Friday, September 16, 2011

Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare? Apart from three (I believe it’s three) signatures, not all spelt the same, there isn’t a single word in the great playwright’s, the greatest playwright that ever lived according to many, handwriting and questions have been asked for some time about the possibility that he was not the author of the plays. Could the author have been someone like Sir Walter Raleigh? I doubt it.

Even though he wrote a bit of poetry he was too busy being a pirate, war-mongering in Ireland, playing at queen’s favourite and indulging in magic. There have been three contenders: Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Bacon and his ciphers is definitely out of the running which leaves Marlowe and de Vere. If it was Marlowe, and let’s face it, he was a major talent in the Elizabethan theatre writing plays like “Tamburlaine” “The Jew Of Malta” “Faustus” “Edward the Second” which could all be thought of as precursors to the later plays, and of course poetry including those famous lines ‘Come live with me, and be my love,’ and ‘Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?’ Mind you, the line ‘come live with me and be my love’ was not uniquely Marlowe’s. John Donne also used it and so did Shakespeare, unless that was Marlowe repeating himself.

Marlowe was murdered in a pub in Deptford, or was he? The whole story of his supposed death is too shady for words which has led to the theory that he was spirited away to live incognito and safely in Italy from where he sent back the plays to his patron Thomas Walsingham who paid a little known bit part actor by the name of William Shakespeare to have them produced in his name. An interesting idea on the side: Elizabethans sometimes divided up their names so could the only begetter of these sonnets Mr W.H. have been Marlowe’s patron Walsing Ham?

Marlowe was a bit of a wild one and made no bones about his atheism in an age when religion was so important, the church so powerful. Also, even in an age that wasn’t so obsessed with men loving men as we are today, witness the homo-erotic sonnets- Marlowe didn’t endear himself to conservatives by stating, “He who does not love tobacco and boys is mad.” So, on the day of his death a warrant from the Star Chamber was already out for his arrest. In those days it didn’t take too much stepping over the line to meet the queen’s rackmaster face to face and Marlowe had certainly given his enemies enough ammunition.

So what was so fishy about the purported death of Christopher Marlowe? First of all why a room in Nell Bull’s Tavern in Deptford? Well, this one can possibly be answered. It is a dockyard town situated on the River Thames and close to the Walsingham estate and from where Marlowe could take a ship for the continent. But why was he there in such sinister company; Nicholas Skeres, Robert Poley, both cut-throats, and Ingram Frizer, servant to Lady Walsingham who bore no love for Marlowe? What was he supposed to be doing with these people? Moreover why spend the entire day with them? What were they doing? Evidently eating, drinking, playing cards or backgammon. The murder took place at night. Were they waiting for the tide to turn and a designated ship to sail for France? Surely, if murder was intended, Marlowe who had at one time been a spy and who was obviously a highly intelligent man would have been deeply suspicious in keeping with such disreputable company? Or was he already privy to the plot and knew the outcome.

Ingram Frizer who admitted to the killing maintained it was self-defence. He said it was a quarrel over the reckoning that started it off, that Marlowe lost his temper (he was known to be hot-blooded) and went for him with his poniard, wounding him twice on the head. Frizer then managed to wrest the dagger from him, turning it on his assailant and stabbing him above the right eye. Now here the first doubt creeps in. The poniard is a small dagger, the front of the skull is the thickest bone, could Frizer’s blow have had the strength and could the poniard have penetrated or would it have slipped? Note, Marlowe had already wounded Frizer twice in the same place before he was himself reputedly killed with this twelve penny dagger. The next question to ask is why did the inquest take place in the middle of the night just as soon as the coroner could be roused and enough local men to form a jury. Would any of those men have recognised Marlowe who was a compete stranger to them? And why was the body buried in such haste in an unmarked grave?

So, if the body was not that of Christopher Marlowe, whose was it? Well, in that day and age a body would not be too difficult to come by or a drunken sailor could have been lured up to that little room to take Marlowe’s place. Who really knows?

1 comment:

Lewis said...

What an interesting theory! And well-researched, too. It does seem very convincing, Glyn. How about a play based on it?
My first instinct was to write and say that the two men's styles were so different; but after all, not that different, and clearly Marlowe's would have matured quickly, especially under the strain of the situation he would have been in.