Alex Jack grew up amid the authorship controversy. His grandfather, Rev. David Rhys Williams, was a pioneer Marlovian and introduced him as a child to Calvin Hoffman, author of The Murder of the Man Who Was ‘Shakespeare.’ Alex has written on Renaissance art and literature and edited Marlowe and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which Mark Rylance invited him to introduce at the Globe Theatre in London in 2005. A teacher and authority on diet, environment, and the healing arts, Alex is the president of Planetary Health. His other books include The Mozart Effect with Don Campbell, The Cancer Prevention Diet with Michio Kushi, and Buddha Standard Time with Lama Surya Das. He lives in western Massachusetts and is on the faculties of the Kushi Institutes of America and Europe.
The charges and accusations against Marlowe, retailed in the gossip, theologically freighted, and fragmented accounts that followed his reported slaying in Deptford in 1593, reflect the religious ignorance, bigotry, and hypocrisy that he wrote about in his early works and later shook his lance at in the Shakespearean plays. As Sonnet 140 puts it: “Mad slanders by mad ears believed be.”
By referring to the “Dead Shepherd,” invoking his powerful “saw of might,” and quoting one of his most famous lines from Hero and Leander, As You Like It silhouettes Marlowe’s brilliant life and tragic “death.” The couplet, delivered by Phoebe, the dark lady of the Arden forest, shines a revealing light on the play’s subtext: What happened to the Dead Shepherd? Did he really die or was his end feigned? Why is his name besmirched, and who is the real author of the sublime poem and plays attributed to Shakespeare — a question parodied in the scene in which Touchstone (representing Kit) vies with William (the country bumpkin channeling Will Shakespeare) for the hand of Audrey (representing the Elizabethan theatre audience)?
There are three or four widely recognized references to Marlowe’s death in the play, several more equivocal allusions, and many hitherto unrecognized glances. Let's examine these briefly.
1. Dead Shepherd
Phoebe. “Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?” (3.5.82-83)
Phoebe’s invocation of Marlowe’s memory and quotation from Hero and Leander are universally regarded as Shakespeare’s affectionate tribute to an admired predecessor. As You Like It is suffused with themes and imagery drawn from The Passionate Shepherd and Hero and Leander. The shepherdess’s apotheosis of Marlowe and his muse is but the crowning example. There is an element of immortality in Phoebe’s words that echoes the tributes of England’s literary fraternity, which recalled Marlowe as “kind,” “divine,” “the muses’s darling,” “an elemental wit,” and other paeans of the highest praise.
2. A Great Reckoning in a Little Room
Touchstone. I am here with thee and thy goats, as the mostThis is the key passage in As You Like It alluding to the circumstances surrounding Marlowe’s death. The Coroner’s report, composed in Latin, stated that Marlowe and Frizer exchanged words over “le recknynge,” or bill for refreshments and use of the room. The “little room” refers to the upstairs chamber in Mistress Bull’s establishment where Kit and three associates reportedly met over the course of eight hours, dined, and came to blows . . . .
capricious poet, honest Ovid was among the Goths.
Jaques. [Aside] O knowledge ill-inhabited, worse than Jove in a
Touchstone. When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s
good wit seconded with the forward child understanding, it
strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.
Truly, I would the gods had made thee poetical.
Audrey. I do not know what ‘poetical’ is. Is it honest in deed and
word? Is it a true thing?
Touchstone. No, truly; for the truest poetry is the most faining,
and lovers are given to poetry; and what they swear in poetry may
be said as lovers they do feign. (3.3.1–17)
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