Marlowe Studies Entry: June 12, 2011

birdBird Heaven

As Daryl Pinksen has pointed out, both Jonson's Every Man out of His Humour and Shakespeare's As You Like It refer to "the reckoning" in the Coroner's Report of Christopher Marlowe's death:

after supper Ingram & Christopher Morley
uttered one to the other malicious words
they could not agree about the payment, that is, le recknynge, [the reckoning]

The question is, does Shakespeare refer to the Coroner's Report and exile anywhere else in his work?

The Disgraced Scholar

Jonson's portrayal of Macilente showed him to be a disgraced scholar. The Marlowe Studies suggests that it wasn't Baines accusation of atheism that created Marlowe's disgrace, but the manner in which his death was staged at Deptford for the Coroner's Report. The three secret agents who were with him in that "little room" told Coroner Danby it was a dispute over the reckoning of their dinner bill that instigated the circumstances of Marlowe's death. Here is what they told Danby:

Christopher Morley maliciously
drew the dagger of Ingram at his back,
and with the same dagger Christopher Morley maliciously
gave Ingram two wounds on his head

In other words, these three secret agents who were known to be good liars told the Coroner that Marlowe had performed the most cowardly deed of them all: he struck a man from behind. If Shakespeare was a pseudonym for Marlowe, would we not expect him to address this disgraceful act? It is hard to imagine any man not wanting to put right his name when it has been slandered by the fiction of his death. Shakespeare seems to address the actual situation as stated in the Coroner's Report in Sonnet 74, when he writes

But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,

. . . my body being dead;
The coward conquest of a wretch's knife,

In the first stanza, we are told the actual facts as we know them, Marlowe's house arrest that had no bail was the cause for his going into exile (shall carry me away). In the second stanza Shakespeare not only tells us his body is dead to the world, he tells us the cause of his body being dead was just as the Coroner's Report stated it, he had cowardly slipped Frizer's dagger out of its sheath and struck him from behind with it: "The coward conquest of a wretch's knife". Shakespeare couldn't have been more literal.

Marlowe's truth is hidden under the poetical feigning of this sonnet's ambiguous structure. Just as Touchstone lifted his character veil to tell us he represented the author of As You Like It when he said he had gone into exile not with a suitcase of clothing but "with scrip and scrippage" (paper and the dialogue for a script), and when he told us to look carefully at whose life is now a second life, "As it is a spare life (looke you) it fits my humor well . . . " the poet breaks out of Sonnet 74s sonnet's narrative and speaks directly to his readers when he says, "My life hath in this line some interest". He is telling us to look at who had been under arrest, who had been allowed to go free during that time without posting any bail, and whose arrest concluded in him being "carried away". Shakespearean scholars interpret "carried away" as "death", and on the surface this is the intended meaning because it was a "deadly arrest". In reality, it was both carried away into exile and the faked death at Deptford.

Shakespeare also tells us in Sonnet 29 that his name has been disgraced and he has gone into exile:

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate . . .

Here we have "disgrace" and "outcast state", which literally means exiled from the State of England.

Sonnet 34 gives the general background for the faking of Marlowe’s death. The raw emotional tone suggests it was the first sonnet written after the Deptford event. It speaks of the disgrace Marlowe suffered because of the manner in which they needed to script the story for the Coroner's Report in order to insure that Frizer would go free with a plea of self defense. The only way for Frizer to go free was to tell the Coroner Marlowe had struck him from behind, and that he had been seated between Poley and Skeres so he could not get away.

Christopher Morley maliciously

gave Ingram two wounds on his head

Ingram, in fear of being slain,

then & there struggled with Christopher Morley

to get back from him his dagger

Ingram could not get away from Christopher Morley;

and so it befell in that affray

Ingram, in defence of his life,

with the dagger

gave Christopher a mortal wound over his right eye

Christopher Morley instantly died . . .

Sonnet 34 tells us Marlowe was not present at Deptford the day they faked his death, and he didn’t take part in framing the story. It would seem he is writing to his friend and patron Thomas Walsingham whose employee Ingram Frizer is stated in the Report as the one who "gave Christopher a mortal wound over his right eye".

Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
And make me travel forth without my cloak,
To let base clouds o'ertake me in my way,
Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?
'Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break,
To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,
For no man well of such a salve can speak,
That heals the wound, and cures not the disgrace:
Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief;
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss:
The offender's sorrow lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence's cross.
Ah! but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds,
And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.  

Perhaps when Walsingham told Marlowe they had decided to fake his death (Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day) plans had not congealed to the point where the necessary plea of self-defense had been scripted for his employee Frizer, and he had promised Marlowe a beauteous day because he had another scenario in mind, but at the last hour Lord Burghley decided they needed to contrive a “legal” report of the “death” to ward off any further suspicion. Although it is tempting to think Walsingham needed Marlowe’s cloak to put on the body they used at Deptford, line 2 may merely refer to the English proverbial “Although the sun shines, leave not thy cloak at home”.

Let us compare the Shakespearean scholars' interpretation of one of these sonnets to a Marlovian interpretation. Since Sonnet 74 is so explicitly Marlovian with its "coward conquest of a wretches knife" we will use it for our comparison.

Sonnet 74

Sonnet 74 tells us three times the poet is writing to the man responsible for faking his death: "Which for memorial still with thee shall stay . . . The very part was consecrate to thee . . . To base of thee to be remembered." In this sonnet there are six echoes of the faked death: for memorial, fell arrest, lost life, the earth can have but earth, my body being dead, and the coward conquest of a wretches knife.

But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee:
The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
My spirit is thine, the better part of me:
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead;
The coward conquest of a wretch's knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered.
The worth of that is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.       


Stephen Booth's Shakespeare's Sonnets has provided us with a more thorough analytic commentary on the Sonnets than all previous interpreters. He sums up the traditional interpretation of 74 when he says, “The religious language merely acts as a hyperbolic metaphor to vivify the speaker’s assertion that his spirit is in his verse and is immortal with it.” While most editors see the poet conflating the two abstract ideas “immortality of art” and “immortality of soul” in 74, The Marlowe Studies suggests this sonnet ambiguously disguises a second meaning in which the poet speaks literally of surviving the fictional death at Deptford, which, in turn, allows his writing to survive.

Clare Asquith’s book Shadowplay gives a detailed demonstration of precise parallels between momentous events of the sixteenth century and references concealed in the censored literature of the time. The most important aspect of this literature was it be deniable, in other words, incapable of proof. Asquith has discovered it is at those coded places in sixteenth century literature that, “the hidden language is at its most intense.” This coded literature can find no better literary weapon than that of double-edged ambiguity. Nowhere in the sonnets do we find as much ambiguity as we do in 74 and 112. This is not surprising when we consider these are the two sonnets of self-identification, in which “the hidden language is at its most intense”. Sonnet 74 tells us the precise way in which the poet/dramatist’s death was faked and reiterates what we learned in 34, the poet was not the creator of his fictional death.

1 But be contented when that fell arrest
2 Without all bail shall carry me away,

Traditional: The editors read fell arrest to mean the poet’s future arrival of death expressed metaphorically as an officer of the law coming to arrest a criminal, and without all bail as death being akin to no possibility of release from death’s “prison”.

Marlovian: The poet’s choice of legal language instead of religious language to begin describing his death in 74 is the first clue that Marlowe wrote this sonnet. He describes his death as a “deadly arrest”, which is what literally occurred if we take Marlowe’s arrest at Walsingham’s home on May 18th to be first cause for his fictionalized death on May 29th. When Marlowe was arrested he was given bail and ordered to report daily to the Privy Council. Line 2 alludes to that bail by saying this death has no bail. Instead of bail, this deadly arrest will carry me away (into exile). It is the poet’s use of the future tense “shall carry” instead of the past tense “carried” in the second line that has the editors interpreting this sonnet’s meaning to be the poet speaking of his future death. While the traditional reading changes the meaning of four words in this sonnet, the new interpretation takes every word just as it was written, except for the poet’s use of the future tense shall carry. It will be shown that Marlowe intentionally used the future tense in order to escape a too obvious identification.

3   My life hath in this line some interest,
4   Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.

Traditional: In the New Cambridge Edition of The Sonnets Evans sums up the general editorial
reading of these lines as follows: I continue [after death] to have some claim upon or share in 'life' (i.e. living memory or fame) through my verses. The editors read line 4’s memorial to mean the immortality of the poet’s spirit contained in these lines.

Marlovian: The 3rd line is startling in its direct appeal we pay attention to whose life has a share in the information given in preceding lines 1-2. It is only because the editors interpret what the poet actually wrote in line 3, this line, to mean “these lines” that they are able to give this line the meaning “verses” and, hence, to read interest as the poet’s continued share in life after he is dead through the verses he wrote. The Marlowe Studies suggests it is quite clear the poet intended exactly what he wrote, not “verses” but this line, meaning the first full sentence of this sonnet which describes concretely the reason for the faking of the poet’s death and its consequence. If the poet had intended this line to mean his verses in general (and, hence, the immortality of his work) he could have written “these lines” which is closer to the editors’ interpreted meaning “immortality of the poet’s verses” and has the same number of syllables as this line: My life hath in these lines some interest.

It is the fourth line that first tells us 74 is being written to the man responsible for faking the poet’s death. He is confirming to the sonnet recipient that the memory (memorial) of the event which carried the poet away will still remain a secret between them. The use of the word still tells us 74 was probably written in later exile because it is suggestive of time passing since the Deptford affair took place.

5   When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
6   The very part was consecrate to thee,

Traditional: When you reread this line (line 3), you revive or give life to the better part of me (“very part”) that was sacred to you.

Marlovian: For the second time the poet tells us the recipient is responsible for faking his death. The 5th line tells us that in this quatrain we are about to review (learn) the very part this man played in the deadly event that caused the poet to be carried away. The word “consecrate” in line 6 does not mean “to set apart as sacred” as the editors interpret it, but “to give of oneself unreservedly and with devotion”. It is an echo of sonnet 34’s line 4: Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke. Line 7 will explain the very part Walsingham played unreservedly, and with devotion to the poet.

7   The earth can have but earth, which is his due,
8   My spirit is thine, the better part of me,

Traditional: The poet’s body has gone back to the earth but his spirit still lives in his verses. The editors generally cite The Book of Common Prayer’s “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” when they interpret the meaning of this line.

Marlovian: Line 7 tells us the poet is not buried in the grave, for the earth does not have him; therefore, the specific part Walsingham played unreservedly (at great risk to himself) was to fake Marlowe’s death and burial. This line is the poet’s parody of his own fictional burial service for the dead. From The Book of Common Prayer, The Order for the Burial of the Dead: We therefore commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. “Earth to earth” means “earth back to earth”. The poet has chosen to replace “to earth” with “but earth”which implies the earth can have merely, just, or only earth, not the body which came from earth. This is the earth’s due not in the sense of “something owed” but “in accord with right”, considering it would have been wrong for the poet to have actually been killed and buried in the grave.

This interpretation takes into account Sonnet 112’s line 4: So you ore-greene my bad, my good allow? In 112 the bad part is buried (ore-greened) while the good part is “allowed” (alive), as is the better part in line 8 above. This bad part was formed out of two fictions: Baines’ and Drury’s accusations and Walsingham’s faking of Marlowe’s death at Deptford in such a way that it brought disgrace to the poet’s name. Sonnet 121 in Wraight’s exile group affirms this reading, telling us in its opening lines the bad was a fiction: Tis better to be vile then vile esteemed, When not to be, receives reproach of being. Sonnet 121 also tells us that the first fiction (Baines’ and Drury’s accusations of heresy) was formed out of false adulterate eyes of frailer spies who have rank thoughts. The poet will affirm this reading of Sonnet 121 in 74’s lines 9, 10, and 11 below:

9    So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
10   The prey of worms, my body being dead,
11   The coward conquest of a wretches knife,

Traditional: The poet is speaking of his body not being as important as his spirit that is contained in his verse. Duncan-Jones says of line 11: “A much discussed line: momentarily it may seem that the poet anticipates self-slaughter, but it is more likely that the wretch whose sharp implement has taken possession of the speaker’s body is personified death . . .” Most editors agree with her interpretation of wretches knife as the abstract personification of Time’s or Death’s knife. In The New Cambridge Edition, Evans says of line 11 that the dead body has become food for worms because of its cowardly seizure under the knife by Death. His explanation of why Death’s seizure is described as “cowardly” is: (a) death is like an assassin who stabs his unaware victim in the back and (b) the poet (“mankind”) is defenseless against either Death or Time.

Marlovian: Line 9 more directly echoes 112’s So you ore-greene my bad because dregs are “the bad elements”. The bad was the fictional coward in the Coroner’s Report who struck Ingram Frizer from behind. The prey of worms only seems to imply that the body is lying in the grave to be eaten by worms.  The prey is actually a metaphor for dregs i.e. that despised fictional coward, while of worms is a metaphor for the two paid informers, Baines and Drury (the spies who have rank thoughts). When we consider that the poet has already told us in line 7 the earth can have but earth, line 10’s my body being dead can be taken as an impression created for the public. It will be shown that this reading echoes the new reading of Sonnet 112’s lines 7 and 14: I to none alive/all the world besides you thinks me dead.

Line 11 tells us the cause for my body being dead, and it is the literal description of the way Marlowe “died” as stated in the Coroner's Report. He cowardly grabbed the dagger (knife) from its sheath at Ingram Frizer’s waist, and struck him from behind. Frizer then pulled his dagger from Marlowe’s hand and killed him with it. If the poet intended wretch to represent Time or Death, as Duncan-Jones has surmised, I suggest he would have written “the wretches knife” instead of “a wretches knife” because “the” implies universality while “a” implies particularity, a specific individual (Ingram Frizer). It is precisely the use of the word “knife” that gives us one of the keys supporting the new reading. If a wretches knife is to be read as “personified death” or “Time’s knife” the poet could have used the word “scythe” here, just as he does in Sonnet 60: Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth . . . And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow. This is especially true when one considers “scythe” has the same syllable count as knife and keeps to the same rhyme ending in line 11.

The Marlowe Studies suggests it is this very line that caused the poet to begin the sonnet using the future tense shall carry instead of the past tense “carried”, so as to escape a too obvious identification. Line 11 is so graphically in keeping with the Coroner’s Report on Marlowe’s “death” that some editors read it as Shakespeare alluding to Marlowe’s “murder at Deptford” even though the allusion to another poet’s disgraceful death is out of place in a theme which the editors say expresses the immortality of the poet’s verse contained in its lines.

12   Too base of thee to be remembered,

Traditional: The dead body is too base of the sonnet recipient to be remembered.

Marlovian: Paraphrasing lines 11 and 12 together gives us: The coward conquest of a wretches knife was too contemptible of you to be recalled. Line 12 echoes Sonnet 112's vulgar (base) scandal, and 34’s To let base clouds o'ertake me in my way. It tells us what we learned in Sonnet 34: Marlowe did not take part in the staging of his death. When he says Too base of thee it is the third time he has stated the sonnet recipient was responsible for the fictionalized scenario at Deptford. The editors take line 12 to be hyperbolic in the extreme: the poet’s life is too worthless to be remembered because when his body is dead it is no longer “of the spirit”. It is not the poet’s life, however, but the way in which Marlowe’s death was staged, clearly stated in the previous line, that was too base of the recipient to be remembered.

13   The worth of that, is that which it contains,
14 And that is this, and this with thee remains.

Traditional: The worth of the dead body is the poetry it contained.

Marlovian: Sonnet 74’s couplet tells us the worth of Walsingham’s risk saving the poet from torture and possible death has already been proven by Marlowe’s works. When the poet says The worth of that he is referring to the preceding quatrain’s fictional dead body for which Walsingham was responsible. The only worth in that faking of his death is in what the fictional dead body contains. The key here is the use of the present tense "contains" instead of the past tense "contained" (as the editors have interpreted it). Again, he could have used the past tense without changing the structure of the line. This present tense usage tells us that Marlowe’s body is not really dead, it still contains the poet’s talent. By the time this sonnet was written, Marlowe has produced many more plays and proven himself worthy of that risk. What remains is Marlowe’s literary compositions. This sonnet is one example of the remains.

Next: The questions never raised around Kyd's arrest:

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


On May 18, 1593, Christopher Marlowe was arrested while a guest at the Scadbury estate of his patron Thomas Walsingham. It has often been mentioned that the cause for his arrest was a statement made by Thomas Kyd, while beings stretched on the rack at Bridewell, that the heretical papers authorities had found in his room belonged to Marlowe. When we look at what Kyd actually said, taking into account that he was being tortured, the circumstances become dubious. What Kyd actually said was, “Amongst those waste and idle papers (which I cared not for and unasked I did deliver up) Shuffled with some of mine (unknown to me) by some occasion of our writing in one chamber two years since  . . .” This tells us that Kyd was not aware that he had these papers. How many writers find that their papers somehow get shuffled in with another writer’s papers? Not many, and fewer in the 16th century when it was not so easy to obtain copies of ones papers. The question is, were these papers slipped into Kyds “waste and idle papers” by someone elses hand? Planted by Baines?

The “heretical” Socinian treatise discovered among Kyd’s papers was, in reality, excerpts from a small book The Fall of the Late Arrian. In 1549 Archbishop Cranmer had the Unitarian John Assheton arrested and made to write a statement of his reasons for doubting the divinity of Christ. That same year John Proctour added his orthodox Trinitarian views to these statements and printed them under the title The Fall of the Late Arrian. This work was copied by various persons interested in theological speculations and circulated among England’s educated for years. There was even a copy of this book in the library of John Gresshop, headmaster at Kings’ School where Marlowe attended on his first scholarship. Possession of a copy had never before attracted the attention of the authorities, but this “evidence of atheism” was used at this time to go after Marlowe whose plays, in the eyes of Archbishop Whitgift and others of the conservative ecclesiastical court, were a threat the Church. In the sixteenth century “atheist” and “heretic” were labels put on all freethinkers who defied orthodox religious ideas: Galileo, Copernicus, Martin Luther, Michael Servetus, Giorgio Bruno, and Queen Elizabeth herself.

The man who caused Kyd’s arrest was most likely Richard Baines. We do not know what Marlowe’s relationship was to Baines, for all we know Baines was looked upon as a possible double agent by Burghley and Francis Walsingham due to what they considered to be a suspicious release at the Catholic University of Rheims. Baines, a Cambridge M.A. had defected to Rheims in 1578, and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1581, but in 1582 he was arrested as a traitor on the orders of Dr. William Allen, president of the College, and wasn’t released until two years later after making his confession for impiety and treachery. In this confession Baines stated he had toyed with poisoning the well at a time when others were being burnt at the stake by Catholic Rome for much less. Although he states in his recantation he hopes to work for England, there is no accounting of him between that time and 1592 in Flushing where he went after Marlowe the first time.

It has often been mentioned that Marlowe may have been lampooning Baines in The Jew of Malta when he had Barabas poison the nuns, and this may be Baines’ motive for stalking Marlowe in 1592-93. Marlowe is known, however, to have thoroughly researched all his material for his plays, and it is just as likely he came upon this information in the English Chronicles. Stories about Jews poisoning wells had been around for a long time, and English chroniclers such as John Stow often reported instances of this crime on the continent. John Stow describes a conspiracy between lepers, Saracens, and Jews in the year 1319 to poison wells and fountains. Edward Fenton’s 1569 translation of Pierre Boaistuau’s Certaine Secrete Wonders of Nature repeated this story, saying that the Jews “fully resolved amongst themselves to extirp at one instant the name of Christians, destroying them all by poson.” We cannot know whether Marlowe was targeting Baines, and neither can we know if Baines thought he was being targeted even if he was not. We do know that in the 16th century careers were made out of gathering libelous information.

After his arrest Marlowe was given bail and ordered to report daily to the Privy Council. Meanwhile, behind closed doors a case that would enable the Star Chamber Court to charge Marlowe with Atheism was being put together by the informant Richard Baines. Baines’ Note was delivered to the Privy Council on or about May 27th. Three days later on May 30th Marlowe “died”. As stated in the Coroner’s Inquest Report, the man who killed him was Thomas Walsingham’s own servant, Ingram Frizer. Thomas Walsingham was also closely associated with the two other men in the room while the “killing” took place. Although Marlowe was England’s pre-eminent dramatist at that time and not yet convicted of any charges, no one has ever found a gravestone with his name on it.

Marlowe could not have been in a better position to escape the torture and possible hanging he faced that May of 1593. His patron Thomas Walsingham was not only connected to powerful men in the government due to his close relationship with his second cousin Sir Francis Walsingham, under his tutelage Thomas had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of secret intelligence more thoroughly than any other man in England, and he was himself a man deeply involved in State espionage. As Calvin Hoffman has stated, “There is no doubt that Thomas Walsingham’s influence in high places, made secure in the days of his cousin’s {Sir Francis} power, outlived the latter’s death.”

Walsingham would not be the first man in history to save a man he valued in dramatic fashion, just as Christopher Marlowe would not be the first man to write his greatest works in exile. Let us not forget that when the Emperor wanted Martin Luther arrested and punished as a heretic, Frederick III had him kidnapped by his masked horsemen and secreted away to Wartburg Castle at Eisenach where Luther grew a beard and disguised himself as a knight named Junker Jörg. Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German during his stay at Wartburg, which he called "my Patmos", an allusion to the author of the Book of Revelation, who gave his name as “John” and wrote that Book while he was exiled on the Greek island of Patmos.

To see how Baines may have gone about writing his accusations against Marlowe from the models other professional informers used, see A.D. Wraight’s The Story That The Sonnets Tell, pages 262-272.


exile Sonnet 125’s couplet, where he says he is a true soul and the man who impeached his character was a paid informant:

Hence, thou suborned informer! a true soul

When most impeached stands least in thy control.


Suborned means “bought, paid to bear false witness”.  In the sixteenth century careers were made out of gathering libelous information. When making the observation Baines’ Note was a typical informer’s indictment used in character assassination, A.D. Wraight ssays, “not one of the obscene opinions accredited to Marlowe in Baines’ Note is original to Marlowe. Every single one of these specifically scurrilous anti-Christian statements has been lifted from some clerical authority. And not only were they available in print, but several of them were widely known and are even quoted in Elizabethan secular literature.”84

In late sixteenth century England two witnesses were needed to secure a judgment of heresy. Enter Baines with his Note of Atheistic charges against Marlowe, and Drury’s Remembrances which linked Marlowe with that other freethinker, Raleigh. The evidence shows that Richard Baines was working as a paid informant for the Ecclesiastical Court because Lord Buckhurst, the Commissioner for Ecclesiastical Causes, was the prime mover in securing Drury's release from prison in order that Drury should "do some servis”.88 In his book Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys Through the Elizabethan Underground, Roy Kendall says:

[Because] On November 8, unknown to Marlowe, Lord Buckhurst, privy councillor and commissioner for Ecclesiastical Causes, was writing to the new lord keeper of the Great Seal, Sir John Puckering, with regard to the release of the former government agent [spy] Thomas Drury from the Marshalsea Prison, in order that Drury might do the state "some servis.” Whatever Buckhurst had in mind at the time, what transpired was that Drury was asked to track down Richard Baines in order to oblige him to commit to paper his thoughts concerning Marlowe's "damnable Judgment of Religion, and scorn of Gods word”.85


More to the point, if Buckhurst knew that Baines knew the name of the Dutch Church libeler, why didn’t Buckhurst just ask Baines himself? It is in the realm of possibility Baines was working as a paid informant for Buckhurst and Puckering (who were working for Whitgift) and they were using Drury as the second witness for the setup to go after Marlowe.

Peter Farey has pointed out that Baines was connected with every stage of the “campaign” to get Marlowe.

1. He was the person who, allegedly, knew the author of the Dutch Church libel - the style, content and signature of which all implicated Christopher Marlowe.

2. He provided the reason for Kyd to be arrested and, thereby, for the 'vile hereticall conceipts', apparently from Marlowe, to be found, and Kyd's accusations about Marlowe to be recorded,

3. He was the author of the famous ‘Note’ directly accusing Marlowe of several appalling crimes,

4. This 'Note' provided a model for the letter accompanying the 'Remembrances' about Richard Cholmeley, in which Marlowe is accused of inciting others to atheism.86


Katherine Duncan-Jones expresses the general editorial consensus of 125’s couplet when she defines suborned informer as  “bribed false witness, hired spy” and impeached “challenged, accused of treason or other major crime”.87 After giving this definition that so aptly fits Marlowe’s case, she concludes the suborned informer is an abstract reference to Time, just as the editors (Duncan-Jones included) interpreted 74’s a wretches knife as an abstract reference to Time or Death.

After Richard Baines impeached Marlowe’s character, thus exposing him to a Star Chamber inquisition and torture which forced him into exile, he was set free to write under his pseudonym without the same fear of censorship. This gives a literal reading to 125’s couplet where the poet states he stands least in thy control, andsupports the new reading of 112’s line 9, where, throwing his cares into this grave, the poet is no longer under his censor’s control. Needless to say, there is a great deal of speculation around Baines’ motives. Should one read Sonnet 125 as referring to Baines, we learn he was paid informant, which, by default, means his accusations are of little weight.

Booth says that, although the informer’s sudden presence in the couplet can be explained, his suddenness feels unrelated to the argument of the first twelve lines88 The suborned informer’s sudden appearance in the couplet has mystified editors because it seems out of context to the rest of the sonnet, a non sequitur, just as was Thorpe’s original printing of 112’s y’are dead in the last line. Vendler reads the couplet as being part of an impersonal “aesthetic strategy” of 125, and applies a purely literary purpose to the couplet, saying, “Thematically, 125 expresses unequivocally its preference for the simple [English words over the Latin].” She goes on to give the Latin meaning for informare “To give a form to a legal charge against someone”, and the Latin meaning for impeach “fetter the feet of”, concluding that the couplet’s declaration is purely literary in meaning, “it is when the Latinate is being most Latinate that the English is least threatened”.89

When 125 is read in the Marlowe context, the couplet is no longer a non sequitur, it is a summarization of the preceding quatrains: the suborned informer’s impeachment of the poet has set him free from time-wasting public rituals to lay great bases for eternity through his writing without fear of censorship.

To test the validity of Sonnet 112’s lines 9, 10, and 11’s new reading it is necessary to explore the circumstances around the timing of Baines’ Note and Drury’s Remembrances. Baines’ first attack on Marlowe in Flushing coincided with the 1592 Catholic priest Robert Persons’ English publication Responsio ad Edictum Elizabethan out of which the mythic “School of Night” was born. In this satirical piece Persons wrote of “Sir Walter Rawley’s school of atheism” and  “the diligence used to get young gentlemen to this school, wherein both Moses and our Saviour, the Old and the New Testament, are jested at, and the scholars taught among other things to spell God backward.”90 Charles Nicholl writes of the similarities between this Catholic propaganda work and the contents of Baines’ Note and Drury’s Remembrances, which were being written the heels of its publication.91

Many of the charges Baines and Drury made against Marlowe not only echo each other, they echo Persons’ article and elaborate on Persons’ accusation against Raleigh’s “school of atheism”, a school that, for lack of evidence as having existed, seems to have lived only in the Catholic Persons’ mind. Both Baines’ and Drury’s accusations seem to have the intent of legitimizing what began with Persons’ Catholic propaganda several months previously. It was Persons who wrote that Raleigh wanted to create an “atheist commonwealth” in which atheism would become the ‘law of the land’.92 The purpose of his article seems to have been to drive a wedge further between the already strained Whitgift and Burghley factions on the Privy Council, and to fracture England’s aristocracy.

  This historical context coincides with the theory Whitgift used the two informers Baines and Drury to go after the freethinkers, and through torture was going to knock them down like dominoes: torture Kyd to get Marlowe, torture Marlowe to get Raleigh and others of his “circle” that had been stigmatized atheists because of their interest in science and their questioning of certain facts in the Christian Bible, such as the time of man’s creation. Austin Gray has observed that, “the charges [Baines’ Note, Drury’s Remembrances] implicitly connected Sir Walter Ralegh and the Earl of Northumberland with the heresy. Thus, it seems probable that the investigation was meant primarily to be a warning to the politicians in the "School of Night," and/or that it was connected with a power struggle within the Privy Council itself.”93 In 1594, not long after Sonnet 112 was written according to this thesis, Whitgift did, indeed, investigate Raleigh and his friends at Cerne Abbas.94



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