Marlowe Studies Entry November 19, 2011



St. Bartholomew's Day massacre at Paris

Marlowe’s Marlowe

All scholars agree that the Shakespeare plays use allegory to speak of current day politics in England. This is only one of the many reasons it is difficult to believe the Stratford Shakspere wrote them. At England's The Marlowe Society website we find Mark Abbott’s Introduction to Marlowe's play Massacre at Paris. Mark says:

The play is virtually unique in addressing contemporary European history, and indeed a sensitive political situation on England's own doorstep. The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, instigated by the French royal rulers and Catholic nobles (including the Duke of Guise) saw the systematic murder and execution of thousands of protestant Huguenots in the French capital in August 1572. Many of the Huguenot leadership were in Paris for the wedding of their leader, Henry of Navarre, to the French King's sister Margaret. With the notable exceptions of Navarre and the Prince of Condé, virtually all the Huguenot nobles present were exterminated along with a large number of ordinary protestants living in Paris, including scholars, preachers, clergymen, and all manner of ordinary men, women and children. It was a horrific act of mass murder that shocked the world, especially neighbouring protestant countries such as England and the Netherlands. The terror was more acute due to a good number of Englishmen in Paris who witnessed the butchery first hand, including the Queen's Ambassador Sir Francis Walsingham, and Sir Philip Sidney.

Mark then speaks of the appearance of an "English Agent" in the final scene who has been summoned by Henry III to carry a message to Elizabeth, Queen of England. Mark says, "Marlowe's involvement, at least in a minor way, in the Elizabethan secret service is strongly suspected from various incidents documented in the records. He appears to have been in Rheims during his university days, and there is even a possible sighting of a 'Mr Marlin' carrying messages from the English forces in Rouen as late as March 1592. Could Marlowe's dramatization of the English Agent be based on his own personal experience as a government agent?”

It would seem important to establish that while writing the plays under his own name Marlowe tended to put his own experiences into the texts because this supports his doing it in Shake-speares Sonnets and the plays under the Shakespeare name such as Hamlet, As You Like It, and The Tempest.

John Baker has found allusions to Marlowe’s covert operations in Venus and Adonis. The Marlowe studies suggests that these lines from the long poem could very well have been written after Baines’ Note had been received at the Privy Counci that day in May, 1593l:

This sour informer, this bate-breeding spy,
This canker that eats up love's tender spring,
This carry-tale, dissentious jealousy,
That sometime true news, sometime false doth bring

We find a match for this in Sonnet 125’s couplet:

Hence, thou suborned informer! a true soul,
When most impeached stands least in thy control.

We  can also  track possible/probable projections of Marlowe's own character by seeing how he deviated from his historical sources and inspecting what he inserted into his plays out of his own life and imagination. It was out of his imagination that Marlowe inserted an English Agent and the dialectician Ramus into Massacre At Paris. He had the Guise's men kill Ramus during the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of Protestants in France. Few academics have bothered to ask why he did this. Ramus often cited Cicero's 'To dispute well is the end of logic' in his textbooks. It would seem Marlowe wanted more out of logic than merely to be able to "dispute well" and that is the reason he inserted Ramus into the play and had him killed. (Another example of the humor few academics are unable to find in Marlowe.)

From scene 7: Massacre At Paris:

Enter Ramus in his studie.

RAMUS. What fearfull cries come from the river Sene,
That fright poore Ramus sitting at his book?
I feare the Guisians have past the bridge,
And meane once more to menace me.

. . .

RETES. Tis Ramus, the Kings professor of Logick.
GUISE. Stab him.

RAMUS. O good my Lord,
Wherein hath Ramus been so offencious?

GUISE. Marry sir, in having a smack in all,
And yet didst never sound any thing to the depth.
Was it not thou that scoff'dst the Organon,
And said it was a heape of vanities?
He that will be a flat decotamest,
And seen in nothing but Epitomies:
Is in your judgment thought a learned man.
And he forsooth must goe and preach in Germany:
Excepting against Doctors actions,
And ipse dixi with this quidditie,
Argumentum testimonis est in arte partialis.
To contradict which, I say Ramus shall dye:
How answere you that? your nego argumentum
Cannot serve, Sirrah, kill him.

The Marlowe Studies would like to take a moment's pause to point out the wonderfullness of the line:

And ipse dixi with this quidditie.

Another example of the Marlowe humor academia can't seem to find.

In the morning at Cambridge Marlowe went to his Logic classes, in the afternoon he attended classes in rhetoric. The rhetorician dresses the logician's arguments in elegant figurative language. Riggs says, "Moral goodness was superfluous to the orator's vocation. Persuasion was simply a means to an end - any end." He goes on to say, "Marlowe learned this lesson well. His poetry and plays - from his signature lyric 'Come live with me and be my love' to Tamburlaine the Great to his erotic narrative Hero and Leander - emphasize the power of persuasive speech to move the will. Whether conquering the world or the most beautiful virgin, "Morality takes a back seat to pragmatism." After the many syllogisms that enable Leander to seduce Hero, she brings in Marlowe’s Cambridge education when she says:

"Who taught thee rhetoric to deceive a maid?
Ay me, such words as these should I abhor
And yet I like them for the orator."

In her Christopher Marlowe and Edward Alleyn, Chapter 3 "An 'Armada' English History Play", while discussing Marlowe’s authorship of Edward the Third, Wraight suggests the character of the Mariner as reporter mirrored Marlowe’s role in the battle with the Armada. This would mean that just as the play’s 1340 Battle of Sluys alludes to the 1588 battle with the Spanish Armada, so does the role of the French Mariner in Edward the Third mirror Marlowe’s role as reporter in 1588.

Wraight’s thesis is that Marlowe was the Armada reporter who wrote “A Relation of Proceedings”. She discovered with the report a letter written by Admiral Howard which states it was intended for presentation to Sir Francis Walsingham, “Marlowe’s boss in the espionage service, and for whom he would have been accustomed to write his intelligence reports.” The report would have either been dispatched to Sir Francis Walsingham from aboard the ships of Her Majesty’s navy, or subsequently written. Wraight made a thorough calligraphic comparison between the handwriting of this report, the handwriting of the Massacre at Paris “Collier Leaf”, and Marlowe’s signature on Katherine Benchkin’s Canterbury will, and she concluded these were all in Marlowe’s hand, “demonstrating his prose style, which shows him in his capacity a most able and trusted government agent.” Concerning the authorship of this report, she cites British Naval historian Professor Laughton’s comment, “The identity of the author it is impossible to guess. It is more literary in style than any of the letters written by Howard, or his secretary or his secretary’s clerk.”

Wraight compares the poetic dramatization of the 1340 Battle of Sluys, with an excerpt from “A Relation of Proceedings”:

'This fighte was very nobly contynewed from mornynge vntil the eavenynge the Lo: Admyrall beinge always [in] the hottest of the encounter. And it may well be sayed that for the tyme there was neuer seene a more terrible valew of greate shott nor a more hott fighte then this was for althoughe the musketteres and harquebysers of crocke were then infynyte yet colde they not be decearned nor hard [heard] for the great ordnaunce came soe thicke that a man woulde haue judged it to haue ben a hot skirmishe of small shotte beinge all the fighte longe wthin halfe musket shott of the enemye.’

The word “infynyte” is in the report. This word was not commonly used in the 16th century. After Archimedes, the exploration of infinity seemed to come to an end. It wasn’t until the latter part of the 16th century the concept of infinity again became popular among mathematicians like Marlowe’s friend Thomas Harriot who was associated with his circle of “freethinkers”. The concept of infinity was central to Giordano Bruno’s cosmological theory. At that time scientific concepts such as infinite were heretical, “atheistic” ideas because they proposed the sun was not the center of the universe. Marlowe used this word in The Jew of Malta, the often-cited "infinite riches in a little room". He also used this word in Tamburlaine, and it may have been that which prompted Greene’s 1588 attack "blaspheming with the mad preest of the sun” (Bruno):

Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
And alwaies moving like the restless Spheares . . .




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