Sunday, January 25, 2009

On Calvin Hoffman: a question for Samuel Blumenfeld, author of The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection

Q: Sam, you knew Calvin Hoffman (image at left), the legendary Marlovian who pioneered the "Marlowe as hidden hand behind Shakespeare" theory in the mid 1950s. How and when did you first come to meet him? Also, I know you believe some of his claims in The Murder of the Man Who Was "Shakespeare" do have shortcomings. Please elaborate.

Sam: As you know, Carlo, it was Hoffman’s book that turned me into a Marlovian. Before reading that book I believed, like so many college graduates, that Shakespeare’s authorship had been firmly established by indisputable documentary evidence. But Hoffman’s book showed that this was not the case.

At that time, in the late 1950s, I was editor of Grosset & Dunlap’s quality paperback line, and Calvin had come to my office to persuade me that we ought to publish a paperback edition of his book. So I had to read it, and reading it changed my life. It not only opened my eyes about Shakespeare, but it introduced me to the magnificent genius Christopher Marlowe, whom Calvin believed was the true author of the works attributed to Shakespeare.

Hoffman had spent years reading both Marlowe and Shakespeare and was convinced that the two canons were written by one man - Christopher Marlowe. The convincing point for me was the uncanny fact that Marlowe’s career supposedly ended with his murder in a barroom brawl at age 29 and that Shakespeare’s writing career suddenly began shortly after that event also at the age of 29. As coincidence would have it, both men were born in 1564.

Hoffman does a great job demolishing the Shakespeare myth, referring to the many works written on this subject by those who preceded him. But the real heart of the book is his assertion that Marlowe had not been killed as reported but had been the subject of a faked death in order to save him from Archbishop Whitgift’s prosecution of him on charges of atheism, punishable by execution.

In 1955 when Hoffman wrote his book, not much was known about the events at Deptford in 1593. But in 1925, Harvard Professor Leslie Hotson discovered the Coroner’s Inquest which described in great detail what was supposed to have taken place at the Deptford tavern or guesthouse. The Coroner’s report, written in Latin, had been buried away in Queen Elizabeth’s government archives and had not seen the light of day for over 300 years until the good professor dug it out.

Anyone who reads that document today in its English translation will see that it poses more questions than it answers. Marlowe was a member of the Secret Service and he was saved because he was too valuable an asset to Lord Burghley, Elizabeth’s right-hand man, and his son Robert Cecil.

In the research I did for The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, written fifty years after Hoffman’s book was published, I realized that some of the conclusions Hoffman had come to about Marlowe’s life were questionable.

Most of the biographers of Marlowe believe he was a homosexual. But if you also believe that he is the author of the thirty-six plays in the First Folio, it is hard to believe that they could have been written by someone who had not loved women. So where did this assertion about Marlowe have its origin? We find it in the accusations of his arch enemy, Richard Baines, whose damning letter to the inquisition accused Marlowe of not only being a blaspheming atheist but also a homosexual. But Baines’s credibility has been challenged by none other than Charles Nichol, author of The Reckoning.

Of course Marlowe was well aware of homosexuality. He had read the ancient classics and he wrote about such male affections in Dido and Edward II. But because he could write about male homosexuality does not mean that he himself was homosexual.

There is no question in my mind that Marlowe, at age 15, had an affair with the Countess of Pembroke, Philip Sidney’s sister, and fell in love with her. And I believe that Venus and Adonis is the story of the countess’s attempted aggressive seduction of young handsome Christopher, who finally became aroused when she became passive, letting him make love to her in his own way.

In other words, Marlowe was repelled by sexually aggressive women, but enjoyed them when they passively invited his love making. You can see that in Hero and Leander, where Leander is the aggressor.

As for his friendship with Thomas Walsingham, also a member of the Secret Service and a year older than Marlowe, it was no doubt a strong, affectionate friendship, but not a sexual one. In those days, the word love was used among men to denote friendship, loyalty, devotion, and affection. It was not used to denote sexual desire or attachment.

There are other points I can quibble with in Hoffman’s book. Suffice it to say that the power of Hoffman’s book is in its strong assertion that Marlowe lived beyond his purported death in 1593 and went on to write the most magnificent dramas in literary history.

Editor's Note:   Sam edited the 1960 paperback edition of Calvin Hoffman's The Murder of the Man Who Was "Shakespeare."  Sam and Calvin Hoffman co-founded the Marlowe-Shakespeare Society of America in 1960.  Although the Society is extinct, the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, of which Sam is a founding member, is alive and well.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, January 2009

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Anonymous said...

hoffman book selling from $75 to $200+ USED on amazon...

Anonymous said...

Dear Carlo,

Whatever the possibilities of these theories we still await answers to the basic problem to which Hoffman gave what seems an utterly unbelievable 'solution.' It is the historical one. How & where could such an 'outrageous' character as Marlowe have been after 1593? This will be the main question in my address to the AGM of the UK Marlowe Soc. next month.

We have what Dr.Urry calls a 'wealth of evidence' about John Marlowe & family in the City archives. Christopher keeps coming home (& getting into trouble almost every time!) until 1593 after which there is no reference to any visit. As far as I know Urry was the last person to search the archives here for refs to CM.

Hoffman believed Walsingham put up CM at Scadbury. This theory is surely absolutely beyond belief.

Any further arguments in favour of it I'd welcome but it does raise doubts about Hoffman's judgment.


Anonymous said...

Dear Carlo, Peter and Sam:
The fact that Marlowe may have behaved "outrageously" in his early youth, places him in the same "club" as Will Shakes, who seems to have been a poacher. Surely if Marlowe had been as outrageous as Peter says, he would not have been able to obtain scholarships for his education.
Moreover, if we accept the letter from te Privy Council to the authorities in Cambridge, as proof that Marlowe had been entrusted with a secret job in the service of his Queen and Country, I think we can take for granted that the Privy Council's opinion of his character was not as bad as Peter's.
As to where he may have resided after the sobering shock of being exiled, perhaps for life, that would depend on, among other circumstances, who was his real "patron" and the man who saved his live. In this respect, if -as I believe- this man was the Earl of Essex (as the presence of Nick Skeres in Deptford suggests), Marlowe would have had passports, credentials and a secret agent's paid job between May 1593 till April 1599, when Essex left for Ireland and disgrace. The fall of Essex would have made his return impossible during the Queen's lifetime. As it happens, we have some evidence that he did return, briefly, on the accession of King James. It is long story and this is not the place for details, but it makes perfect sense from a historical point of view.

Anonymous said...

I would argue that the mere existence of the witness protection program in the United States negates Mr. Wales' argument. The program caters primarily to individuals involved with organized crime - outrageous characters with long rap sheets, not shrinking violets. The witnesses are given new identities, and with the help of the agency, effect a complete break with their former lives. The program is successful. It works.

Although the function of the witness protection program is virtually identical to what has been speculated about Marlowe post-1593, no one ridicules the former as absurd or impossible. The witness protection agency can pull this off in an age of mass media, easy travel, and the internet.

Why insist that what today we regard as routine would have been impossible to pull off in a world where news travelled on horseback, and most people did not have a single visual representation of themselves?

Daryl Pinksen

Anonymous said...

MARLOWE & HOMOSEXUALITY - a few questions:

1.Why did Marlowe choose to write his only English historical play
around the Edward II - Piers Gaveston relationship which possibly still is the most notorious gay liaison in English history?

2.Does Marlowe show within that play an empathy or hostility to the
relationship or is he neutral toward it?

3.Why did Marlowe not proceed toward ordination in the Church of
England ministry despite all the hopes invested in him & of course his training?

Anonymous said...

Behaviour does not necessarily
preclude advancement or success as many current celebrities show. The
later Cambridge spies were not exactly paragons of virtue in their private lives. Marlowe was not only very interested in violence, as his plays show, but violent in conduct, as the court etc records show the Dutch immigrant affair or affray in Canterbury in 1592 etc.Doesn't mean he was not brilliant!PeterWales

Anonymous said...

A reply to Peter Wales' last questions, below:
1) The Ed 2 play mirrors the affair between King James of Scotland and Edme Stuart. By the time Marlowe was writing Ed 2 the question of succession to the English Crown was of great concern to everybody. A neutral study of the political implications of accepting a King too weak to control his lustful inclinations towards men, who would naturally expect to obtain excessive power, was totally relevant, and the all too realistic play probably cost Marlowe the enmity of King James, when favourites, such as Robert Carr, were given more power than they deserved, as history was to prove.

2) Marlowe, like Shakespeare, has an uncanny capacity for neutrality when placing a piece of reality on stage. This is a well-known and accepted fact in all of Shakes's historical plays, including Coriolanus. Does Shakes show empathy or hostility towards Coriolanus?

3) I would have thought the Prologue of the Jew of Malta answers that question:"I deem religion as a childish toy, and say there is no sin but ignorance."

Anonymous said...

Dear Carlo,

I am delighted that my short piece on Hoffman’s book has provoked such interesting comments from Peter Wales, Isabel Gortazar, and Daryl Pinksen.

I think that Isabel hits the nail on the head when she points out that Marlowe would have never been able to get the Matthew Parker scholarships to attend the King’s School and Corpus Christi college had he been as outrageous as Peter believes he was. When he went to the Catholic Seminary at Rheims on an intelligence mission, he had to be as tactful and careful as possible. Later, as he became successful as a poet and playwright, he could afford to be a bit outrageous. Perhaps his fame went to his head. But the fact that he did not overtly visit his family in Canterbury after May 1593 doesn’t mean that he didn’t visit them covertly up to the death of his parents. There was no reason for him to visit his sisters at all.

We can suppose that he was able to visit Thomas Walsingham when he returned to England. And certainly Ed Blount knew where to find him to do the editing work on the First Folio. In 1620, Blount published Marlowe’s translation of Don Quixote under the name Thomas Shelton. The name Thomas was taken from Thomas Walsingham, and Shelton was taken from Audrey Shelton, maiden name of Walsingham’s wife.

I disagree with Isabel on the notion that Marlowe’s patron was the Earl of Essex. Marlowe was very loyal to the Cecils. Lord Burghley was a father figure to him, and he had known Robert Cecil since their days at Cambridge University. Also, the Cecils’ intelligence service was no doubt an important source of income for Marlowe. His alliance with the most powerful man in Elizabeth’s government was far more valuable than whatever the unstable Essex could have offered. Essex’s rival intelligence office was run by Anthony Bacon, Francis’s older brother. Anthony had gotten into trouble in France over charges of sodomy when he was working as an agent for Sir Francis Walsingham.

The Bacon brothers were vehemently hostile to their uncle Burghley and his son. Francis had expected his uncle to help him gain an important position in Elizabeth’s government. But Burghley was reluctant to promote Francis probably because he knew of the sexual predilections of the two brothers, and he probably knew about Anthony’s problem in France.

Isabel is right in pointing out that Edward II was written to dramatize what might happen if a homosexual became King of England. James VI of Scotland was known for his affair with Esme Stuart, and Walsingham and the Cecils were worried over the succession to Elizabeth. The play may have also been written to convince James that he must change his behavior if he is to become King of England.

To further answer Peter’s question about Marlowe’s view of homosexuality, the elder Mortimer tries to get his son to be more tolerant of Edward’s sexual preferences by recalling the noted male friendships of many great ancient figures. But what angers young Mortimer is not Edward’s friendship per se but his giving the common-born Gaveston power over the nobility.

As for why Marlowe did not pursue a career in Holy Orders for which he had been trained, it was his poetic genius that drove him to become a professional playwright. Also, the fact that he could depend on the Secret Service for a source of income made it easier to give up the economic security assured by ordination in the Church of England.

Marlowe was driven by the need to write. And that is why he went on to write the thirty-six plays in the First Folio and probably other works of which we know very

Anonymous said...

and probably other works of which we know very little.

(previous comment cut off at end)

Anonymous said...

mr. pinksen reinforces to me why it was totally possible for marlowe to go "underground"--if it could be pulled off today all the time via witness protection then it certainly could have been pulled off back then . . .marlowe had the friends to pull it off!

Bastian Conrad said...

Hallo Carlo,

Dolly Walker-Wraight in her book “The Story that the Sonnets Tell” is very critical with Calvin Hoffman. She wrote, that Hoffman wrote to sensationalize, and…his detective style book has proved scandalous to Marlowes reputation and typified the way in which Marlowe is now seen. The fashion was set to present Marlowe in an increasingly sensational und lurid light.
So she thinks Hoffman has contributed –as many others- to the ever-lasting stigmatization of Marlowes personality.
was she right in her opinion ?


Bastian Conrad said...

a second thought

Peter Wales writes “…such an 'outrageous' character as Marlowe …..will be the main question in my address to the AGM of the UK Marlowe Soc. next month... Christopher keeps coming home (& getting into trouble almost every time!) until 1593”
I think one cannot agree to Peter Wales sentences, these are no substantiated arguments. He contributes enormously to the distorted image of Marlowe, which is based so strongly on the words of his non reliable enemies (Richard Baines and the broken self-saving Kyd). Not one of these defamatory allegations concerning Marlowes character seem to be historically correct ….
Wales ignores completely the positive testimony of many more contemporaries and friends and also his distinguishable character from his literary work. Unfortunately innumerable scholars like Peter Wales have been exaggerated the deformed portrait of an outstanding dramatist, who was stigmatized as an atheist ( as all freethinkers) , as an alleged anti-Christ blasphemer (as being Marlowes opinion), a man given to violence (enough to understand his violent death because of a reckoning) , an alleged homosexual (the latter derived mainly from the Baines dossier, which stabilized the odium on the name of Marlowe to this day) , a victim of his own temperament (Hog Lane,Shoreditch, Canterbury, Deptford, mostly not correct) etc.etc….
This distorted image ,which is not substantiated by historical evidence dominates the academic thinking on Marlowe to this day….and astonishingly Peter Wales (do I hear correctly, chair of the Marlowe society? Why not found a Richard Baines society) is fixating this picture? WOW !

bastian conrad

CARLO D. said...

Anytime we're dealing with a staged-death theory, accusations re: the sensational are unavoidable.

Btw, in the past month or so, there have been two separate stories about businessmen trying to fake their deaths - see blog main page, right side, bottom.

I understand Wraight's point about Hoffman . . .and she makes a very valid point, but we also need to credit Hoffman, as well.

Anonymous said...

There is NO QUESTION in Mr. Blumenfeld's mind that 15-year-old Kit Marlowe had an affair with Mary Sidney? WHAT? I haven't read his book yet, but unless he's found an astonishing new piece of evidence I have'nt heard about, I find that pretty hard to swallow. There isn't even any evidence that Marlowe KNEW the Countess of Pembroke, let alone that he had an affair with her. I mean, it's possible, sure. But Blumenfeld sounds so specific about the details of it, you would think he'd unearthed Marlowe's long-lost diary. The approach of using the works as proof of events in the author's life is very shaky. Using that reasoning, you would come to the conclusion that Marlowe was not only gay but also was secretly Jewish, sold his soul to the devil, was a famous conquerer and warlord, and went around at night poisoning peoples wells. Which might all be true, but certainly seems rather unlikely.

Anonymous said...

When I wrote that there was no question in my mind that Marlowe had had an affair with Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, I was expressing a strong personal opinion based on reasonable but not concrete, irrefutable evidence. That Marlowe knew the Countess can be inferred by the fact that she persuaded her husband to create Pembroke's Men which performed Marlowe's plays. I'm afraid that Luanna will have to read my book in order to get the full sense behind my assertions.

I expect that further research into that area of Marlowe's life may give us the solid evidence we need to establish specific facts. Meanwhile, while most Shakespeare biographies are about 90 percent fiction, I believe that what I write about Marlowe is not fiction, but possibility and probability based on an accumulation of circumstantial evidence. People have been executed on the basis of circumstantial evidence. And so, we must speculate that Marlowe was involved in activities that reflect the realities of his life. Thus, I hope that Luanna will read my book and convey her thoughts based on that reading.

ElviraCardigan said...

I'm on vacation atm, and have been spending the day reading through the posts here, and I'm afraid Ms Gortazar's repeated expressions of such blatant homophobia are beginning to grate.

Just to restate the obvious, Isabel - No one (of course) can know for sure what Marlowe's sexual orientation was, but it 's unquestionably true that the data suggests at least a considerable possibility he may have been attracted to men.

This is just a fact.

I undestand Isabel that you want your boy to have been a lusty hetero. But that doesn't give you the right to claim it as a fact. Marlowe was what Marlowe was. We can't know exactly what that means .But if you are right about him having written 'Shakespeare', then he's already been robbed of too much of himself by posterity. To deprive him of his true sexuality would be simply obscene.

So, Isabel - please - let it go. Be prepared to accept you can't make certitudes about who this man wanted to sleep with or why. And maybe even open up your mind enough to accept that even if he was entirely gay, he'd still be no less worthy of your interest and respect.