Friday, May 29, 2009

On May 30, 1593: a question for Alex Jack, pt. 1

We caught up with Alex Jack, whose 2005 two-volume edition of Hamlet celebrates William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe as co-authors of the world's most famous play. Howard Zinn, author of the bestselling A People's History of the United States, hails Alex Jack's Hamlet as "remarkable" and "enormously impressive as a detective work in literature." Professor Jack has authored or edited more than 35 books on food and health, history, science, and the arts, including The Cancer-Prevention Diet (with Michio Kushi), The Mozart Effect (with Don Campbell), and Vegetarian Bride of Frankenstein. He is a macrobiotic teacher and counselor and divides his time between his home in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts and teaching in Europe. We're honored that he's taking the time with us.

Q: Professor, as we approach May 30, the anniversary of the alleged death of Christopher Marlowe, speak to us about what you think happened on that day in Deptford.

Alex: According to the history books, Marlowe died in a barroom brawl and after an official inquest was buried in an anonymous grave in the local churchyard. Case closed. In my view, the Elizabethan secret service, headed by the Cecils and Walsinghams, was unequalled in what today we would call clandestine ops. Its plots to frame and execute Mary Queen of Scots (several years before the May 30, 1593 affair) and Dr. Lopez, the Jewish physician to the Queen (a year later), testify to their ruthlessness and proficiency. Not only did they succeed in fooling their contemporaries, but also historians argue over their respective guilt to this day because of the murky intelligence trails left behind.

As recent scholarship shows, the “tavern” where Marlowe reputedly died was almost certainly a “safe house” used by the Cecils who were related to its proprietor, Madame Bull. Her establishment may also have been connected with Anthony Marlowe, the powerful head of the Muscovy Company, whose global trading operations were centered in Deptford, London’s port. Scholars are divided over whether Kit and Anthony were related. The Cecils were major investors in the Muscovy Company, and Anthony was connected with the London theater, so it’s likely there was some relationship, even if the two men shared only a common surname. But a possible connection between the two, while intriguing, is not essential to what transpired. In any event, the three men who were with Marlowe at the time of his death at the inn were all involved with the Cecils or Walsinghams in past or present intelligence activities. Though exonerated by the inquest, Ingram Frizer, Marlowe’s assailant, long continued to work for Marlowe’s friend and patron, Thomas Walsingham, after the deed.

Of course, ten days earlier, Marlowe had been arrested in connection with a heresy investigation. Though he was released on bail, he was clearly being set up as an example by Archbishop Whitgift and his cronies as part of a witch hunt against Separatists and freethinkers. The Cecils, notable enemies of Whitgift in the highest councils of state and Marlowe’s superiors in the secret service, evidently helped him disappear. They faked his death and put him, so to speak, in the Elizabethan witness protection program. As I speculate in my book, I don’t think they saved him for literary or artistic reasons per se, as they were not above sacrificing anyone for realpolitik. But Marlowe’s poetic genius, especially in the early history plays (later attributed to Shakespeare), were patriotic to the core and helped establish what today we would call the England brand. He was indispensable to the future of the Realm.

Just how the sting came down in Deptford is open to debate. It is not clear whether Marlowe was present, and it doesn’t really matter. My hunch is that he was, but “spirited” away when the corpse, probably of just executed Separatist clergyman John Penry, was substituted for his own (as alluded to later in Measure for Measure). Whether Queen Elizabeth was privy to the rescue before or after is also an open question. I tend to think she wasn’t, though other Marlovians feel she was. Archbishop Whitgift almost certainly was kept in the dark.

Marlowe’s escape route is also uncertain. Most probably he went across the Channel and through France and the Low Countries (possibly with the help of Poley, one of the three men he dined with on that fateful night, and who was a fellow spy and colleague) where he was an experienced intelligence operative. However, as I mention in my book, by coincidence or design, there was a vessel of the Muscovy Company that sailed from Deptford on June 1 for Scotland and thence the Baltics in which Kit could have fled north, completely erasing any probable southern trail in the event that the Archbishop and his allies on the Privy Council (who were essentially in charge of internal security in the country) got wind of the deception and launched their own dragnet to apprehend him, as they had for other religious fugitives.

In any event, what’s not in dispute is that about two weeks later the first book printed under Shakespeare’s name - the poem Venus and Adonis - comes out. The poem is in the style, meter, and characteristic mythological bent of Marlowe’s work Hero and Leander, that appeared earlier in the year. Kit’s literary fingerprints are all over the poem! The work was already in production and had been registered (and ironically approved by the Archbishop, who doubled as the chief censor) during the height of the Separatist controversy earlier in the spring. Subsequently, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the other sublime Italianate plays come out, at first anonymously and eventually some under Shakespeare’s name. So it’s pretty clear Marlowe went to Italy and the Continent for most of this period, up until about 1600, sending back manuscripts, probably via the Cecils’ network, through Walsingham’s own channels, or mutual friends and travelers.

Meanwhile, actor Will Shakespeare played his role as the loyal frontman and was handsomely rewarded with lavish payments and a coat of arms and kept the secret until his death. I profoundly disagree with anti-Stratfordians who put down Will as a country bumpkin akin to the “upstart crow,” the allusion in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit that more than anything else confused scholars for the next four hundred years about Shakespeare’s timeline in London and early writing career. The reference to “Shake-scene” clearly points to Alleyn, the great actor, not Shakespeare, and is the entire crux or foundation for the modern Shakespeare literary-industrial complex, an unholy alliance of scholars (especially heads of English departments), theatre festivals, textbook publishers, and British politicians and hoteliers who have turned Stratford into a tourist Mecca.

In my view, Will Shakespeare deserves the Academy Award for best supporting actor of all time. On this basis, I cast him as co-author of Hamlet and the other plays and was roundly denounced by most of my fellow Marlovians! How could I sully the heavenly genius, “the darling of the Muses,” by giving equal billing to the dolt from Stratford? Will was certainly not a dolt for keeping quiet for thirty years when the Archbishop and Church of England would have probably given him the keys to Lambeth Palace and half its treasure for turning in Kit, or putting him to the rack if they suspected skullduggery at the Globe. (Of course, Will may not have known who the real identify of the playwright was, but regardless he kept mum about his own role!) So in my book, Will is every bit as noble as Marlowe, the lead actor in this drama, and both deserve to be sung to their heavenly literary and dramatic rest by angels from on high.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, May 2009

Copies of the 400th anniversary edition of Hamlet by Marlowe and Shakespeare, with annotation and commentary by Alex Jack, are available for $35 postpaid from Amberwaves, PO Box 487, Becket MA 01223.

Alex’s web site is, and he could be reached at

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R. S. Abrinaud said...

A wonderful post, in no small part because Mr. Jack acknowledges that--in spite of many Marlovians' comments to the contrary--William of Stratford, though formally uneducated, was no idiot when it came to the best business deal of his life. And the documentation *does* show us that, if anything, the Stratford man had considerable business acumen.

I'm a high school English teacher, and I plan to get my hands on a copy of this edition of Hamlet as soon as I can. I present the authorship debate as part of my unit on Shakespeare to both my 9th grade and 12th grade classes, and the kids just eat this stuff up with a spoon! It has proven to be the perfect gateway to get them interested in reading something they wouldn't ordinarily pick up on their own.

I'd love to see one of the regular contributors to the site comment on Marlowe's patrons and the connection to Shakespeare, specifically how the Earl of Southampton comes into the picture when we know that Thomas Walsingham was Marlowe's acknowledged patron up until his arrest and murder. Was there ever a connection between Marlowe and Southampton that we are aware of?

Thanks for all you do with this website. It is one of my favorites.

Anonymous said...

Great job with the website. Keep up the good work.

Isabel Gortázar said...

I do not agree with Alex's theory that Hamlet, or any other of the WS plays, was written in collaboration between Marlowe and Shaxpere; nor do I agree that Dr Lopez' execution was promoted by the Cecils, let alone by Francis Walsingham who was dead in 1594, but this is not the place for what would necessarily be a lengthy rebuttal.
But to reply to R.S. Abrinaud's question about Southampton: We do NOT know that Thomas Walsingham was Marlowe's acknowledged patron; this is a notion put forward by Calvin Hoffman which has stuck as proof, when it is really only conjecture. We do know that, escaping from a plague-ridden London, Marlowe was staying in T. Walsingham's house in the country when he was arrested, and that it was Thomas' servant, Frizer, who took the relative blame for "manslaughter in self defense". However, the presence of Nick Skeres in Deptford, as well as subsequent events, strongly suggest that Marlowe's real patron was the Earl of Essex. As Thomas Walsingham was cousin by marriage of the Earl, as the Earl was at that moment the Queen's absolute favourite, and as Thomas would have been eager to please his powerful cousin, we must pause to re-consider the whole scenario. What was the real reason behind Thomas Walsingham's hospitality and his involvement in the Deptford charade? Essex would also provide us with the missing link: The Earl of Southampton was his best friend, and would remain so till Essex' execution in 1601.

R. S. Abrinaud said...

For Ms. Gortazar:

Dolly Wraight also believed--quite emphatically, based on her writing--that Walsingham was Marlowe's patron and that Essex was his enemy (being in rivalry with Raleigh), however, this doesn't quite synch with the latter half of the Marlowe/Shakespeare theory. Venus and Adonis was dedicated to Southampton--something that wouldn't have just happened out of the blue. If Essex were Marlowe's patron, however, this would make complete sense.

I suppose my confusion stems from the various conflicting sources, each giving their own version of whose side everyone was on. Based on everything I have read thus far, it would appear that Essex was, ideologically at least, in league with Archbishop Whitgift and opposed to Freethinkers such as frequented Raleigh's circles (like Thomas Walsingham, for example). I would love to discuss this with you further!

Sam Blumenfeld said...

Sam Blumenfeld said...
R.S. Abrinaud asks an excellent question about the relationship of Marlowe to the Earl of Southamption. There is, indeed, a very interesting connection between Marlowe and the Earl of Southampton. The young Earl was one of Lord Burghley's wards and lived in his household. The Earl's eccentric father had died at the age of 36, leaving his 8-year-old son without the love and guidance of a father. Burghley took him under his wing because he saw in the very wealthy Earl, a possible future husband of one of his granddaughters.

At age 12 the Earl was admitted to St. John's College at Cambridge, Burghley's alma mater. Burghley was also Chancellor of the University. The Earl spent the years 1585 to 1589 at the college. Marlowe, 9 years older than the Earl, had entered Corpus Christi in 1580 and remained there until 1587. Thus, both men were at Cambridge during Marlowe's last two years. Since Marlowe had been recruited into the Secret Service he was well known to Burghley, since Burghley had also signed the famous letter from the Queen that got Marlowe his Master's degree.

Also, Marlowe may have been asked by Burghley to actually tutor the Earl. We know that it was at Cambridge that the Earl developed his love of books and writers and later became a patron of literature. In fact, later in life he made a substantial gift of manuscripts and books to St. John's library. If indeed Marlowe tutored Southampton, the budding poet may have given the Earl his translation of Ovid's Amores to read, as well as his earliest play, Dido, Queen of Carthage.

Another interesting side to this story is that Marlowe was probably asked by Burghley to write a series of Sonnets to persuade the young Earl to marry. Those Sonnets are the first 26 of "Shakespeare's" Sonnets that are addressed to a handsome young man, urging him marry and duplicate himself in future offspring. Of course, Southampton refused to marry Burghley's granddaughter and remained single in order to pursue military adventure with the Earl of Essex. But he finally did marry one of Elizabeth's pretty ladies in waiting, Elizabeth Vernon. Apparently the marriage was not a happy one, and the Earl was later imprisoned for his complicity in Essex's attempt to overthrow Elizabeth. Essex was beheaded, but Southamption remained in prison until King James set him free.

Daryl Pinksen said...

If the Earl of Essex was involved with Marlowe's disappearance, it seems more likely that he acted in concert with Lord Burleigh. Essex was no defender of the Whitgift-led establishment.

When Essex was awaiting execution for his 1601 rebellion he insisted that a Puritan minister attend to him. According to Peter Thomson (Shakespeare's professional career, 1992) Essex was looked upon, both at home and abroad, as the leader of radical Protestantism in England. Puritans and Separationists were perceived (and rightly so) by Whitgift as the biggest threats to his power.

This brings us back to the implied connection between the fates of John Penry and Marlowe. Penry had been a Puritan thorn in Whitgift's side since the mid 1580s, publishing a series of tracts (illegally printed on secret presses) denouncing the state controlled church establishment.

In 1589, when his printers were captured and his own arrest was imminent, Penry fled the country - to Scotland.

Penry remained in Scotland for three years, continuing to publish. The Scottish Presbyterian nobility were sympathetic to Penry's cause. His mistake was returning to England in 1592, where he was eventually captured by Whitgift's forces. (Penry's experience with self-imposed exile would have stood as both example and cautionary tale to Marlowe.)

More connections emerge. Essex' stated intention for his 1601 rebellion was to secure from the Queen a promise that James VI would succeed her. Shakespeare's company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, were unabashedly Essex supporters. And, to state the obvious, they were very much favoured by James I. As one of his first acts upon arriving in the capital, he made them all King's Men.

When Skeres met with Marlowe at Deptford in 1593 as the Earl's representative, it was at a time when Essex was building his own intelligence network. This means that Essex had the means, as well as strong motives, to help Marlowe escape.

Dave Herber said...

It has always intrigued me why there is so much written about the supposed rivalry and animosity between Essex and Raleigh, yet at the apparent height of this rivalry Essex became Godfather to Raleigh's son.

Was there some twisted logic here or was it as simple as the rivalry being something concocted by historians?

Sam Blumenfeld said...


It is the first 17 sonnets that are addressed to a young man, urging him to marry, not 26 as stated in my comment.

Isabel Gortázar said...

Hi Abrinaud. I'd be happy to continue with this discussion anytime. Let's see if I can answer all your questions.

In 1592-5 Essex seems to have been, if not a Freethinker, certainly in favour of religious toleration, as he was in favour of closer relationships between England and the Continent. Unfortunately, in November 1595, the Jesuit Father Parsons (the same one who accused Raleigh of atheism) issued a work called "A Conference about the Next Succession to the Crown of England." This treatise was considered treasonable not only because it touched on the forbidden issue of the succession, but also because it supported the concept (dear to the Catholic countries who wanted to place a Catholic Monarch on the English throne), that resistance to tyranny and the deposition of unsuitable monarchs was justified. This dangerous piece of work was apparently dedicated to Essex, creating a major crisis between the Earl and the Queen, until he was able to prove he had nothing to do with it. However, the Earl must have seen the danger, because from then on, he completely dropped the issue of Catholic toleration. So, to say that Essex and Raleigh were enemies because of Raleigh's freethinking ideas is probably nonsense.

At the beginning of their relationship, the enmity between Raleigh and Essex seems to have been more a matter of personal jealousies than anything else. Raleigh had lost the favour of the Queen when he married Bess Throckmorton and he saw himself supplanted in the Queen's favour by young Essex. But there were years when they could have been friendly. They fought together in Cadiz and the mutual jealousy flared up again after the disaster in the Azores (1598), and from then on it seems to have turned sour. As Essex left for Ireland in March 1599, Raleigh, (now back in favour) actively joined the number of the Earl's enemies around the Queen, determined, as they all were, to destroy Essex for good.

As from 1592, Essex had been making an excellent job of creating and (financially) supporting a network of Agents (not necessarily secret) all over Europe, whose task was to send information (political, social, religious, etc), to the Earl and, through him, directly to the Queen, stealing a march on Cecil whenever possible. Mr Le Doux was one of these Agents, in his case, a secret one.
Therefore, considering the enmity and competitiveness between Essex and Robert Cecil as from 1592, and considering, on the other hand, the loyalty with which Southampton followed Essex' ventures until the end of the latter's life, I think we can take for granted that it was their friendship which is at the heart of the Marlowe-Southampton connection.

As for Thos Walsingham: You are right, Dolly Wright also believed in Calvin Hoffman's tenet that he had been Marlowe's patron and saviour; but that cannot be right. In 1593, Thomas had no political clout whatsoever and he must have been looking for his way up, more or less at the bottom of the ladder. He may have been a bona fide friend of Marlowe's and may have invited him to his country house in Scadbury simply to keep him away from the plague in London, but he may also have been following his cousin's instructions. By mid-May London's "air" was bad for Marlowe and not only because of the plague. Getting him invited to stay in a country house in Kent, could have been a last resort to keep him out of sight/mischief. After all, we don't know how long had Marlowe been in Scadbury before his arrest.

Well,this is all speculation but some theories are more probable then others, and the conjecture that Marlowe was Essex Agent is the one that makes more sense in the light of subsequent events.

After all, Shakespeare seems to have lost his good humour more or less at the time when Essex lost his head.

Dave Herber said...

I would be interested in hearing the justifications for Essex being "the leader of radical Protestantism in England" from Daryl and more than just speculation that "he completely dropped the issue of Catholic toleration" after 1595 from Isabel in light of the Essex Rebellion of 1601 and the large group of Catholic's that gathered around him, many of whom would later be involved in the Gunpowder Plot.

If you look closely at the Essex Rebellion (and I would suggest that you read 'Members of the Essex Rebellion' by Mary Fernald) it is worth noting that many of those who were in the Essex Circle were either known Catholics or crypto-Catholics. It would seem odd that they would be attracted to him if they could not see toleration of their religion being granted should Essex and his views take hold.

Isabel Gortázar said...

Sorry, Dave, I should have said that he dropped the issue of Catholic toleration in appearance, because it had become a hot brick for him after Parson's treatise.

But you are right that he probably had no special enmity towards individual Catholics, despite the fact that it was difficult at the time to separate Catholicism from Spain, and he was certainly an enemy of Spain. He had fought at Zuphten with Sidney in support of the Dutch rebels and was very thorough in his sack of Cadiz; he even stole the entire library of the poor Bishop of Faro and donated the books to Thomas Bodley for his new Library in Oxford. He was also very keen to suppress the Irish, Catholic, rebellion. So, mixed loyalties. But we know his sister Penelope converted to Catholicism after Mountjoy's death. They were difficult times.

One question for Alex: If William Shaxpere was not a "country bumpkin" why is he described as such in As You Like It? Don't tell me he was making fun of himself, because it is not convincing. Moreover, he is also described as an ignorant, greedy rustic, as well as a clumsy social climber in Ben Jonson's Every Man Out Of His Humour.

So what are we to think of that? Nobody denies that he was an excellent businessman; but having spent my working life in business, I can assure that some of the best businessmen I've ever met were very like Jonson's characters, Sogliardo and his brother Sordido.

Anonymous said...

Love it!

AntonioFratta said...

thoroughly fun read! molto buono!