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A great reckoning in a little room: Christopher Marlowe

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posted on Jul, 11 2009 @ 02:18 PM

The handsome and preposterously talented English poet-playwright Christopher Marlowe was only 29 years old when he died, but he had already been hailed as one of the greatest writers of the age.

On May 30, 1593 he went to Deptford is southeast London to drink, dine and talk with three men, Ingram Frizer, Nicolas Skeres and Robert Poley, in a house owned by the widow Eleanor Bull. The four men spent the day quietly, talking and walking in the garden, but after supper a dispute broke out about the “recknynge”, or bill. “Malicious words” were spoken, tempers lost, and Marlowe, who had been lying down, apparently leapt up, snatched Frizer’s dagger, and slashed twice at his head, possibly with the hilt. Frizer’s wounds were not serious, but in the ensuing struggle he stabbed Marlowe in the right eye, killing him outright.

Popular legend has it that the incident was nothing more than a barroom brawl – a myth that conjures up a colourful vision of Elizabethan roistering, worthy of a macho literary golden age before poets turned into daffodil-contemplating naval gazers.
Even Shakespeare was scarcely respectful of his rivals demise, punningly referring to it as “a great reckoning in a little room” in his play, As You Like It.
The official inquest – which opened immediately, on June1 – agreed that it was all the result of a drunken fight, and found that Frizer had indeed killed Marlowe in self defence. Less than a month later, Queen Elizabeth I granted Marlowe a posthumous pardon for charges of blasphemy that he was on bail for at the time of his death.
Was this Elizabethan efficiency or suspicious haste to close the case and any lingering questions about it?
Was there something unusual about Marlowe that meant his death was unlikely to have been “just a pub fight”?
Was he really an atheist?
And a secret agent?

Historical Detectives

With a few variations, the writings of near – contemporaries largely bear out the official story.
Although the seventeenth – century biographer John Aubrey accused another poet – playwright, Ben Jonson, of murdering Marlowe, it was only after 1925, when J. Leslie Hotson published The Death Of Christopher Marlowe, that the vultures really began to circle Marlowes corpse.

A review article by a certain Eugenie de Kalb suggested that Aubrey Walsingham, the wife of Marlowe’s patron, had instigated the killing as part of an elaborate plot involving the succession of the Scottish king, James VI, to the English throne.
In 1926, Samuel Tannenbaum’s The Assasination of Christopher Marlowe set out to prove that Sir Walter Raleigh had bumped Marlowe off to stop him betraying the secret of raleigh’s atheism – a capital offence in those days.

Marlowe as atheist

But why should so many commentators have imagined that Marlowe’s death was no clear accident? The answer lies in the timing. Just ten days before his death, Marlowe had been arrested and bailed by the privy council on charges of atheism, blasphemy and sedition. These were considered serious crimes, tantamount to treason, and a number of witnesses – or plotters and slanderers, according to theorists – had testified against him.

The most famous evidence was given by Richard Baines, who claimed that Marlowe believed “that Moyses was but a juggler & that one Heriots, being Sir W. Raleigh’s man, can do more then he … That the first beginning of Religioun was only to keep men in awe … That all protestants are hypocriticall asses … That if he were put to write a new religion, he would undertake both a more excellent and admirable methode and that all the new testament id filthily written.”
If Marlowe did even think any of this, let alone say it, or persuade others it was true – as was alleged – it was staggeringly bold of him.

Such beliefs risked undermining the whole structure of society, right up to the Queen herself; in the right hands, however, evidence of such beliefs could bring down Marlowe and all his circle, the so-called “School of Night” and its patron, Sir Walter Raleigh.

Marlowe as secret agent

The idea of Marlowe as some kind of early-modern James Bond is widespread. He – or at least a college contemporary by the name of “Morley”, which may be an alternative spelling of “Marlowe” – apparently went AWOL from his degree at Cambridge. While that was uncommon in those days, what was unusual was the fact that, when he returned and found his degree in peril, he persuaded the highest powers in the land – including the Archbishop of Cantebury – to write a letter certifying that he had “done Her Majesty good service & deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealing”. Some claim that he had gone undercover among Catholic students in exile in France, listening out for rumours of the Babington plot against the queens life – a role certainly played by Robert Poley, one of the Deptford Four.

Curiously, Skeres and Frizer, the other two men present at Marlowe’s death, had links with Sir Francis Walsingham, the queen’s spymaster. Frizer had also worked for Thomas Walsingham, Francis’s second cousin and a probable ( but not proven ) senior spy. In 2005, Professor Park Honan of Leeds University found a document revealing that James VI had given land to Thomas Walsingham’s wife, perhaps in return for her husband’s court – conspiring on behalf of James’s claim to the English throne. Mrs Walsingham in turn leased the land to Ingram Frizer, further tying him to the controversial cause. Marlowe, meanwhile, was practically Thomas Walsinghams protégé ( and any controversy he got himself into would, therefore, risk smearing his patron by association).
The conclusion of the conspiracists is that Marlowe was at the tavern to meet fellow agents connected to the Walsingham ring – and that he was probably lured there to his death.

Marlowe as…… Shakespeare

One group of conspiracists believe that Marlowe never died as Deptford. Why? Because Marlowe was Shakespeare! Propounded by the Marlowe Society, this thesis found its most articulate and commited exponents in Calvin Hoffman, who wrote The Man Who Was Shakespeare in 1955, and A.D. “Dolly” Wraight. Hoffman believed that Thomas Walsingham was Marlowe’s lover, and that he faked the playwright’s death to save him from execution.


posted on Jul, 11 2009 @ 02:20 PM
Dolly Wraight, on the other hand, works backwards, beginning with clues found in “Shakespeare’s” sonnets ( which, if read in the right way, apparently fit every detail of Marlow’s life – notwithstanding the fact that such sonnet sequences were rarely autobiographical) and ending with a faked death at Deptford.
So relentlessly have the Marlovians pushed their case, that Marlowe’s memorial in Westminister Abbey’s Poet’s Corner actually has a question mark inscribed after his date of death.

- James McConnachie & Robin Tudge
A rough guide to conspiracy theories



Bill Bryson – Shakespeare: The World As A Stage (2007)

Stephen Budianski – Her Majesty’s Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage (2005)

Park Honan – Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy (2005)

Charles Nicholl – The Reckoning (1992)

David Riggs – The World of Christopher Marlowe (2004)

Louise Welsh – Tamburlaine Must Die (2004)


posted on Feb, 27 2010 @ 11:50 AM
Thank you for attempting to initiate a potentially interesting thread. I will now try to "carry the ball." The most intriguing aspect of Marlowe's death is how difficult it would have been for a contemporary to find out about it. First, let us assume that, for whatever reason, someone in high places wanted Marlowe dead. It would not have been difficult simply to order his execution based on a large number of items on the capital punishment menu. Such a course would attract public attention, so perhaps there was a reason to keep it quiet. In that case, it would have been very simple to over-power him in an alley, take his purse, knife him in the ribs and dump him in the Thames. No-one would be the wiser. Of course, when he didn't turn up at rehearsal, the publisher's or even the pub for a few weeks, people would begin to get suspicious. Rumors would circulate that he followed through on his boasts that he would go to Douay or Valledolid. In other words, disposing of him quietly would lead to rumors that he was still alive and possibly engaged in espionage. Now place yourself in the position of someone who takes an interest in Marlowe as a potential asset or enemy. When he does not turn up after a few days, you start to make inquiries. There is a general impression around town that he left for Deptford. You take the water taxi to Deptford and start asking around. There is a vague rumor that someone answering his description was killed at Mistress Bull's. Mistress Bull refuses to talk about it, of course, so you go to the local "crowner" (coroner). The coroner confirms that there was a "Marlowe" murdered at Mistress Bull's, but that he did not personally preside at the inquest. He furnishes you with a transcript of the proceedings. Here you learn that Poley et al. stabbed Marlowe in "self defense" and dutifully reported the deed to the authorities. (Good old law abiding Poley!) Deptford being outside of Marlowe's usual orbit, the only people who could identify the body as being that of Marlowe were, of course, the three murderers. After having worn down so much shoe leather, you would naturally be inclined to believe that you had sorted out the facts of the situation: Kit Marlowe is dead. You could then confidently report the situation to your superiors. In other words, the situation strongly suggests that Marlowe's "death" was orchestrated in such a way as to convince through its very obscurity. Any thoughts on that?

posted on May, 31 2010 @ 10:11 AM
See my Marlowe topic

There might be great finds to uncover in Marlowe's adventures
in Spain and elsewhere according to Roberta Ballantine in her
recording of Marlowe's life and when she says he wrote the
different plays.
One notebook page was 17 pages long and ten of which was

The problem is who can read anagrams and those that can are
most likely gainfully employed suppressing the truth this very day.

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