Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Marlowe's Early Life: What If? by Samuel Blumenfeld

In writing The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, I faced all of the same problems that other biographers of Marlowe have faced. Constance Brown Kuriyama summed up the problem very nicely in the Introduction to her biography, Christopher Marlowe: A Renaissance Life, published in 2002: “Although biography is technically nonfiction, all life-writing is an amalgam of fact and interpretation, logical inference and speculation, truth and myth.”

And this is certainly true when it comes to Marlowe. For example, we all know of Shakespeare’s supposed “lost years,” which biographers have tried to fill with as much fictional nonsense as possible. Apparently there seems to be a similar blank period in Marlowe’s early life – the period from 1572, when Marlowe was 8, and 1578, when at age of 14 he entered the King’s School. What was he doing during those six years? And why didn’t he enter the King’s School at the age of 9, when that was possible? What was he doing for those five years that made him wait until the final deadline for entering the King’s School at age 14?

The standard biographies of Marlowe start with his birth in Canterbury in 1564 and some known facts about his family that William Urry was able to gather through his intensive research in Canterbury’s archives. But little is known about Marlowe’s childhood until he enters the King’s School at age 14, for which there is adequate documentary evidence.

So we have no choice but to engage in a bit of speculation. I believe that young Christopher, who would become the greatest dramatist in all of human history, was a child prodigy and exhibited his high intelligence and linguistic genius at an early age. We all know of child prodigies. Today you can see such musical prodigies performing on YouTube. But we don‘t know how child geniuses were treated back in 16th-century England, particularly if the little genius came from a common family. It is also likely that Christopher's father, John Marlowe, a cobbler, recognized his son’s precocity and did not expect him to follow in his footsteps. His son was meant for better things.

Where did Christopher get his primary education? In 1569, when the future poet was five years old, Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, founded a new school at Eastridge Hospital for the education of poor children at no charge. Kuriyama writes: “The school opened its doors to twenty poor children at about the time Christopher was ready to begin his education, offering instruction in reading, writing, and singing.”

If young Christopher Marlowe was indeed a child prodigy, we can assume that the Archbishop would have readily recognized the precocious talents of young Christopher and been amazed at how quickly he learned the fundamentals of English literacy. Also, in 1572, the Archbishop may have been asked by his good friend Lord Burghley if he knew of a youngster who might make a good page to a young nobleman about to embark on a two-year tour of the Continent, and the Archbishop may immediately have thought of young Marlowe who had just turned 8, the appropriate age when boys became pages.

I have found no factual evidence that such an exchange took place. This is mere speculation on my part, and I made that clear in my biography. But it is speculation based more on possibility than probability. Young Marlowe had to be doing something between 1572 and 1578. He wasn’t at home playing video games, and he could have entered the King’s School in 1573. Why didn’t he?

Who was the young nobleman who needed a page? I believe it was Philip Sidney, who had gotten Queen Elizabeth’s permission to embark on a learning tour of the Continent where he would also make important political and literary contacts. And because John Marlowe was always having financial problems, the payment he might have received for the engagement of his son as a page, may have been welcome.

It was in 1572 that 18-year-old Philip Sidney was about to embark on his tour of the Continent. As a young member of the noble Sidney family of Penshurst Place in Kent, Sidney’s entourage consisted of three servants and four horses. Did Sidney’s chief servant need a page to do all of the mundane things that pages did: tend to the luggage, water the the horses, and go on errands of one sort or another? When a child reached the age of 8, he was qualified to be a page. And when he was as intelligent and gifted as young Christopher, he would have been chosen by an aristocrat for the job.

I have been told that a page from a common family would not have been hired by a nobleman. But could an exception have been made when a boy from a common family had uncommon gifts of intelligence and verbal skills? And so, I have speculated that the boy Christopher was engaged by Philip Sidney to be his chief servant’s helper.

And how would have Christopher come to the attention of Sidney? It is possible that Lord Burghley asked his friend, the Archbishop of Canterbury, if he knew of a boy at his school who could be a good page for Sidney. And is it not conceivable that he could have recommended Christopher?

This makes a very plausible story for which, as of yet, I have found no documentary proof. But in this biographical business, you never know what some literary researcher will discover in the future. For example, nothing was known of Marlowe’s involvement in a supposed counterfeiting scheme in Holland until a letter written by Robert Sidney to Lord Burghley in 1592 was discovered in 1976 by Professor Richard B. Wernham.

While an army of scholars has spent decades and tons of money scouring every archive in England to find evidence of Shakespeare’s life as a dramatist, very little has been spent by scholars digging up information about Marlowe. But so much that has been discovered so far has tended to corroborate the theory that Marlowe wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare (or, better stated, has not disqualified Marlowe's authorship), as this blog has demonstrated since 2008.

In any case, there are several reasons why I believe my speculation makes sense. Becoming part of the Sidney entourage would have made young Marlowe acquainted with how the aristocracy lived and what their values were. Second, a tour of Europe with the Sidney entourage would have introduced Christopher to foreign lands and languages. They spent enough time in Italy so that the young page would have been able to quickly learn Italian.

Also, the Sidney party arrived in Paris just a few days before the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of the Huguenots on August 24, 1572. The Huguenot leadership had gathered in Paris to attend the marriage of Huguenot King Henry of Navarre and the Catholic Princess Marguerite de Valois. The marriage was supposed to bring the Protestants and Catholics together. However, Catherine de Medici, the Queen mother, saw this special occasion as a golden opportunity to destroy the Huguenot leadership in one fell swoop, and therefore she planned and ordered the massacre with help of the famous Duc de Guise.

Sir Francis Walsingham was Elizabeth’s ambassador in Paris, and Sidney and his entourage took refuge in the English embassy. The massacre would haunt Sidney and Walsingham for the rest of their lives – as well as (as I have speculated) the young page Christopher Marlowe, who in later years would write a play on the subject, Massacre at Paris.

From Paris, the Sidney party traveled to Germany, Austria, and Italy. On February 26, 1574 Sidney sat for his portrait by Paolo Veronese in Venice. In Padua, Philip took a house where he could study at the university. If young Christopher was among them, he had ample opportunity to learn Italian.

In March, 1575, Philip began his journey back to England. By then young Christopher, future literary genius, was eleven years old, and virtually everything he would have learned as a page would find itself in his future plays.

Back in England, young Marlowe may have remained in service to Sidney and lived with the family in London or at Penshurst. And it was there that he would have become acquainted with Philip’s sister, Mary Sidney. As Philip Sidney’s page, Christopher may have attended the great party that Sidney’s uncle, the Earl of Leicester, threw for Queen Elizabeth at his famous estate at Kenilworth in July 1575 during the Queen’s summer progress. The romantic gaieties, the ambrosial feasts, the ceremonious devotion to the Queen, the sparkling entertainments, the merrymaking, the idyllic twilight interludes with exquisite music and dance will all be found years later in a play called A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In February 1577, Sidney once more had the occasion to travel to the Continent. Elizabeth had ordered him to offer her condolences to the Empress Maria upon the death of her husband Maximilian II in Vienna. Among his suite were two of his closest friends, Edward Dyer and Fulke Greville. As ambassador of the Queen, his train was richly appointed.

After stops in Brussels and Heidelberg, the party reached Vienna in April 1577. Sidney paid his respects to Maximilian’s widow, the Empress Maria. He then proceeded to see if the projected league among the Protestant princes was possible. Part of his mission had been to study the new incumbents of thrones, to observe conditions in Germany and the Empire, and to report on the prospects of a league of the Protestant princes of Europe. But he found that disunity among the princes made such a league unlikely.

By June 10, 1577, Sidney and his entourage were back in England. Young Marlowe was 13 years old, and if he was to enter the King’s School at the deadline age of 14, he would have to leave Sidney's service (hypothetically) in less than a year. Marlowe obtained his scholarship on January 14, 1578/9 and began his studies in the Michaelmas term of 1578/9.

But if he had indeed spent the years 1572 to 1578 as Sidney’s page, he would have been able to bring to the King’s School an incredible experience and knowledge of foreign language and Continental geography and history. The young poet would have gotten to know some of the most important people in the aristocracy: Walsingham, Burghley, Leicester, Greville, Dyer, and Sidney’s sister Mary who had married Henry Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke in 1577.

Of course, this entire story is pure conjecture. However, I have found nothing in the biographies of all of the individuals involved that would have made this story impossible. While nowhere is the name Christopher Marlowe mentioned in the many letters Sidney wrote during his travels, it may be that a page was simply too unimportant to mention. Perhaps someday we may find among papers at Penshurst proof that John Marlowe was paid for the services of his son.

But if we cannot find proof that young Christopher was Sidney’s page, we shall still have to find out what he was doing from age 8 to 14 and why he didn’t enter the King’s School at age 9.

© Samuel Blumenfeld, 2011

Samuel Blumenfeld, a regular contributor to MSC, has authored more than ten books. His latest, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, was published by McFarland. His writings have appeared in such diverse publications as Esquire, Reason, Education Digest, Vital Speeches of the Day, Boston, and many others.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Case for Marlowe - Made Simple by Anthony Kellett

Editor's Note: Anthony Kellett recently explained the case, regarding Marlowe’s disappearance, for those relatively new to the subject. From a transcription of that brief talk, I have produced this guide, both for those to whom it was originally aimed or for more experienced readers wishing to undertake a similar task.

Have you ever heard of a principle called Occam’s razor? Put simply, it says that the solution requiring the least number of assumptions or leaps-of-faith is probably the closest to the truth. Not “certainly,” by any means, but “probably.”

First, it’s fair to say that the “Shakespeare-style” of plays, in blank verse, was popularised by a man called Christopher Marlowe, who commenced his playwriting probably seven or eight years before anyone uttered the name “Shakespeare,” in this context. Bearing in mind that both men were born in 1564, whilst Marlowe was starting his writing career, roughly when he’s taking his master’s degree at Cambridge University, Shakespeare was in Stratford, his twins were being born and he was probably working in his father’s glove shop. I have to say “probably” because we simply don’t know.

One of the world’s leading Shakespearian scholars, Professor Stanley Wells (who believes the Stratford man wrote the works), said of Marlowe that if he and Shakespeare had stopped writing in 1593, and I quote: “We would now regard Marlowe as the greater dramatist. The achievement of Marlowe was greater than that of Shakespeare, by that age. Marlowe has a string of great plays: Faustus, Edward II, two parts of Tamburlaine, Jew of Malta; marvellous poem the ‘Hero and Leander,’ a lot of good translations as well.” Wells added the bit about translations because Marlowe made some of the first translations of Lucan and Ovid (supposedly Shakespeare’s favourite Latin poet) into English. Wells categorised Marlowe as “a very rapid developer” and Shakespeare as “a late developer.”

Now, there are a couple of things which are interesting about that summation of Marlowe. First, is that by 1593, the Shakespeare plays, which Wells believes existed, are Two Gentlemen of Verona, Taming of the Shrew, the three parts of Henry VI, Titus Andronicus and possibly Richard III. And yet, Wells still considers Marlowe’s the greater output, which gives you an idea of these plays’ quality. The second interesting thing is that even though many believe these few plays were all written and performed by 1593, no one (as far as we know) had ever mentioned a man called Shakespeare. If this is true, that Shakespeare was unknown, then any reasonable person in the audience would probably have believed them to be by the same author or authors (since they often collaborated on plays) as, say, Edward II or Doctor Faustus. I am simply going back to Occam’s razor here, as to what is most likely and requires least assumptions. It may not be true, but it is most likely.

Before I go any further, what you should also know about Marlowe is that he seems to have been a government agent, starting during his time at Cambridge. Apparently, he was involved in undercover work for Francis Walsingham. When Walsingham dies, Lord Burghley appears to have taken over “employment” of Marlowe. It is also worth you knowing that Marlowe’s patron and, it appears, good friend, was Thomas Walsingham, a young relative of Sir Francis.

Now, in April 1593, an entry appears in the Stationers register, a kind of copyright register, if you like, for a new poem called “Venus and Adonis.” There was no author mentioned, but it was a companion piece to Marlowe’s “Hero and Leander.” The problem is, Marlowe’s “Hero” was not published and wouldn’t be for another five years, and, at best, was only known to a few close friends. Most reputable scholars believe the author of “Venus and Adonis” must have been familiar with “Hero and Leander,” because of its style and a number of allusions it makes. In view of this, by Occam’s razor, again, and in the absence of further information, anyone would assume this was Marlowe’s work – unless one believes it was just a coincidence that someone else wrote a companion piece to “Hero and Leander,” without knowing it existed or what it contained? This is simply not probable.

Then, on May 20, 1593, Marlowe, staying with his friend Thomas Walsingham, has an arrest warrant served against him. It was probably the result of him being suspected of heresy, a capital offense. Strangely, Marlowe was not kept in prison, but was instructed to report, each day, until the Privy Council could see him. About three days later was possibly his first appearance before them, but he was still not imprisoned.

By the 28th of May, a report is completed into Marlowe’s heresy and was delivered to the Privy Council. Marlowe, it seemed, was in deep trouble. But, before he could be brought before the council again, Marlowe went to a meeting. He met with three men – two of whom worked as confidence tricksters for his friend and patron, Walsingham; the third, like Marlowe, was an intelligence agent. Without knowing anything more, it is difficult to imagine this was a chance encounter, but when you add the fact that they met, for eight hours, at a private house, owned by Eleanor Bull (a relative of the Queen’s closest attendant, Blanche Parry, a relative of Lord Burghley), situated near the docks at Deptford, it becomes extremely suspicious.

Burghley was one of the most powerful men in England. He would have known Marlowe was in deep trouble because he was a member of the Privy Council. So, with Marlowe probably facing an imminent death penalty, why would he meet three professional confidence tricksters and fraudsters, employed by Marlowe’s employer, and by his friend, in a Burghley-linked house near Deptford docks?

Yes, it could be to enable him to escape, or it could be to have Marlowe murdered. But really, if he wanted to murder Marlowe, why would Burghley arrange that in a house so connected to him; hire three tricksters, not murderers; and then why would they take eight hours to do it when a lone assassin could have done the deed in any dark alley in London or on a quiet lane near Walsingham’s country house, with little fuss? And why would Marlowe’s friend Walsingham get involved in that? Walsingham was still being lauded as Marlowe’s friend and patron, some five years later, by Marlowe’s literary friends. So, whilst the possibility still remains, it does not seem the logical conclusion and is almost completely nonsensical.

No, by Occam’s razor, again, if we have three professional deceivers, whom we must assume are friendly to Marlowe, his employer and his patron (unless we make unfounded assumptions that they weren’t), arranging to meet him for what might be the last time, before his arrest and subsequent execution; and they meet at a “safe-house” next to the sewer-infested Deptford docks (rather than Walsingham’s country estate, where three of the four, one assumes, would have regularly gathered anyway), the only sensible conclusion is that it was to arrange Marlowe’s escape – conveniently near the Thames and numerous ships.

The trouble is, if you just let Marlowe escape, then he will be known to be at large, and any Tom, Dick or Harry could be his downfall. Even worse, Marlowe’s capture could lead to problems for everyone else involved, which is just not feasible. So, the only viable solution was not merely an escape, but a faked death and new identity so that Marlowe would not be hunted.

This is Elizabethan England, not the dark ages. If you fake a death, first you need a body. There are several theories about this, not least is the disappearance of the body of a man executed nearby the previous day. His family was not told that his already delayed execution was to go ahead; it happened, strangely, late in the day, around 6pm, and without any notice. The family could never discover what happened to his body. Either way, whether you believe this version or another, it is not beyond the wit of man to assume that these powerful, connected people could provide a body.

Unfortunately, there is a bigger hurdle: the problem of the coroner. When someone was killed, the local coroner would be called to hold an inquest. This would be fatal to this plan. He would almost certainly spot any inconsistencies between the body’s physical appearance and the story explaining his death. The only solution would be to have control of the coroner, and the only coroner likely to be a candidate would be the Queen’s coroner, William Danby. He had jurisdiction over all deaths occurring within a 12-mile radius of the Queen’s court (wherever that was at the time). We know the Queen was at Nonesuch Palace on this day.

Now, which was the dock, as far as possible down the River Thames, but still within 12 miles of the Queen? It was Deptford. This solution may also answer another question requiring explanation. The question is, “Why did this deception (if that’s what it was) take place anywhere near London?” If the plan was to spirit Marlowe away, as quickly as possible, then why not go to Tilbury, or somewhere already well on the way to safety. One possible reason is the need to use the house of a trusted owner, but the fact that Danby would preside is far more essential. It also happens that Danby would have been responsible for the “missing body” of the prisoner, executed the previous evening. Is that not convenient?

So, what other problems remain? We supposedly have the body of England’s leading poet in our possession; so what happens if he, like Chaucer, gets paraded up to Westminster Abbey for burial in front of all his friends and relatives? Well, we just bury the body immediately, before they have a chance. What if they decide to dig him up? Well, we bury it in an unmarked grave. In fact, we throw him in a common grave (maybe the plague pit) and see if they want to go digging in there.

So that’s what happens; they take the body, purported to be “Marlowe,” and just dump England’s greatest playwright in a Deptford Churchyard pit, before anyone that might know him gets the chance to view the body. The only people that identified the body as Marlowe were the three men he met at Deptford. Doesn’t that sound a little strange to you? What would Thomas Walsingham, his friend and patron, think of that? More than that, what would he do when he discovers that his servant, Frizer, was the man who supposedly killed Marlowe? The answer? He did nothing. Frizer was pardoned and went back to working for Walsingham. Does this sound like the behaviour of a friend and patron? I can only understand that response if either, Walsingham wanted Marlowe dead (already acknowledged as highly unlikely), or he knew he was still alive. Which do you think is most likely, by Occam’s razor?

There are many questions that surround this, obviously, and it is very far from proved. Even amongst those that believe Marlowe survived, there are disagreements about who would or could have organised it – but that gets far more involved.

Now, if we leave that there, for the time being, and just put it down as “a bit fishy,” we then come back to this chap Shakespeare, of whom no one has ever heard, at this point.

Remember I mentioned that anonymously registered companion piece to Marlowe’s “Hero and Leander,” called “Venus and Adonis,” that would sensibly be thought to be by Marlowe? Well, less than two weeks after Marlowe’s disappearance, that piece gets published. Except that it appears as written by some chap called William Shakespeare, and he calls it “The first heir of my invention.” That is the first time Shakespeare’s name ever appears, anywhere, in connection with any writing, of any sort – at the ripe old age of 29, no less.

If this is written by the guy from Stratford, we have absolutely no idea how he got from that glover’s shop in Stratford, 7 or 8 years earlier, to being able to produce poetry of the highest degree of complexity; not only matching the quality and knowledge of perhaps the greatest poet in England, but also writing in Marlowe’s style and a companion piece to Marlowe’s great, but unpublished, poem. Now, by our old friend Occam’s razor, what do you think is the most probable explanation of that, by introducing the least amount of speculation and leaps of faith?

At the end of the day, amongst those who doubt Shakespeare’s authorship, there are very few claiming to have all the answers, or that believe the case is resolved in favour of some other candidate. In fact, the only people, who seem to believe that, are those believing it was the Stratford man; they seem to think they have “won” something, so have no reason to enter the debate. But this is not about winning or losing; it is about establishing the truth.

I’ll tell you the bizarre thing:  anti-Stratfordians, as we are called, are likened to supporters of “intelligent-design” rather than “evolution,” cranks and conspiracy theorists. Well, we have one group, which wishes to examine and debate real observations and real evidence in the real world, whilst another group wishes to take its beliefs on faith and has an attitude that says, “We don’t know how he did, but he just did.” You tell me, which group are the Darwinians, and which are the religious zealots?

© Anthony Kellett, 2011  was Marlowe shakespeare?

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