Saturday, November 12, 2011

Marlovians Bite Back by Peter Farey

A free e-book has just been made available by the Stratford-upon-Avon based Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, apparently prompted by the recent release of Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous. Written by Rev. Dr. Paul Edmondson and Prof. Stanley Wells, CBE, it is called Shakespeare Bites Back and consists of most of the same old arguments for the Stratfordian authorship we have become so familiar with over the years, together with the habitual contempt for anyone presuming to question that belief.

Pages 21 and 22 apparently concern the Marlovian hypothesis. Let's look at what they say.

The chapter heading is "Duping the Dean" and goes as follows:

"The anti-Shakespearians..."

Ah yes, I should mention that we are all lumped together in this fashion throughout the document, as a grossly inaccurate and intentionally insulting policy proclaimed in their so-called manifesto: "We should use the term ‘anti-Shakespearian’ to describe those who propagate this particular conspiracy theory."

And there we have the second rhetorical trick which is also so obvious as to be pathetic. The whole issue is constantly referred to as (note the initial caps) the "Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theory." Do they think their readers are so dim as to be unable to distinguish between those who find it necessary to descend to such semantic trickery, and those who don't?

Back to the Marlowe bit.

"...even succeeded in duping the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey..."

Who may not take kindly to being described as dupes?

"...who, in 2002, misguidedly allowed themselves..."

No, they can't get out of it with weasel words. Duped is duped, one born every minute.

" be advised by people who want to believe that Christopher Marlowe wrote Shakespeare. "

Want to believe? This is what Freud called projection. If any side in this controversy "wants" to believe anything it is the writers of this e-book. As they know full well, but refuse to acknowledge, all we want is to discover the truth about Marlowe.

"In properly honouring Marlowe by installing a commemorative window in Poets’ Corner, the Dean and Chapter authorized the presence of a question-mark to precede the year of Marlowe’s death."

This is true.

"In doing so they flew in the face of a mass of unimpugnable evidence."

This isn't. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the relevant definition of "impugn" would be "To assail (an opinion, statement, document, action, etc.) by word or argument; to call in question; to dispute the truth, validity, or correctness of; to oppose as false or erroneous." Now, just as one example, this is exactly what I was doing when I wrote "Marlowe's Sudden and Fearful End" which had nothing whatever to do with the authorship question, and which was cited by Park Honan in his Marlowe biography; also my "Hoffman and the Authorship," for which I was the lucky co-winner of a prize for which Stanley Wells himself was once the adjudicator. More to the point, of course, is that nearly every scholar who has examined the documents related to Marlowe's death has "impugned" them in exactly the way the OED says. The evidence seems very impugnable to me.

"Marlowe died on 30 May 1593 as a result of being stabbed in the eye by an identified criminal, Ingram Frizer."

Oh dear, oh dear. It was above the eye, of course, and can anybody tell me for which crime Ingram Frizer had ever been found guilty?

"The coroner’s report survives. It was witnessed by a jury of sixteen men who inspected the corpse."

And took the word of three known liars as to just whose corpse it was, right? Using several sources concerning the law governing the practice of coroners in those days, and the extent to which it was followed to the letter, we have been able to argue quite confidently that the jury would not necessarily have inspected the whole corpse anyway, just the wound which, whilst very dramatic to see (someone sent me the photo of a man with a bread-knife through his eye socket, so believe me!), need not have been what really killed him.

At this time, Marlowe was facing trial and probable execution for proselytizing atheism. That the only three witnesses of what really happened were, as I said, professional liars and all connected with Marlowe's dear friend Thomas Walsingham; that the coroner was the one most likely to be in on any deception and (apparently illegally) working alone; and that the foreman of the jury just happened to be Thomas Walsingham's neighbour, should surely be grounds for some suspicion?

"It is recorded that Marlowe was buried in the churchyard of St. Nicholas at Deptford on the same day as the inquest (1 June 1593)."

Well it would be, wouldn't it? Although the record actually says "Christopher Marlow slaine by ffrancis ffrezer; the -1- of June." Francis Frezer? Are we to assume that this evidence is equally unimpugnable? But remember what Edmondson and Wells say (above) about "properly honouring Marlowe by installing a commemorative window in Poets’ Corner"? Don't these people find it just the teeniest bit strange that the greatest poet/dramatist of the day was dropped into an unmarked grave or pit and simply left there to rot? No known grave, no memorial, no follow-up whatsoever? Why on earth not, especially if, as seems likely, both Thomas Walsingham and another dear friend Edward Blount were there to witness the burial?

"Moreover there are numerous references to Marlowe’s death and tributes to his genius in the years immediately following it."

Yes indeed. People were told he was dead and, believing what they were told, expressed their grief and admiration. "Shakspeare" of Stratford should have been so lucky.

"Most significantly Shakespeare himself alludes to Marlowe in As You Like It when Phoebe is swept off her feet on first seeing Rosalind disguised as Ganymede:
Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:
“Whoever loved that loved not at first sight.” (3.5.)
The quotation is from Marlowe’s famous erotic poem, Hero and Leander (published posthumously in 1598). In As You Like It (almost certainly written in 1599) Shakespeare paid a fine and public tribute to his dead colleague. If Marlowe wrote Shakespeare this means that he is writing about himself as dead, and from beyond the grave."

Is this really the best evidence that Edmondson and Wells can muster? Were anyone to have been in the position which Marlovians claim that Marlowe was at that time, wouldn't they too have been eager to make sure that they were not entirely forgotten without actually giving the game away?

One is tempted to ask the authors just what they think Shakespeare had in mind when, in the same play, he gave Touchstone the words "When a man's verses cannot be read, nor a man's good wit seconded with the forward child understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room," accepted by all as referring to Marlowe's death. Couldn't it quite reasonably be taken to mean that if being misunderstood strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room, then the said reckoning may not have left him dead at all?

Furthermore, perhaps they have a better explanation than we do as to why Evans (in The Merry Wives of Windsor) would confuse Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd to his Love" with a song based upon Psalm 137, "By the rivers of Babylon," perhaps the greatest song of exile ever written?

"How good does the surviving evidence have to be before it can be refuted? The evidence of the coroner’s report is unimpeachable."

No it isn't! Back to the OED, for the relevant definition of "impeach": "To challenge, call in question, cast an imputation upon, attack; to discredit, disparage." The evidence of the coroner's court has been already been impeached by the majority of orthodox scholars to have studied it. Do they not know this?

"The questionmark in Marlowe’s memorial window should be removed."

Not on the basis of this argument it shouldn't. It was the Marlowe Society, of course, who raised the several thousand pounds that the memorial window cost. What the then President of the Society, who to my knowledge has no anti-Stratfordian leanings, actually said at the unveiling was that the Marlowe Society was agnostic on the subject of authorship of any other works, and did not proselytize. By the question mark against "1593" on the memorial the Society merely queried, not denied, the date of Marlowe's death.

And that's the authors' whole rebuttal of the Marlovian hypothesis! Not a single mention of the mass of reasons we give for believing it highly probable, had he lived, for Marlowe to have been the ghost writer for Shakespeare. No need for all that. The report said that Marlowe was dead and people at the time seemed to believe that someone called Shakespeare wrote the works. Period.

"How good does the surviving evidence have to be before it can be refuted?"

It has to be good enough to withstand detailed examination, as it has been subjected to (and repeatedly failed to withstand) in this case.

There is one quotation the authors use which I particularly liked. "The great scholar F. P. Wilson, author of a book on Marlowe and Shakespeare, once said that the most important thing a scholar has to learn to say is ‘I don’t know.' "

Oh, the irony of it!

© Peter Farey, 2011 stratfordians bite back

Peter Farey is the author of "Marlowe's Sudden and Fearful End" and discoverer of as many new facts related to Marlowe's supposed death in Deptford Strand as anyone since Leslie Hotson.

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.THE MARLOWE PAPERS


Settembrini said...

A Dead Man in Deptford [Paperback]
Anthony Burgess. Anyone ever read this novel?

Burgess recreates the world of Elizabethan England--from the court and its intrigue to the theater and its genius--in this life of Christopher Marlowe, murdered in suspicious circumstances in a tavern brawl in Deptford. "A daring romp through history, theology, sex, language, and espionage."--Kirkus Reviews

Peter Farey said...

Yes, I have read it. I have also read a highly confidential screenplay based upon it, although I cannot for the life of me see just what this has to do with the piece I have just written!


Dan Sayers said...

That Stratfordians dismiss anti-Stratfordian points of view is entirely to be expected. After all, their whole careers would start to look a bit silly were it to come to light they'd been talking about the wrong fellow all these years. Especially easy as a target for them is Marlowe, since he is documented to have died - even if a little investigation will show that the likelihood of the death being faked is actually rather high. Most people are likely to go with the status quo opinion that he did die - “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”.

Still it's annoying that those apparently holding the highest standards of scholarship and rationality are blind to the enormous clues right under their noses.

For myself, I know what I believe, and am more interested in what future discoveries may elucidate about the Marlowe story than convincing those who have a vested interest in the other guy.

Having said that, I have increased my opinion of Oxfordians lately, which was unexpected.

Sabine said...

This question mark in the window must irk Stratfordians to no end, because, as long, as it can be safely presumed, that Marlowe died in May 1593, there's no danger from that corner. But should someone ever prove, that he survived Deptford long enough to write "Shake-Speare", their house of cards might crash. Even if Marlowe as a proven survivor is not automatically the proven writer of the contested body of work, Occam's Razor, about which we talked a lot lately, would strongly suggest, that he was, and academian strongholds might eventually fall like domino pieces.
It's regrettable, that Prof. Wells resorts to bad science in order to make his point.

What do you mean exactly by stating, that your regard for the Oxfordians increased? That their theory has some merits, or that talking to them is more rewarding than talking to Stratfordians?

Dan Sayers said...

Don't worry Sabine, I'm not jumping ship. It's just that I've felt more kinship with the Oxfordian (and other) Shakspere-doubters than the Stratfordians in the recent post-Anonymous debates - which was not previously the case. As long as the argument concentrates on legitimate doubts about the traditional authorship attribution, I find myself mostly in agreement with them.

Having said that I'm not clear on why Oxfordians (and um, Sidneyans) are opposed to the idea of any of the plays being collaborations.

Sabine said...

I know, what you mean. Most (sane)Shaksper doubters don't have this maddening arrogance, or should I say, ignorance of orthodox Stratfordians.
At least for me, it's all about finding the truth. So, should the Oxfordians ever find proof, that their Earl wasn't a complete jerk,that he faked his own death in 1604 and only pretended to be a mediocre poet, so nobody would ever suspect this modest guy of having been the genius, that is Shakespeare, I'd say: Congratulations, well done!
And should the Stratfordians ever find out, that their William was such a shy and insecure personality, that he never dared to show his secret poetry to anyone, as long as The Giant Marlowe was alive, that he raided Kit's stash and stole all of Marlowe's numerous unpublished plays and poems and ideas, as soon as he heard the sad news from Deptford, I'd say: well done, Stratfordians! We finally see the light and realize, poor Will felt so guilty for the rest of his life, that he sprinkled all those Marlowe-hints into his works and even left instructions, that Marlowe's name should be included in his Stratford monument inscription in form of a riddle!

Dan Sayers said...

Glad to hear you're keeping an open mind Sabine ;-)

Roger Tallentire said...

Having just seen Anonymous I came away wondering whether it advanced or hindered the cause of Oxford, or indeed any of the alternate candidates in the authorship question, and your response Marlovians Bite Back is excellent.My view is given in Shakespeared! ( Amazon $5) which I herewith cast into the debate. Let the rending begin! It attempts to give a plausible reason why Marlowe's substitute needed to be defaced, and why the portrait then was hidden at Corpus until 1953.I apologize in advance for remaining errors, and thank you for helpful comments.
Dr Roger Tallentire

Dan Sayers said...

Thinking about it, I can understand Peter's annoyance with the Shakespeare scholars. It would be preferable to have a real debate, looking past whether Marlowe died at Deptford, about whether he could have penned the poems and plays. We Marlovians feel well-prepared for such discussion, if only we would be engaged.

It is fairly easy to dispel Oxford: his surviving poems (even if "juvenile") do not show any hint of the great author. And if aristocracy was such an impediment to publishing, why did Meres mention him in the same breath as Shakespeare, and why do we have the attributed works of Philip Sidney?

Also fairly easy to dispel is Shakspere: no literary paper trail, no reports of him as an author by colleagues whilst alive. This may be "absence of evidence" as Stratfordians are so fond of stating, but an immense amount of historical detective-work has attempted to uncover something about the Stratford man - resulting in over seventy documents showing him to be a petty businessman and awkward social climber, but nothing more. Also damning (despite Stratfordian protestations) are the workaday will, Jane Cox of the Public Records Office's assessment of the signatures (see this link, scroll down to point 4), and the fact that his parents and children were illiterate. Can we really believe in Shakespere given all these serious problems with the case?

With Marlowe we have a proven ability to write in the exact style, the necessity to remain hidden, a huge number of parallel lines, quite a few obvious hints, known ability to read sources in the original (and only available) languages, clear biographical interpretation of otherwise opaque sonnets, the solution of the riddle on the monument, documented recognition of talent from an early age, familiarity with aristocracy depicted in the plays and dedicated to in the poems, familiarity with the lower classes also depicted, passion for Ovid, use of Holinshead, and an unbroken, incremental development of literary style from around 1587 to 1611. Combine all that with the work Peter has done to demonstrate that his faked death really is the best explanation of the meeting in Deptford, and we are left with Marlowe as the runaway favourite candidate.

Now stop squabbling, Stratfordians and other Shakespeare-lovers, and put your great skills to finding out what really did happen to Marlowe; was his end (to paraphrase The Tempest) dukedom or despair?

daver852 said...

Is it any wonder that Stratfordians devote almost all their time to debunking the claims of Oxfordians? It isn't just that Oxford's the most popular alternative candidate; they concentrate on Oxford because the arguments in his favor are easy to refute. Then, after demolishing the Oxfordian position, they dismiss Marlowe with a shrug. On those rare occasions when they can be drawn into a discussion about Marlowe, you can see the Stratfordians actually squirm with discomfort. Ask a Stratfordian to explain the scene between Touchstone and William of Arden in "As You Like It." You'll get blank stares, insults, stammering, evasion - everything except a reasonable explanation. I believe that a lot of Stratfordians secretly believe we're on to something, but are afraid to admit it. They know that if the discussion turns from Oxford to Marlowe, they are the ones who are at a disadvantage.

A. Ominous said...

My ex (in fact, my very first, from the 70s!) teaches English (as an expert on Elizabethans, mind you) at Georgetown; I once made the mistake of mentioning the Marlowe hypothesis to her in an email... and the tut-tut-tutting I received as a result taught me that proselytizing (or even instigating open-minded discussion) on the topic is futile. This "debate" divides along a hard-wired, genetic difference, I now think.

There's something profoundly moving in this "secret", in its half-buried form... the contrast between the "official", accepted, implausibly naive story and the one we all, here, lend more credence to... is the difference between morbid cant and the immortal play of genius. A protean, winking, deathless Marlowe is so much better than a cardboard bard. The Strats are to be pitied.

Peter Farey said...

Given their demand for the removal of the memorial window's question mark, you might like to know that I have now updated my essay Marlowe's Sudden and Fearful End, which gives my reasons for querying the date of his death, and placed it right at the head of my home page at


daver852 said...

It is so unfortunate that no truly wealthy person has ever become interested in the Marlovian theory. Can you imagine what would happen if Bill Gates decided to sponsor one hundred scholars to work full time researching Marlowe's post-1593 career? I have no doubts that it would not take long for some interesting facts to surface.

Michael McEvoy said...

"How good does the surviving evidence have to be before it can be refuted?" I don't understand this. Surely they mean, "How good does the surviving evidence have to be before it cannot be refuted?"
And if you go back to the OED you will find that they mean rebutted. To refute a statement or belief is to prove it to be untrue. And maybe - one day - these unsubstantiated assertions by the Stratfordians will be thoroughly refuted.

Anonymous said...

The Mayor of Canterbury should raise a court action to sue Stratford for fraud and loss of tourist revenues. How would this case be viewed?