Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pylius, Socrates and Maro by Peter Farey

As most regular readers of this blog probably know, some years ago I came up with an interpretation of the poem on Shakespeare's monument in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford upon Avon, which gave it a distinctly Marlovian slant. But for those who haven't heard of this, the latest version of my interpretation, and the reasons why I claim that it must have been intentional, can be found on the IMSS website.  What I have not done so far, however, other than in online discussion, is to consider the two lines of Latin which precede the poem. In Latin our "U" and "V" were the same letter, so for ease of reading I have shown all of the "V"s in the original as "U"s:
This might be translated word for word as:
In judgement a Pylius, in inspiration a Socrates, in art a Maro, 
The earth covers, the people mourn, Olympus holds
The "Pylius" refers to Nestor of Gerenia, who in Greek mythology was the king of Pylos, Socrates is of course the well-known Greek philosopher, and "Maro" was the surname of the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro, better known to us as Virgil.

It is also worth pointing out that the versions "Pylium", "Socratem" and "Maronem" are in the accusative case, and are therefore the objects of the verbs "tegit", "mæret" and "habet". As we in English normally put the verb before its object, it might be a bit clearer if we also switch the two lines, giving us:
The earth covers, the people mourn, Olympus holds 
A Nestor in judgement, a Socrates in inspiration, a Virgil in art.
What is not clear is whether each verb corresponds with one of the names, or whether all three relate to all three names. We can see this when we compare Park Honan's translation with Katherine Duncan-Jones's. He has:
"The earth covers one who is a Nestor in judgement;
The people mourn for a Socrates in genius; 
 Olympus has a Virgil in art"1
where Katherine Duncan-Jones prefers: 
"The earth covers, the people mourn, Olympus holds [a man who was] a Pylius [=Nestor] in judgement, a Socrates in wisdom, a Virgil in literary skill"2
I'm not sure that it matters much, but having discussed this with some Latinists I feel slightly more comfortable with the Duncan-Jones version.

In my interpretation of the poem which follows this Latin couplet, however, I argued that there was an overt meaning which the author intended most people to think was meant, and a covert one recognizing what most of us here think of as being the more likely scenario. The latter told us that Christopher Marlowe was somehow "in" the monument with Shakespeare. Could there also be some hidden reference to Marlowe in these two lines?

First of all, let's consider "Terra tegit". Although the obvious, and clearly intentional, overt meaning is "the earth covers," can it be seen differently? I think so. The Vulgate Bible (Jeremiah 13.10) includes the words Quia adulteris repleta est terra quia a facie maledictionis luxit terra, which in the King James version was translated as "For the land is full of adulterers; for because of swearing the land mourneth". So "Terra" could be interpreted as "land", meaning either the country itself or the people of that country. And "tegit"? As I said, "covers" (or perhaps "buries") him would be the obvious meaning. On the other hand it is certainly possible to interpret the word as "hides" or "conceals". I think that most Marlovians would assume that by the 1620s Marlowe must have returned to England and be living in hiding, his identity concealed by at least some of the people, even the leading representatives, of the country. In other words, the land or country hides him.

"Populus mæret" (the people mourn). I wouldn't want to make too much of this one, but even five or six years after Shakespeare's death, and despite Marlowe's unsavoury reputation, there had still been more evidence of mourning over the apparent death of our Christopher than there had been over William.

For an inscription in an English church, the reference to the polytheistic Mount Olympus, the home of the Greek gods, rather than the Christian Heaven – or even the home of the Muses, Mount Parnassus – might be thought somewhat strange. If it is Marlowe we are talking about, however, a home among the heathen gods might be considered a better option than the Christian alternative! As George Peele put it, "Marley, the Muses darling for thy verse; / Fitte to write passions for the soules below" / If any wretched soules in passion speake."3 Would this mean that Marlowe must be dead, though? Not necessarily. The gods of Olympus might "have" him in similar way to how Satan "has" Doctor Faustus for twenty-four years.

If any Shakespearian scholar has discussed the choice of Nestor, Socrates and Virgil as exemplars, I have been unable to find it. Yet they all seem rather odd choices if it is the generally accepted Shakespeare they are supposed to refer to.

For a start, the use of Nestor is a bit of a back-handed compliment to him of all people. It is perhaps worth quoting what David Bevington says about the character as he is portrayed in Shakespeare's own Troilus and Cressida.4
"Nestor is [...] a tedious and senile old man, ready at a moment's notice to recall when 'I have seen the time' and to ramble on through sententious truisms about shallow boats giving way before 'ruffian Boreas' and the like as though he were actually adding something to what his fellow generals have already said. Their polite condescension suits his role as one who never has an idea of his own and is all too willingly led by the nose by someone as clever as Ulysses."
So what else do we know about him? What Nestor really stands out for is being a survivor. When Heracles attacked Pylos, Nestor's father and all eleven of his siblings were slaughtered; but not Nestor, who was away at the time. As a young man he survived battles with the Arcadians, the Eleians, and the Centaurs. He was apparently one of the Argonauts, who accompanied Jason on his search for the golden fleece, and lived to tell the tale. When the Calydonian boar attacked him and his fellow boar-hunters he escaped death by using his spear to pole-vault up into a tree! At Troy, when about to be killed, his son Antilochus came to his aid and was himself killed, thus providing a replacement corpse for the gods. Finally, Nestor's good judgement allowed him – almost alone among the Achaean generals at Troy – to return home in safety from overseas. And having done so he went on, some say, to survive until he was three hundred years old.5 He should have been dead long ago, but in fact survived. Sound familiar?

The comparison with the philosopher Socrates is also a bit strained for a poet and playwright. On the other hand, in 399 AD Socrates was accused of impiety, as not believing in the gods recognized by the city (Athens), and corrupting its youth – in fact teaching them to judge both public and private morality by the light of reason. Again, sound familiar? The penalty proposed was death, and it was assumed that he would leave Athens, but he surprised everyone by remaining. All of his words were, of course, presented by someone else (Plato), as we claim that Marlowe's words were presented by Shakespeare. He was also (probably wrongly) accused of pederasty, particularly with Alcibiades.

Why Virgil? The poet usually associated with Shakespeare (and Marlowe) was Ovid, so can Virgil's biography, as believed at that time, give us a clue? Exiled at an early age, he lost everything, and reflected this situation in the first poem of the Eclogues, called The Dispossessed. He nevertheless had the support of Maecenas, the chief adviser to the ruler, and even of the ruler himself, Augustus. He was employed by them, being paid from public funds, to present propaganda on their behalf in the form of poetry – e.g. the Aeneid. Could this actually be telling us something about the relationship between a surviving Marlowe and the establishment in the form not only of members of the Privy Council, such as the Cecils, but also of the sovereign? The Aeneid was the work upon which Marlowe's earliest known play, Dido Queen of Carthage, was based, and Virgil was also thought to have dabbled in magic.

Now that brings us to an interesting point. The use of the names "Pylius" and "Maro" for Nestor and Virgil was really very unusual. I have discussed this essay with Anthony Kellett and Ros Barber – for whose input I am extremely grateful, it having provided and stimulated several ideas which would never have occurred to me otherwise. Ros has searched Early English Books Online and found very few examples of these names being used rather than the more familiar versions. Furthermore, as far as I can discover (and I would be most grateful if anyone can prove me wrong), there is in fact just one author who has used all three of the monument's names – "Pylius", "Socrates" and "Maro" – in his works. That author is Christopher Marlowe.

"Pylius" appears in his translation of Ovid's Amores – Book 3, Elegy 6 (the one where he finds himself unable to "perform" for his mistress). "Yet might her touch make youthful Pylius fire,6  / And Tithon7 livelier than his years require." What he, faithfully following Ovid, is saying is that she could even get the most ancient of men, like Nestor and Tithonus, going. This fits in very well with the idea of Nestor (like Marlowe, who should also have been dead long ago) being a survivor.

Socrates is mentioned in Edward II, when (1.4) Mortimer Senior is arguing that Edward should be allowed his minions: "The Roman Tully loved Octavius, / Grave Socrates wild Alcibiades." Most of Mortimer Senior's examples do seem to be a bit wide of the mark, and Socrates was probably unjustly accused of pederasty, so one cannot help recalling Baines's "quotation" from Marlowe that "All they that love not tobacco and boys are fools."

"Maro" appears in Doctor Faustus (3.1), when his travels with Mephistopheles are being described.
Then up to Naples, rich Campania, 
Whose buildings fair and gorgeous to the eye, 
The streets straight forth and paved with finest brick, 
Quarter the town in four equivalents. 
There saw we learned Maro's golden tomb. 
The way he cut, an English mile in length, 
Thorough a rock of stone in one night's space.
In Roma Gill's Mermaid edition, she provides the following footnote: "The poet Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro) was buried in Naples in 19 B.C., and posthumously acquired some reputation as a magician. His tomb stands at the end of the promontory of Posilippo between Naples and Pozzuoli; legend ascribes the tunnel running through this promontory to his magic art." So could the "arte Maronem" of the monument in fact be the sort of art referred to by the Evil Angel: "Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art / Wherein all nature's treasury is contained"?  That Marlowe was inevitably associated with his characters' enthusiasms should go without saying.  He was also known as Merlin at Cambridge, and was referred to by Gabriel Harvey as one of two "such mad and scoffing poets, that haue propheticall spirits as bred of Merlins race..."8

The main author of the works of Shakespeare, whoever he was, could indeed be reasonably described as having had the judgement of Nestor at his best, the inspiration of Socrates, and the literary art of Virgil. However, there is no obvious reason why these three names – and in particular those two specific forms, Maro and Pylius – should be chosen as in any way relevant to Shakespeare. No rationale. It's inexplicable. And it feels like that, like empty eulogizing. On the other hand (to sum up), if the referent is Marlowe there are very strong reasons for choosing those particular names (and forms of names) – biographical resonance, and the leaving of hints that when tracked down and put together (who used all three names?) points only in one direction.  

© Peter Farey, November 2013 

1Honan, Park (1999). Shakespeare: A Life. Oxford University Press. p.403.
2Duncan-Jones, Katherine (2001). Ungentle Shakespeare. The Arden Shakespeare. p.272.
3Peele, George (1593). The Honour of the Garter. 
4Bevington, David (1998). ed. Troilus and Cressida. The Arden Shakespeare. pp.23–4.
5Graves, Robert (1955, 2011). The Greek Myths. 139.f.  Penguin. p.546.
6In other words, she could make (old) Pylius's "fire" youthful.
7Tithonus was given immortality, but not eternal youth.
8 Harvey, Gabriel (1588). Introduction to Perimedes The Blacke-Smith, pp.A3-A3v. 

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daver852 said...

What a fascinating article. I wish I could remember more of my high school Latin! Do you think there could be any Latin puns concealed in the inscription? I was looking at the first line; if we take "CR" and "MAR" to represent "Christopher Marlowe," you can come up with something like "Genioso [CR MAR] temerarte,"
"the spirit of Marlowe violated or polluted." This is probably silly, but I was just thinking it might be another reason to use Maro for Virgil.

Ros Barber said...

Peter, this is a fine piece. Until we started discussing it over the earlier draft, the Latin inscription had always been a bit of a sticking point for me.

As for other reasons for Maro, daver852, you'll have to wait for my follow-up article in a couple of weeks!

But of course, in the meantime, have as much Latin fun as you can muster.

Peter Farey said...

Thanks Dave. What was exciting for us was the fact that Marlowe's having used those three names – and apparently being the only writer ever to have done so – emerged only during my discussion with Ros and Anthony. My initial draft said nothing about that.

So now we have:

* Marlowe clearly indicated here (whether intentionally or not),
* the solution to the poem's riddle being 'Christopher Marley',
* Hero & Leander's "Gentle youth, forbear / To touch the sacred garments which I wear" being reflected in the grave's "for Jesus' sake forbear / to dig the dust enclosed here."
* The cherub on the right holding "a torch turning downward", which is a symbol associated with the Corpus Christi portrait's "Quod me nutrit me destruit".

Can these really allbe down to coincidence?

And maybe more to come! But wouldn't 'violated or polluted' be 'temeravit'? As far as my limited Latin goes, I think that the nearest word to 'temerarte' would be the infinitive 'temerare' (to violate or despoil), which doesn't make much sense, and leaves a 't' unaccounted for. But don't give up yet!

Peter F.

Peter Farey said...

Thanks Ros,

And thanks for your invaluable help too. Looking forward to reading your follow-up!


Maureen Duff said...

Great work Peter. Convinces me. I think Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe would have been delighted to have been found out at last.

Peter Farey said...

Thanks Maureen,

Yes it would be nice to think that they would have been pleased. For me, it certainly adds greatly to the credibility of the 'riddle'.

One person who clearly isn't pleased, however, is Prof. Stanley Wells, who tweeted "Is this the limit of folly? Makes one despair." I would love to know how he would account for the strange choice of those three people and the unusual names used for two of them!


Anthony Kellett said...


This is an excellent piece, in my opinion; and whilst Wells apparently feels 140 characters are adequate to sort out academic debates, I do not.

Given more space, I feel fairly certain that Prof. Wells would still not speculate on the matter. He would say, “We don’t know; we can’t know. It is as it is”.

Can anyone seriously imagine a proper investigative historian taking that stance; or declaring, “We don’t know how he got his education, but we can tell he had a good one from the plays we think he wrote”?

That’s the problem with having literary scholars researching and proclaiming on subjects outside their expertise. It would appear they feel that because the subject matter is ‘Shakespeare’, they can profess, with impunity, on all the subjects on which he touched. Unfortunately, academia seems to accept this with equal naivety.

As a result, we get the canals in Milan, more extensive than are those of Venice, being dismissed as a myth. Quite what the Milanese authorities are therefore attempting to restore is a mystery in itself. That Shakespeare describes exact locations in Italy, with a clarity that beggars belief it was not by seeing them, is also rejected because it cannot be so, for their immovable conclusions to remain in tact.

To revere a film critic as an expert on the ebbs and flows of Alfred Hitchcock’s private life, even if he could recite every line of ‘Psycho’, would be dubious enough, though not unthinkable. However, to depend on that same critic to assess the possibility that all bird-kind could actually cooperate to launch an attack on mankind, is patently barmy. Yet this is exactly what academia does, year in, year out, with any subject related to Shakespeare’s canon.

Peter Farey said...

That's absolutely right, Anthony.

What I have pointed out here is, I think, a very intriguing phenomenon, whether it has anything to do with the authorship question or not. Yet Shakespearian scholars simply seem unable to allow themselves (as with with Roe's findings) to display even the slightest interest in why such things might have have happened.

This is sad enough already but, as you point out, since they are deemed to be the authority on such matters, those who might in fact be far better qualified to comment are effectively relegated to the sidelines.


Dan Sayers said...

Very interesting work - thanks Peter.

I agree with the above. Within academia you can be a climate change denier, a holocaust denier, probably a flat-earth theorist and all the other things non-Stratfordians get compared to - but within the field of English Literature it seems you can't question the identity of a playwright for whom very little literary evidence exists linking the name to the man, at a time of much anonymous work, work being published under wrong or false names, and repression of writers - and also plenty of good evidence has been amassed linking the works to another. That does not speak well of the academic freedoms of the field, whatever ones opinion of the topic. Hooray for the excellent "amateurs" such as yourself who dare to question this orthodoxy.

One minor point on your analysis - it strikes me that if "terra" and "populus" both refer to "people" within the same line, one would expect their meanings to be differentiated. Thus regarding your suggestion that "terra" might refer to, e.g. "the leading representatives" of the country (whilst "populus" might refer to the general countryfolk) - might this, or a similar division, might be somewhat necessitated by the inclusion of both terms, in your interpretation?

Ellen Wilson said...

Some quick thoughts for tonight. I will have to come back and analyze again.

George Peele put it, "Marley, the Muses darling for thy verse; / Fitte to write passions for the soules below" / If any wretched soules in passion speake."3

Peele could also be using a double entendre using Hades (hell) and passion. The wretched souls in hell are having too much fun to speak. Or passion as in Christ's passion. Yes, and of course there is the allusion to Faustus.

Interesting thoughts on Virgil.

Chris C. said...

In reading Peter’s excellent piece, I was reminded of another intriguing article I found recently which considers the Latin part of the inscription.

Particularly fascinating for me in the latter piece is the interpretation that Maro might not be the poet Virgil after all, but another Virgilius Maro, a medieval writer known as Grammaticus, who was apparently renowned for parodies of scholarly writings and false attributions (on that basis a sort of early Flann O’Brien/Jorge Luis Borges).

The conclusions in the articles are very different, but both ask critical questions, and suggest all is not what it seems. Viewed alongside Peter’s very plausible analysis of the companion poem in English, the questions raised are a far cry from Jonathan Bate’s laughably credulous comment that the inscription demonstrated the “highest imaginable praise” for the Stratford man. One does wonder about the lack of curiosity of the orthodox scholars. It is interesting – and of course typical – that there is no analysis of the inscription in Shakespeare beyond doubt.

For me the Stratford inscription is one of very few “shop window” pieces of evidence, which provided a clear opportunity (for its organisers/publishers) to visibly show either (a) categorical links to Shakespeare of Stratford; or (b) ambivalent cryptic references or puzzles pointing away from him.

The evidence of these articles points to the latter being the more credible interpretation.
Stanley Wells’ dismissiveness would be easier to take if it were accompanied by the “official” explanation of how we should read the detail of the whole inscription.

Finally, the other point about Nestor is that he is a mythic figure!

Peter Farey said...

Thanks Dan. That's an interesting idea. It would certainly distinguish those (at the top) who were 'in the know' from those who weren't.


Peter Farey said...

Oh my goodness! Thanks Chris. I wish I had read Jack Goldstone's piece before starting on mine. There is some excellent stuff in it which I would have certainly 'borrowed'!

It doesn't really matter which of our approaches is 'right', of course. As you say, what matters is that any curiosity about just why those most unlikely people (and those names) were chosen is never considered other than by those who see some reason to doubt the authorship.

I must find out more about this 'Grammaticus' guy!


Anthony Kellett said...

You do raise an interesting viewpoint, Chris; and I will take time to read the article you cite, when I have time.

Peter does allude to different interpretations of the names (such as Bevington’s description of Nestor). However, I think if one goes down the route of seeing ‘Maro’ as ‘Virgil the Grammarian’ (who was mentioned in prior discussions), then I think we would need to view the whole phrase as referring to Shakespeare, rather than some other, hidden, author.

Whilst, since the early 20th century, many do rate this ‘Maro’ far more highly, I think, probably, it would be correct to say that he was thought of as a bit of an idiot, by Elizabethan scholars. They saw someone who would invent sources for inclusion in his work and run fast and loose with attribution, not to mention truth.

Clearly, this would then mean we would be more inclined to Bevington’s view of Nestor; and might also include things like him suggesting ‘someone’ (sorry, I can’t recall who, off the top of my head) disguises himself as Achilles, following which he was killed by Hector!

As for Socrates, as Peter reminds us, his ‘works’ were actually brought to us by Plato; but one could also turn that to the viewpoint that Socrates, therefore, never wrote anything. In fact, I could argue that Plato was the real genius, and only allowed Socrates the glory through Plato’s own modesty; or a wish not to be lauded, personally. We have no way of ascertaining which it was, as far as I am aware. Also, Socrates actually detested poets, according to Plato, in ‘The Republic’.

However, I think the important thing here is that this inscription is open to interpretation and is a valid discussion point. That Wells can ‘Twit’ his way to dismissing such investigations, in 140 characters, shows the woeful deterioration in the academic standards applied to this particular subject. It has grown smug, complacent and lazy, through the ability of certain individuals to muddle through the ranks by learning to recite, parrot-fashion, what has been previously stated over the last 150 years, ad nauseam. Moreover, there can be nothing new, when the whole system is designed to filter out anyone that does not comply with the prevailing dogma. As such, it is a self-perpetuating autocracy that does no more than demonstrate, in metaphorical form, the inherent dangers of incest.

Dan Sayers said...

If Jack Goldstone's interpretation of "The earth covers [the truth]" is right, maybe those who say we should dig up Shakespeare's tomb weren't so wrong ...

Anthony Kellett said...

Hmmm...perhaps it might have been wiser to have read that interesting article before I replied, earlier.


Jim Fredericks said...

It may be a simplistic observation, but I'm struck by the anagram possibilities. I just find it interesting that from those three words, Pylius,Socrates and Maro, you can make either Cris Morley, or Cris Marley, with a handful of letters left over that spell a host of latin words, including "a opus to", I stand by the work...I'd leave it to better latin scholars than I, but it at least seems an interesting coincidence.

Donna Murphy said...


You've written yet another excellently researched, thought-provoking piece. Congratulations!


You wrote that academia "has grown smug, complacent and lazy, through the ability of certain individuals to muddle through the ranks by learning to recite, parrot-fashion, what has been previously stated over the last 150 years, ad nauseam." Amen!

Peter Farey said...

Thank you, Donna. As always. your comments are much appreciated.

C.J.Busby said...

This is very interesting, but one problem I have with the argument is that it posits that Marlowe was alive when Shakespeare died, and thus unable to continue to write (having no front man). For me, one of the points in favour of the 'someone else wrote Shakespeare' argument is precisely that Shakespeare retired from writing so young, and wrote nothing apart from a few rather bad collaborations for the last 5 years of his life. This would accord with an actual author who died around the time the Sonnets were published - leaving some unfinished plays in manuscript. The sonnets are very personal poems, we all agree (if they were Marlowe's) and not published as they were written - so to me it seems logical that their author kept them back from the public (apart from sharing a few with special friends) while he was alive. It also explains the 'ever-living poet' reference on the title page (i.e. dead poet). Were Marlowe alive, I find it hard to believe that a) his output would have fallen off so massively over the last 5 years, and b) that he wouldn't simply have found another nom-de-plume (Nash, for example, apparently writing under at least 3 other pseudonyms). So while it may be that riddles were composed on Shakespeare's monument to indicate that Christopher Marlowe was responsible for much of what is now (20 odd years after his death) being seen as Shakespeare's work - but that he was alive and bereft of a front man I find hard to see as logical.


Peter Farey said...

Cecilia, thanks for joining in.

Yes, it's quite a conundrum, isn't it? And whilst most Marlovians would agree that Marlowe probably didn't die in 1593, I doubt whether they will ever manage to find agreement on just when he really did! Furthermore, although I think he probably survived at least until after the publication of the First Folio, with the recent debunking of the 'Padua, 1627' story (which I quite fancied), I'm bereft of any further suggestion as to when he finally did kick the bucket either.

The main reason I would say that he was alive when Shake-speares Sonnets were published is because (as I argued here at I think that they were actually dedicated to him. Regarding your comment about the 'ever-living poet', I said that "To use it to describe someone whom the world believed to be dead, but who in fact was not, would ... be nicely ironic."

Of course you are right in saying that there seems to be a somewhat disturbing gap in play-writing from about 1611 on, with only co-authored plays apparently written after that. (I resist the term 'collaborations' as unnecessarily implying a working together). But this doesn't need to be because of the death of the real author, does it? Sickness might be a reason, of course, but I personally find Prospero's words in The Tempest (often cited as being Shakespeare's 'farewell to the stage') of considerable significance. First there is the speech at the beginning of Act 5 (scene 1):

... I have bedimmed
The noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war - to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up
The pine and cedar; graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth
By my so potent art.

This seems to be a pretty good description of what Shakespeare has managed to make happen in his plays. He continues:

But this rough magic
I here abjure. And when I have required
Some heavenly music - which even now I do -
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.

So he isn't going to be doing it any more? And in his epilogue (which was presumably addressed directly to King James on 1 November 1611) he claims that his "charms are all o'erthrown" and says "Now I want / Spirits to enforce, art to enchant", and begs:

Now 'tis true
I must be here confined by you
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got,
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please.


As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

(to be continued)

Peter Farey said...


I was fortunate enough to be given the part of Prospero in a production of The Tempest celebrating the 100th anniversary of the UK's National Trust, and the well-know Marlovian, A.D. (Dolly) Wraight, came to see it. I gave her a lift to the train station afterwards, and we reckoned we were probably the only people there that day who really had a clue of what that might be all about! Isn't it a plea saying that he simply cannot continue writing plays in anonymity, and must either 'come in from the cold' or stop?

Clearly, my reason for thinking that he was still alive when the monument was erected comes from the interpretation of that last line of the poem, "Leaves living art, bvt page, to serve his witt." If there really is a hidden meaning which tells us 'Christofer Marley, he is returned', I can find no better interpretation of it than 'leaves Art (i.e. Marlowe) still alive, without a servant to dish up his wit.' Can anyone?

So what about the First Folio of 1623? My conclusion that he was still alive even then is based upon those words of Ben Jonson: "And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek" which I find very clever indeed. If he was addressing William Shakspere (who was dead) it would be past indicative 'and though you had small Latin and less Greek' which would have probably been true for Shakspere. If, on the other hand, he was addressing a still living Christopher Marlowe (to whom this didn't apply) it would be present subjunctive: "And even if you had small Latin and less Greek".

For me, a survival of Marlowe at least until the publication of the First Folio seems quite likely, and has the merit of explaining each of these points. But I am of course quite prepared to accept that I am wrong if faced with better evidence!


C.J.Busby said...

But Peter - 'though thou hadst small Latin and no Greek' works perfectly well for dead Shakespeare, and the idea that it ALSO could fit being addressed to a live Marlowe in the subjunctive, merely allows you to posit that Marlowe was alive and Johnson was being clever. The double meaning is a possibility that fits your thesis, rather than a fact that provides evidence for it. The sentence doesn't actually 'need' explaining - unless you assume Marlowe is the author and Johnson knew it - since it can be explained perfectly well by an addressee who indeed had little Latin and small Greek and was dead. I think Occam's razor probably applies here.

In general, Ben Johnson was a tricky writer, and though he obviously had his doubts about Shakespeare, I'm not convinced he was 'in' on the identity of the real author.

The Prospero speech is interesting - and it has been widely taken as Shakespeare's 'farewell' - but it also fits the character and the situation, and linking it to the author just fits the hindsight knowledge that this was one of the last plays he wrote. Even if Marlowe got fed up of writing plays under an assumed name, I can't believe in all that time there'd have been no poetry - once a poet always a poet...

I just think that assuming Marlowe died AFTER Shakespeare removes one of the soundest planks of the argument that Shakespeare wasn't the author of the plays - it seems so much stronger a case if you play on that lack of writing in the last 5 years!

Peter Farey said...

Yes indeed, Cicilia, it must all make sense under the Stratfordian scenario. That's how such double meanings work. But I have offered you a 'hidden' meaning for four things:

* the dedication of the Sonnets
* Prospero's farewell
* the last line of the poem
* 'small Latin and less Greek'

and so far all you have done is to agree with me that there is a perfectly acceptable orthodox interpretation for just two of them. Why only two? They can all be interpreted in an orthodox way! I thought our argument was based upon an assumption that Marlowe had survived 1593 and that he went on to write the works of Shakespeare, and I am merely suggesting that such an assumption might lead one to consider all four of those possible hidden meanings in deciding when he really died. But you seem to be wanting us to go back to the beginning and rehearse all of the reasons why we think that such an assumption is justified.

To be clear, I was not offering these things as 'evidence' of Marlowe's survival, but as indications of just how long he may have survived, assuming that he had done!

Once a poet, always a poet? Oh yes. Although I can think of no playwright who could possibly be 'Shakespeare' in new shoes, I could certainly imagine him experimenting with poetry in new languages under a new identity. Goodness knows how one might discover exactly what and who that might have been, however!

You say that "it seems so much stronger a case if you play on that lack of writing in the last 5 years!" which assumes that I am trying to "make a case", but i'm really not. What I am doing (in reaction to your comments) is to explain the reasons why I think that Marlowe lived at least until 1623. That's all.

If, on the other hand, you believe that "so much stronger a case [can be made] if you play on that lack of writing in the last 5 years", then please make it!


C.J.Busby said...

Just to be clear, I am almost wholly convinced that Marlowe survived and wrote Shakespeare. And to also be quite clear, I am a huge fan of your work on this issue - so my comments are a way of thinking out loud about this, and I'm really grateful for your engagement with them!

I am not trying to get you to revisit the whole argument about why Marlowe was Shakespeare - for the moment, let's all agree he was. I am more interested in to what extent the stuff you've uncovered *requires* him to be alive in 1623, rather than merely being compatible with his being alive till then.

I entirely agree that all four of the riddles/conundrums you've identified as hints that Marlowe was Shakespeare MAY also be read as hints that he may have been alive till 1623, but I think they are all also compatible with him being dead by then (even if they do hint that he did write all of Shakespeare, as we agree).

1. For the Latin poem, you say yourself that it does 'not necessarily' indicate Marlowe was dead (but clearly it is compatible with this being so).

2. For the Sonnets, addressing an author that was supposed to be dead but is in fact alive as 'ever-living' IS a nice irony, you say - but it's also a possible way of addressing a poet who was dead (which all are agreed Shakespeare wasn't, so ever-living's another good nail in the coffin of the Shakespeare thesis if taken as meaning 'dead').

3. For the monument inscription, I can see that you've made a great case for the 'Chrisopher Marley he is returned' riddle. But 'leaves living art, but page, to serve his wit' is surely one of the more comprehensible lines in that poem: living art (i.e. the best that living authors can come up with) is but a page (inferior in every way), to serve his wit (acknowledge his wit as their master).

4. Then there's Prospero. Again, I think it can be read as just compatible with the requirements of the play. And in a way, your Prospero argument weakens your other one, about Marlowe being bereft of a front man when Shakespeare died - if he'd already given up writing plays because he was fed up of doing so under an assumed name, then he had no call to be sore at the death of Shakespeare...

You know - I would love to put the case for his death in 1609 in a proper post. One thing I'd really like to read though if I was going to make this argument is the paper you cite in your post on the sonnets dedication by Donald Foster - I can't get hold of it. Any ideas on where I might be able to read a copy?

all the best,


Peter Farey said...

This is great, Cecilia. Thanks for being so patient. Let's look at those four points you discuss, but first allow me to explain something. The way in which I try to work is first of all to identify the various possible anomalies in a problem, and then to look for that solution which best explains them. Using Occam's razor, if you like.

1. With the Latin poem, it may not 'necessarily' indicate that Marlowe is dead on its own, but read in conjunction with my interpretation of the last line of the English poem (which I'll come to) it does need to be able to be read as if he were alive, which it is.

2. The 'ever-living poet' is useful as an argument against Shakespeare (as he was still alive), but relatively easily countered by claiming that it was referring to God. The biggest problem with the dedication is in determining just who "Mr. W.H." was. Foster provides excellent reasons for claiming that he must be the author, yet they are "Shakespeares" sonnets, which just doesn't make sense. Only Marlovians can square this circle, if he was now living under a name with those initials. But if this is the answer, then he must have still been alive.

3. I'm not sure I agree that the last line of the English poem "is surely one of the more comprehensible lines" in it. Various meanings are possible, including yours, but Stanley Wells, one of the only biographers to tackle it, spoke of "the only sense I can make out of the last bit", and took 'living art' to refer to sculpture! For me, if all of the rest of the inscription (including the Latin bit) is cryptically telling us that Marlowe was the author, then it makes most sense for the last line to continue that theme. And that interpretation works only if he is still alive.

4. As for Prospero, I don't really accept that it "can be read as just compatible with the requirements of the play." He and the others are going to set off for Naples the next morning, and there is nothing we know of which might hinder them. Yet suddenly he comes up with this stuff about being "here confined by you" and having to "dwell / In this bare island by your spell". Begging the audience's help in providing "gentle breath" to fill his sails is one thing, but begging them for forgiveness and to allow him home from his exile is quite another.

Way back in the dim and distant past, one of the contributors to the humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare newsgroup posted a full transcript of Donald Foster's article in four parts, and I see that they are still there. They can be found at the following links:

Part 1 -
Part 2 -
Part 3 -
Part 4 (including the footnotes) -

Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, Cecilia. I would very much like to see your full argument in favour of Marlowe's earlier demise if you can find any more to spare!


C.J.Busby said...

Thanks for the links, Peter! Will certainly try to find time to get my thoughts in order and do a bit more research!

Anthony Kellett said...

Hi Cecilia,

“I just think that assuming Marlowe died AFTER Shakespeare removes one of the soundest planks of the argument that Shakespeare wasn't the author of the plays - it seems so much stronger a case if you play on that lack of writing in the last 5 years!”

I could be wrong, but this reads as if you are saying it would be more convenient for our purposes? Alternatively, you could mean that Marlowe’s prior death is one of the reasons for believing Marlowe was the author? For my part, I can honestly say that I have never considered anything being reliant on (or strengthened by) Marlowe dying first. Some people have pointed to later amendments to plays being evidence that Marlowe was still at large, after Shakespeare’s death (Othello, for example); and, as Peter says, the monument’s final line is easily read that way (easier than your version, it seems to me – since reading ‘but’ as ‘without’ requires far less interpretation than ‘to serve his wit’ meaning ‘acknowledge wit their master’).

None of this is to suggest that you are clearly wrong, most certainly not. However, I don’t think it would diminish Marlowe’s claim to authorship, too much, either way, though it may weaken Peter’s interpretation of the monument riddle. I’d have to think about that.

In any event, since we don’t know when Marlowe died (if he survived 1593) and you acknowledge these ‘clues’ could be read either way, it seems we must posit explanations for various possibilities. To try to hypothesise when it would have been most convenient for Marlowe to die, to suit a Marlovian claim, seems a little pointless.

Let me turn this exchange on its head, for your consideration. If it were discovered that Marlowe survived in Italy until, say, 1604, what do you think that would mean for Shakespeare scholarship? Do you really think even the likes of Wells and Edmondson would be able to just dismiss his claim to authorship as they do for Oxford ? Personally, I think not; and if he lived to 1624, that gets far worse for them, surely? The fact that his death around 1609 would conveniently explain Shakespeare’s retirement seems such a minor point, and I would not care if I never find a reason for it. There are hundreds of possibilities, and numerous other problems this would not explain, either, not least the 20 plays that never got published at all, prior to Shakespeare’s death. In this respect, Shakespeare seems to have stopped serving Marlowe’s wit sometime earlier, by and large. In my opinion, it appears likely Shakespeare retired because someone was making his continued play-trading very difficult; though whether that is ‘most likely’, I cannot say.

C.J.Busby said...

Hi Anthony

thanks for your thoughts - I certainly need to do some research into the evidence for when the plays were written/acted and published before I go any further into this, but I will say that it's not simply 'convenience' that lies behind my suggestion. I think for me one of the most telling arguments that makes Stratford Shakespeare an unlikely candidate for the author of the plays has always been that he retired and wrote very little more for the last 5 or so years of his life. It's very unusual for an author to stop writing in this way, even if you make him out to simply be some kind of 'journeyman' writer, and I can't believe he was (why would he write a first version of Hamlet several thousand words too long for the stage if he wasn't writing for the joy of it?) You could suppose illness, but there's no hint of this in the record (whereas Francis Beaumont's retirement as a result of a stroke is well attested - and even then it seems he wrote the odd verse!) Besides, wouldn't there be hints in the First Folio? ("Ah, had he not been struck down in his prime, what more might we have seen.." etc). So the lack of writing in his later years is curious, if Shakespeare's our man - and it suggests to me an author who had died and left him bereft of material to produce. My second reason for seeing this as likely, is the personal and revealing nature of the sonnets, if, as we all suspect, they were Marlowe's. They simply give so much away, and I can't believe he'd have allowed them to be published in his lifetime. They also strike me as hopelessly jumbled up in their ordering, not something an author would be likely to allow if alive. (There is of course the argument that they were deliberately jumbled, but to my mind they look as if they've been arranged thematically by the publisher without any very great attention to the different registers of address. Besides, jumbling them up slightly is not exactly a foolproof strategy for dissimulation...)

It's all a bit tentative, though, I admit - more thinking out loud at this stage than reasoned argument - I'll get back to you if feel I can make the argument stick!

Peter Farey said...

Cecilia, sorry for butting in!

You say "it suggests to me an author who had died and left him bereft of material to produce." It suggests to me only "an author who had left him bereft of material to produce". Why do you also assume that he must have died? As I suggested, he could have simply decided not to write any more for that particular audience or for some other reason been unable to do so. I take your point about a writer needing to write, but for a multi-lingual poet/dramatist of his ability there must have been other possible outlets?

As regards the Sonnets, you say that you "can't believe he'd have allowed them to be published in his lifetime". But in the explanation I have offered there is no reason for him to have had any idea that they were going to be published, and in fact their publishing history would seem to indicate (if I am right) that he may not have been at all happy about their publication!

My own opinion is that the Sonnets were presented by and large in the order in which they were written, with maybe just the 'dark lady' ones and a very few others being given out of sequence. See my reasons for saying this at


Anthony Kellett said...

Hi Cecilia,

I would be keen to read whatever you may propose, subsequently.

For now, you write:

“I think for me one of the most telling arguments that makes Stratford Shakespeare an unlikely candidate for the author of the plays has always been that he retired and wrote very little more for the last 5 or so years of his life.”

I’m afraid you are stuck with this, whether you like it or not; or whether Marlowe died or not. By the same reasoning, this logic may lead you to conclude that Marlowe was an unlikely candidate too, if he outlived Shakespeare; but that does not help Shakespeare’s case, it seems to me. He stopped writing, either way.

Marlowe’s prior death is one explanation for Shakespeare’s retirement, but it could also be due to Shakespeare’s ‘supply-line’ being cut off or restricted; and, similarly, Marlowe’s outlet, to his equal displeasure. Why 19 FF plays left unpublished? Where were they? Is this because Shakespeare was not being allowed to publish them, or what?

As for Marlowe not ‘allowing’ his sonnets to be published, how do you suggest he stop that happening? Does he turn up at court with a writ? Moreover, even if he was able to make some backdoor representation to that effect, your assertion excludes the possibility that the instigator of the publication was one Marlowe would antagonise. I’m not entirely sure we can know that; but I will think about it.

Maureen Duff said...

Not wishing to go further off piste here...but... following on from a comment Anthony made to me in the last post, I have done a little research on Mary Sidney and came across this website: While not agreeing with the writer's proposal that Mary Sidney was the author of the plays, I was intrigued by the suggestion that the persons alluded to in Ben Jonson's Eulogy were Mary Sidney and her famous brother Philip. The "Sweet Swan of Avon" and "Starre of Poets". Although I had realised that there is a River Avon running through Mary Sidney's Wilton Estate, I had not realised that there is also a Stratford sub Castle on the (Wilton) Avon. Mary Sidney's project? A "collection" of plays by the best writers around, ie, the hidden and protected Marlowe with additions by Nashe and later others. And the Homeric name, William Shakespeare? Willy was a documented nickname for Philip Sidney; Shake-speare was the goddess Minerva/Britannia who "seems to shakes a lance" to dispel ignorance, as outlined in Jonson's Eulogy. None of this, however, tells us anything about the writer who penned the imaginative and scholarly (Cambridge educated) lines. It wasn't the uneducated play-broker from Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, that's for sure. And it doesn't add anything to the debate about the likely date of Marlowe's death!

Anthony Kellett said...

Hi Maureen,

I’m not reconciled with the idea of ‘Shaking Spears’ and so on, not least because it implies the name on the plays was not the Stratford man; a claim which is supported by various allusions from which we take much mileage. Not least of these is that he was engaged in the buying, revising and publishing of existing plays, or that there is that monument to him in Stratford upon Avon. That is not to say this excludes both being possible; but I think that becomes so speculative that it would tend to move too far from what is known. I will leave that to others to develop.

However, it might be useful (assuming you have not garnered much more from that website, which I don’t have time to read, at present) for you to be aware of the following information, too. As far as I can ascertain, these are the facts of the matter, in no particular order.

Philip Herbert (later 4th Earl of Pembroke – and one of the ‘incomparable pair’) seems to have lived at Mawarden Court, Stratford-sub-Castle from 1603 to 1618; presumably with Susan de Vere (Earl of Oxford’s daughter), from 1604. The River Avon ran along the bottom of their garden; and still does, in fact.

Stratford-sub-castle (though the ‘sub-castle’ has varied over the years) was so named as it lay in the shadow of the fort of Old Sarum, predecessor to Salisbury (originally named ‘New Sarum’). The village of Stratford was held on lease by the Pembroke family from the mid sixteenth century, so it was not part of the Wilton Estate, as such, but close enough in my opinion. Interestingly, in 1606 the freehold of the castle of Old Sarum, and the river, too, was granted to the newly created Earl of Salisbury (1605), one Robert Cecil, son of Lord Burghley. Robert Cecil died in 1612, which is also in close proximity to Shakespeare’s ‘retirement’.

It could be that the swan was an emblem, of sorts, of Philip Sidney; and I have read this was due to an affectionate play on words by the French; Cigne, the French for swan, being pronounced similarly. It is also claimed this was included on a Coat of Arms for Philip Sidney, when he was honoured by the French King; but I have never been able to find any trace of that. Either way, a claim that Mary adopted this emblem, in memory of her beloved brother, does have some credibility. A well-known portrait of her shows such an emblem on the lace collar she wears.

As you say, this may be going off piste, a tad, so if you want any more on this, just get in touch by email; or perhaps start a group thread on it.

Hope this helps a bit, and sorry I was not clearer in whatever I wrote, previously.

daver852 said...

Very interesting conversation. I think there's a case to be made for both theories. If Marlowe was still alive at the time of the printing of the First Folio, the most likely explanation for his not writing anything (in English, anyway) during his latter years is that he was simply tired of seeing someone else take credit for his work. I don't think Marlowe was consulted about the Stratford man being chosen to be his front man, and he doesn't seem to have been pleased with the choice. Some of the plays seem to have been revised prior to their publication in the First Folio, perhaps by Marlowe himself. On the other hand, some of of the plays were obviously taken from bad quartos, which would indicate that the author had little, if any, say in what was included. I think if Marlowe did continue to write in a foreign language, he would probably have written in Italian. I wonder if there are any anonymous early 17th century plays or poems in Italian that could be attributed to him? It's interesting that many of the Shakespearean plays contain characters that are fools or jesters. The Italian word "merlo" means "blackbird," but can also mean "fool."

Maureen Duff said...

Thank you Anthony. I knew about the French swan connection but didn't know about Mawarden Court. I'll do a bit more reading then get in touch.

Peter Farey said...

To be fair, and acting as a devil's advocate if I may, there is a problem for all non-Stratfordians with the "swan of Avon" designation. Homer was known as the "swan of Meander", Pindar "the Dircean swan", and Virgil the "swan of Mantua". Other than the swan bit, the common factor here is that it refers to their place of birth. And as far as I know there is only one authorship 'candidate' to whom this might apply – William Shakspere of Stratford!


Anthony Kellett said...

I am not going to disagree with any of that, Peter. I think that whatever else may be read into it (or not, as the case may be) it was probably intended to be taken as a reference to the Stratford man. However, I am not sure that, with a man of Jonson’s mind, we should simply dismiss the possibility he was being a smart-arse (or is it a kiss-ass, since the book was dedicated to the Herbert brothers?).

That he believed everyone would take it as a reference to Stratford Will, since it was certainly justifiable as such, might make him all the more smug about alluding to Mary Sidney; though I have absolutely no idea what he might have meant by it, if anything at all. All I can say is that it is written as a stand-alone statement, an exclamation, and then goes on to a swan-like analogy.

This may be just one of those things, which is tempting to explore, but pointless; or a speculation too far, perhaps. In much the same way, I would refuse to speculate about the ‘Christopher Merifield’ renting one of three tenements in Stratford sub Castle, from the Pembroke Estate, in 1631. I think we need to be reluctant to adopt the same mentality that sees ‘Shakespeare’ in every ‘Shake’ or ‘Crollalanza’. It is not usually helpful, and is more likely to detract from more pressing research areas. It is enough to be aware of them.

Gary Hoffman said...

Are you certain that Pylius and Nestor are one and the same? According to Apollodorus and Plutarch, there was a Pylius who adopted Heracles so that the latter could be initiated into the mysteries. Perhaps this Pylius and Nestor are one and the same; yet, these texts are far from clear.

Peter Farey said...

Thanks for the interest, Gary. I'm not sure that certainty is ever possible in this sort of situation!

I was in fact aware of the existence of this other Pylius or Pylios when I wrote the article, but (as all the scholars I know of had done) decided that it was Nestor who was meant. The main point is, of course, that Nestor did indeed have a reputation for good judgement, whereas Hephaestus's son seems to have been mentioned for other reasons. As you say, he adopted Heracles, apparently to allow Heracles to become an Athenian and therefore eligible to partake of the Mysteries of Eleusis, and possibly helped cure Philoctetes of the festering wound he had received while bound for Troy.

On the other hand, this is how Robert Graves describes Nestor, citing both the Iliad and the Odyssey.

"Of all his counsellors, Agamemnon set most store by Nestor King of Pylos, whose wisdom was unrivalled, and whose eloquence sweeter than honey . . . His sound judgement was shared by Odysseus, and these two always advised the same course for the successful conduct of the war."