared more fully in the Herald and Courier Journal of Ap. 23, 1916,--i.e. that Marlowe killed his adversary at Deptford, changed clothes with him, retired into solitude, continued writing (but under the name of Shakespeare) and was aided by his friends to escape to the continent.

There are instances of a writer unconsciously absorbing the ideas of another and later claiming them as his own. This appears to be one as shown by your review of my book printed in the Courier Journal in 1898, or early 1899. I enclose a copy of that review, and ask if you cannot by foot-note in “Lookiing Backward” when it appears in book form, do me the justice of acknowledging the source of your inspiration.

As “It Was Marlowe” received favorable mention from Wm. J. Rolf, Ignatius Donnelly, Appelton Morgan and others including yourself, I am confident that a new edition would meet with a large sale, and will ask if you will kindly write me a preface for it and use your influence to secure me a publisher. I should like a little taste of that fame for which you ambitiously sought, and have certainly attained.

I have very few copies of the book, but will send you one if you desire to read it again and will submit it to the proposed publisher.

Yours truly,
Wilbur G. Zeigler

A photoplay founded upon “It Was Marlowe” is now in course of preparation.

3) Mr. Watterson’s secretary replied to Zeigler in the following letter:

May 12, 1919

Dear Sir:

As it has been made clear by Mr. Watterson in the Saturday Evening Post, he wrote the Shakespeare-Marlowe story more as a joke than anything else. He can not recall that he ever saw your book, It Was Marlowe, or read the review you state was published in the Courier-Journal. The review was no doubt written by the regular literary editor at the time, not by Mr. Watterson.

Mr. Watterson has retired entirely from the Courier-Journal, and is devoting what time and energy he has, in this eightieth year, to the preparation of his Looking Backward Memoirs. He really finds this duty somewhat irksome.

While the Looking Backwards stories will be printed in book form, it is quite possible that some of them may be eliminated, and the Marlowe-Shakespeare article may be among those left out.

Under the circumstances, Mr. Watterson does not feel that he should be asked to write a preface for you, or to secure you a publisher.

Secretary to H.W.

[Watterson published his memoirs under the title Marse Henry: An Autobiography in two volumes in 1919. The Marlowe-Shakespeare story was not included. He died two years later.]
On the basis of this correspondence, I conclude that while Watterson was certainly attracted to the Shakespeare/Marlowe theory, he wrote the two stories about it with a wink in his eye and did no research as to where Marlowe might have ended up or when he might have died. He didn’t even bother to read Zeigler’s book or engage him in conversation.

As Watterson wrote in his memoirs about an unrelated topic, in a humorous vein: “I have been not only something of a traveller, but a diligent student of history and a voracious novel reader, and, once-in-a-while, I get my history and my fiction mixed.” Marse Henry: An Autobiography, Vol. 2 p. 55.

© Donna N. Murphy, 2012

Donna N. Murphy is the co-winner of the 2010 Calvin and Rose G. Hoffman Prize for a Distinguished Publication on Christopher Marlowe. In its March 2012 issue, Notes and Queries printed her two most recent articles on authorship of anonymous works written during the English Renaissance: “ ‘George a Greene’ and Robert Greene," and “ ‘Look Up and See Wonders’ and Thomas Dekker."


RB said...

Good article, Donna. Zeigler comes across as rather bitter and aggressive. Fancy having the cheek to ask Watterson to get him a publisher, and write a preface, after sending a telegram that sounds like it's threatening legal action! Good work in further derailing the myth.

Donna said...

Dear RB,

I thought Zeigler was rather cheeky, too! These types of documents help make history come alive :)

Maureen DUff said...

Well done and well researched, Donna. However, even though the Italian 1620s line of Marlovian enquiry has now gone up in a puff of smoke, there still exists a very real early 1590s (or pre 1590s) connection between the author of the "Shakesspeare" plays and Northern Italy. Richard Paul Roe's brilliant book "The Shakespeare Guide to Italy" (1) proves beyond reasonable doubt that whoever wrote the "Shakespeare" plays spent a considerable time in Italy. The Italian plays contain such an astonishing knowledge of towns, buildings, waterways, ferries, jetties, people and customs of Northern Italy that these accurate local details could only have been discovered by the author in situ. Separately, an essay by Roger Prior, "Shakespeare's Visit to Italy"(2) shows that "Othello" is full of references to a real square, an actual house, a particular apothecary, local inhabitants and a (still) existing fresco in the town of Bassano del Grappa. Prior suggests that the Italian visit happened in the period 1593-94. Neither Roe nor Prior makes an alternative suggestion for playwright other than Shakespeare, but 1593 is exactly when Christopher Marlowe went "missing", presumed dead. The game is far from over!

(1) "The Shakespeare Guide To Italy" by Richard Paul Roe, Harper Perennial, 2012.

(2) "Shakespeare's Visit To Italy" by Dr. Roger Prior, Journal of Anglo-Italian Studies, published by the University of Malta. Not easily obtained but John Hudson of The Dark Lady Players may be able to forward a copy. John's essay, dated Dec 14, 2009 is at the following link (though the site is currently under reconstruction):

Donna said...

Dear Maureen,

I absolutely LOVE Richard Paul Roe's book and recommend that everybody interested in the authorship question read it! I agree with you that the book makes it clear the author of the Shakespeare plays spent a fair amount of time traveling in Italy. It would be wonderful to see a copy of Prior's article if you can get hold of it and circulate it around. I certainly back the theory that Marlowe spent time in Italy, but that is a separate matter from the Watterson information about Padua, which it does appear that he made up.

Kim Reynolds said...

Like you, Donna, I'm working my way through Roe's book and I'm loving it. His research provides a theoretical template through which candidates can at least begin to be eliminated, thereby perhaps leading us to "the playwright".

One thing that keeps leaping out at me (and I've only just finished the Shrew chapter) is that the Gonzaga's are already a huge presence throughout. I've long felt that the Marlowe proof would be found somewhere in their archival footprint.

It seems to me that by examining tax rolls, church records (particularly the church's emphasized by the playwright), and various Gonzaga archives might finally lead to the identity of our playwright using a process of elimination. This book is easily the most exciting addition to meaningful Bard discussions I've yet to experience. I can't wait to see where it all takes us next.