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,
'Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed,
When not to be receives reproach of being;
A Murdered Reputation
A.D. Wraight, from The Story That The Sonnets Tell
‘Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be’ wrote the Poet in Sonnet 140. The Sonnets once again corroborate that they are the confessional and autobiographical poems of Christopher Marlowe as the hidden pseudonymous author, for they assert most passionately and unequivocally that some terrible scandal afflicted the Poet’s name, which (being officially ‘dead’) he was powerless to refute. Nor could his Patron speak against these slanders, for he also had to lie low for his own safety. The scandal, of course, was Atheism, rated a fatal heresy.
Your love and pity doth th’impression fill,
Which vulgar scandal stamped upon my brow,
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you ore-greene my bad, my good allow?
You are my All the world, and I must strive,
To know my shames and praises from your tongue,
None else to me, nor I to none alive,
That my steeled sense or changes right or wrong,
In so profound Abysm I throw all care
Of others’ voices, that my Adders sense,
To critic and to flatt’rer stopped are:
Mark how with my neglect I do dispense.
You are so strongly in my purpose bred,
That all the world besides me thinkes y’are dead.
The last line follows Thorpe’s edition, which is somewhat obscure, and I suggest it may have been purposely altered for this 1609 publication to leave a hint, but not declare definitely that the Poet is thought to be dead by the world. The line has been too freely altered from Thorpe’s version by some modern editors to make it really nonsensical as in ‘That all the world besides, methinks, they’re dead’.
[See Cynthia Morgan's essay The Profound Abysm of Sonnet 112 which explores this Sonnet's meaning and the editors' changes to the last line.]
That the poet feels that he has been horribly maligned and misjudged is clear from Sonnet 121, one of the bitterest outpourings in this entire sequence.
'Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed,
When not to be receives reproach of being;
And the just pleasure lost, which is so deemed
Not by our feeling, but by others' seeing:
For why should others' false adulterate eyes
Give salutation to my sportive blood?
Or on my frailties why are frailer spies,
Which in their wills count bad what I think good?
No, I am that I am, and they that level
At my abuses reckon up their own:
I may be straight though they themselves be bevel;
By their rank thoughts, my deeds must not be shown;
Unless this general evil they maintain,All men are bad and in their badness reign.
Had Marlowe perhaps inherited something of that ‘sportive blood’ from the gregarious, lively busy-body shoemaker of Canterbury, who was his father? That he may sometimes have indulged in witticisms and what religious zealots might take for irreverent jesting would be in character, though it had serious purpose behind it. Marlowe’s proselytizing, like Bruno’s, was directed toward broadening men’s minds and preaching religious tolerance by his oblique methods. In saying provocative things in defense of the arch-enemy Roman Catholicism, he was showing that e3very religion has its commendable aspects – the Catholics in their more splendid ritual, ‘as Elevation of the mass, organs, singing men, Shaven Crownes & cta. That all protestants are Hypocriticall asses.’ Similarly, his jest that the prodigal son ‘held his purse to neere the bottom in all picture’ that it could only have contained four nobles, which was ‘either a jest or els fowr nobles then was thought a great patrimony’. (This last is reported by Kyd in his second letter to be typical of Marlowe’s table talk.)
This reportage, together with the citation of error in the chronology of Adam in the Bible, which being written by men was not an infallible book, are examples that are doubtless genuine, and their object can be seen to sow the seeds of healthy skepticism which militates against the over-zealous self-righteousness and bigotry that feed the intolerance underlying all inter-religious conflicts. But not one of these is either blasphemous against Christ or God, nor obscene or scurrilous. They criticize men, not the deity, and they smack of Marlowe’s noted with. That he was possibly a bit of a show-off in company, and that he had talked at times too rashly to people outside their esoteric circle about his unorthodox views is confirmed in his confessional sonnets.
O! for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me, then, and wish I were renewed;
Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink
Potions of eisell 'gainst my strong infection;
No bitterness that I will bitter think,
Nor double penance, to correct correction.
Pity me then, dear friend, and I assure ye,
Even that your pity is enough to cure me.
Thus even here, in the troubled question of his unorthodox religious beliefs, we receive confirmation that this is Marlowe, for the cap fits. Seemingly he had turned for a time, at any rate, from the orthodox dogma of the church under whose aegis he had grown up and received his education, to espouse, or to lean towards the Arrian Heresy, of which Raleigh was also suspected, and which Bruno held for much of his life.
He has confessed it frankly –
Most true it is, that I have look’d on truth
Askance and strangely:
This is his recollection in exile of his conversion to a form of Unitarianism under the enchantment of the teachings of Giordano Bruno and the Renaissance scientific questioning that underlies the humanist philosophy. Bruno was at heart a monotheist or Unitarian as opposed to a Trinitarian. The Modern Unitarian church is a Christian denomination that rejects the doctrine of the Trinity and emphasizes freedom and tolerance in religious belief. Bruno held somewhat similar views.
The Informer’s Libel
Baines’ Note has a curious history that has never yet been investigate thoroughly. A second copy was made be a scribe’s hand from Baines’ autograph Note., and this fair copy was destined to be presented to the Queen as indicated by the inscription on the back” ‘Copye of Marloes blashpehmyes As sent to her H.’ this is the copy that had the original heading deleted, which read simply,
‘A note contayninge the opinion of one Christopher Marlye concernynge his damnable opinion and Iudgment of Religioun and scorne of Gods worde’.
This has been scored through and replaced with the puzzling misdating of the death at Deptford already referred to in Chapter 10. Scholars have passed this off as a scribe’s error, but it is not the only deletion. This copy of the Note has been substantially altered with several important deletions, which would certainly not have been done by a scribe. These are as follows.
Firstly, Baines’ allegation of homosexuality, which is the thirteenth item or ‘That’ clause in the list, is firmly scored through. Secondly, the fifteenth item, which refers to Marlowe’s alleged claim to the right to coin money is scored through; and finally the entire last paragraph in which Baines recommends that ‘the mouth of so dangerous a member be stopped’ with the promise that ‘great men’ will ‘in convenient time’ be named, is deleted. No one has ever queried these deletions to wonder, Who might have made them? And why? In the light of this thesis they take on a special significance.
1. Title damnable opinion and Iudgment of Religioun and scorne of Gods worde’ scored through and replaced with date of death.
1. Date of death altered.
2. Baines’ allegation of homosexuality is firmly scored through.
3. Marlowe’s claim to have a right to coin money is scored through.
4. The last paragraph stating Marlowe is a dangerous member of society and soon other great men are going to be named has been deleted.
Clearly these deletions were made by an authoritative hand, for only someone in high office would have tampered with the copy of he Note to be delivered to the Queen. I believe that authoritative hand was Lord Burghley’s. this official fair copy would have been made for him to deliver to the Queen. To begin with the last item, Burghley would have known that it would certainly not have been Her Majesty’s pleasure to have the ‘great men’ of her court arraigned and investigated. The threat points to Raleigh and Northumberland and Lord Strange and possibly others whom Marlowe’s confessions’ might expose were he to be tortured and brought to trial. Elizabeth would not have countenanced it, so out went Baines’ summary (of which he was doubtless very proud!) with firm scratches of the quill.
Burghley, who certainly knew all about Baines and the nature of the man, would have recognized the informer’s slur in the charge of homosexuality, and felt that he was overstepping his brief again which was typical of Baines’ whole career in espionage and government secret police work. He seems to have been employed in the latter after his disastrous espionage activities at Rheims in 1583, when he concocted the ludicrous plot to kill off the entire inhabitants of the Catholic seminary by poisoning the well, for which he was apprehended and imprisoned, first in the town gaol and then held privately in the Seminary, when he wrote his self-revealing confession. There is no evidence to indicate how the matter ended, or how he regained his freedom. It is remarkable that Baines escaped worse punishment than imprisonment, and why he is found back in England, apparently employed once again in government service on policing duties for the court of the Star Chamber, remains a mystery. Had he craftily sold his promise to Cardinal Allen at Rheims that , if released, he would act in some useful capacity to bring such skilful, trusted espionage agents as Marlowe to their downfall? Acting as a double agent deviously undermining the smooth working of the English espionage network? This seems the only logical explanation for his remarkable escape from Rheims, which left Dr Boas puzzled when researched this extraordinary Rheims incident. Such a crafty ploy precisely fits Baines’ devious mind. It represent a cunning variant of the role of double agent, betraying his victims not to the Catholics but to their own side, with lies and insinuations to tar them with suspicion and mistrust. For this is exactly what we find Baines doing in his malicious pursuit of Marlowe, the first evidence of which is in connection with illicit coining.
In January 1592 Marlowe and Baines were in Flushing together and actually sharing a room in a lodging-house. It was doubtless a case of necessity makes strange bed-fellows! What Baines was doing there is not clear, but it seems that Marlowe was on an assignment for Lord Burghley to discover the source(s) of illicit coining from which the renegade English Catholic armed force at Nijmegen under the command of the traitor, Sir William Stanley, were getting their supplies of illicit money. At Flushing Marlowe made contact with an expert goldsmith, who demonstrated to him how coins could be cast, using for his sample the base metal pewter, so that the resulting Dutch shilling was of no value. Baines, as his room-mate, got wind of this – perhaps he dogged Marlowe, spying on him – and he forthwith reported Marlowe’s dealings with the goldsmith, one Gifford Gilbert (a strange inversion of the name of the double agent at Rheims, but apparently there is no connection) to the governor of Flushing, Sir Robert Sidney. Sidney had the two arrested and they were sent, together with Baines, under escort back to England to be delivered to Lord Burghley. On his arrest Marlowe and Baines made mutual counter accusations about coining and defecting to the Catholic enemy, and it is clear that no love was lost between them. In this mood they arrived on Burghley’s mat to answer for their conduct.
Burghley sorted out the matter of the charge of coining and other accusations, though we can only guess how, for no records survive. It was probably too secret. Illicit coining was a serious crime punishable by death – by boiling in oil! But all we know is that no punitive consequences transpired from this affair. This points to the conclusion that Burghley knew all about Marlowe’s alleged coining escapade at Flushing. As Lord Treasurer he was closely concerned in matters of illegal coining and had sent his agent to investigate what appeared to be a serious coining operation in the Netherlands, fuelling a Catholic military threat. That interfering busy-body Baines thought he had caught Marlowe red-handed, but he had only succeeded in putting his foot in it, upsetting Burghley’s well laid plans and doubtless upsetting his temper too. However, it would not have been prudent to disclose to such a man as Baines what Marlowe’s connection with himself in the matter was. The wily elder statesman knew how to play his cards close to his chest, and Baines was left to continue in his official capacity probably none the wiser. It was, after all, only a pewter Dutch shilling. That is how I see the logic of this episode.
Baines ought to have drawn some conclusions from this affair, but here he was once more determined to fasten a coining charge on Marlowe. The item in the Note reads”
‘That he had as good Right to Coine as the Queen of England, and that he was acquainted with one Pole a prisoner in newgate who hath great Skill in mixture of metals and hauing learned some thinges of him he ment through help of a Cunninge stamp maker to Coin ffrench Crownes pistolets and English shillings.’
This sounds like a rendition of what Baines was accusing Marlowe of in Flushing, which he is determined to revive now to his advantage. One detects the annoyance with which the corrector scratched out the offending words. Marlowe’s encounter with ‘one Poole’, identified by Eccles as John Poole, was put to good use during his brief sojourn in Newgate at the time of the Watson-Bradley duel. John Poole, besides having skill in metals and coining was acquainted with a Catholic priest from Rheims, so Marlowe would have a professional interest in cultivating his acquaintance. This he would also doubtless have reported to Lord Burghley at the time, so Baines’ Note would have imparted no news but would have ruffled the old mans temper.
The case for identifying the correcting hand in the Note with Lord Burghley is a strong one on several counts. Although Marlowe worked in espionage directly under Sir Francis Walsingham during his lifetime, he was also Burghley’s man. Elizabeth’s two chief ministers worked in harness, but not always in harmony, as is evidenced by a rift over the Armada tactics. It seems Marlowe was sent to monitor the phony peace negotiations that Burghley and the Queen supported in the face of ardent opposition by the ‘war part’, headed by Lord Admiral Howard and Drake and Sir Francis Walsingham as well. Their argument was all for pre-empting the Spanish threat by attacking Spain first in her own waters – a full-scale follow-up of Drake’s singeing of the King of Spain’s beard at Cadiz. But the cautious Burghley and the Queen were playing for time, and, dismissing strong and popular criticism, pressed ahead with sending a top-ranking peace commission headed by the old Earl of Derby to negotiate ‘peace’ terms with the Duke of Parma at Bruges, proposed of course by Spain where King Philip was arming his Armada furiously. Queen Elizabeth was not so blind that she did not realize what was going on, but this was a game she thoroughly understood and she played the prelude to the Armada her way, with her elder statesman’s full support. Tucker Brooke first suggested that Marlowe had been sent by Burghley with the peace commission to report back to him. That this is what actually happened is evident in the Armada report he wrote for Lord Admiral Howard to be presented to Sir Francis Walsingham, in which he devotes the first two pages to a lengthy account justifying Queen Elizabeth’s conduct of the peace negotiations despite King Philip’s obvious double-faced policy in proposing them. This would not have been according to Lord Howard’s instruction to his report writer. He would probably have fumed upon first reading it! But Marlowe would have known hoe to pacify him with cogent arguments to persuade him how graciously the Queen would view this report, and had they not won the war after all? It gives us invaluable insight into the trust and the political clout that such a high-placed intelligence agent
That Lord Burghley valued Marlowe’s service highly cannot be doubted. We have also to put into the picture the commission of the Sonnets for the young Earl of Southampton three years earlier. This, gain, indicates that Marlowe and Burghley enjoyed a rather close relationship. I have no doubt that it was Burghley who was mainly responsible for granting Marlowe bail upon his arrest under the warrant of the Star Chamber, when he was by good luck brought to the court at Nonesuch because it happened to be a Sunday. Burghley would, I believe, have been very worried at this turn of events threatening Marlowe. Sir Francis Walsingham had held certain advanced opinions, in particular reflected in his keen interest in world exploration. One would not label this extremely busy man a free-thinker, but his family were certainly touched with free thought, both in his son-in-law Sir Philip Sidney and in Thomas Walsingham. Significantly, Burghley was the life friend of Sir Nicholas Bacon, who died in 1579, the father of Francis and Anthony Bacon, and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. As they sequel to this book reveals, he was the founder of Freemasonry. It was the Freemasons who sheltered Marlowe and provided the total protection that enabled him eventually to return from his exile. Sir Nicholas Bacon, a great free-thinker, was also Burghley’s brother-in-law. Their closeness suggests Burghley would have had sympathy for Marlowe in his dire trouble.
Thomas Walsingham had been almost a son to Sir Francis, and would have been intimately known to Lord Burghley. Burghley had a good acquaintance of Dame Elinor Bull, to whom he was probably related, for both named Blanche Parry ‘cousine’. Burghley’s affectionate, life-long relationship with Queen Elizabeth is not in doubt. These two enjoyed mutual trust. William Danby, Coroner of the Queen’s Household, is named ‘well beloved’ by her. We can discern a chain of association deep inside the Court of people who could have combined to form a protective circle to save the brilliant, young poet-dramatist who had so loyally served the Queen and Lord Burghley. This close-knit human chain linked Thomas Walsingham –the Queen – William Danby – lord Burghley – Dame Elinor Bull. This is conjecture, but, given the circumstances, the people and the place and time, it is both logical and possible.
There were of course many in high positions at Court who viewed the free-thinkers with the utmost suspicion. Burghley, if he were a party to Marlowe’s escape, would have played a lone hand. It was a matter of the utmost secrecy. Baines’ Note would have impressed his masters – powerful, reactionary, bigoted men who had instigated this persecution. For them he penned his item attributing the remark to Marlowe –
‘That all they that love not Tobacco & Boies were fooles.’
This was calculated to make their lordships sit up with a jolt what have we here? Not only an Atheist, but one who commends sodomy! Which is exactly what Baines intended. The only real ‘fool’ in the case, if he had ever commended such a thing, would be Marlowe himself, for sodomy was punishable by death under Tudor law enacted in Henry VIII’s reign. Immediately preceding this item Baines has placed the alleged remark attributed to Marlowe –
‘That St John the Euangelist was bedfellow to C[hrist] and leaned always in his bosome, that he vsed him as the sinners of Sodoma.’
The charge made here is of scandalous criticism of Christ in the context of a series of shockingly obscene and blasphemous statements defaming him, concluding with this – all of which are specifically and maliciously anti-Christian. The alleged commendation of a homosexual relationship with boys, however, is a sudden volte-face, allying himself with Christ upon whom he had heaped odium; a contradiction in attitude. This had escaped the notice of this cunning informer! I suggest that Baines was determined to slip in the accusation of sodomy, the most damning charge he could bring, and he cleverly tacked it onto the remark about tobacco, which was fashionably used by Raleigh and Hariot, who was addicted to his pipe; thus lending it a spurious authenticity, which has misled the modern scholars to [who] credit this item.
Marlowe’s earlier biographers and critics, J.H. Ingram, C.F, Tucker Brooke, and John Bakeless did not allow themselves to be convinced by Baines’ accusation. It is his later critics who have turned so incredibly credulous, spuriously arguing his homosexuality from Edward the Second as supposedly supportive evidence for the thirteenth item in Baines Note. The question of Marlowe’s sexuality needs no further comment. The evidence of his writings reviewed reveals what his attitude to sodomy really was. It contrasts starkly with Baines’ accusation.,
So far as Baines was concerned, his brief was to nail this important ‘Atheist’, against whom he appears to have had a personal vendetta, and there was no surer way of doing this than to charge Marlowe with sodomy. It was the favourite weapon of the informer reserved for the most desired victim. Sexual depravity of every sort, from adultery, incest, fornication with devils, to sodomy and even buggery with animals, were the charges used with venomous success against important religious figures seen as dangerous rivals by the prosecuting churchmen. Such indictments of sexual depravity are among the oldest and most powerful weapons in the informer’s arsenal.
The 1590’s were very different from the 1580’s when England basked in a liberal period of Elizabeth’s benign reign, with the free-thinking Philip Sidney and Raleigh riding high in favour with the Queen. Suddenly the climate changed as a fierce fin de siecle gathering of the forces of reaction swept through Western Christendom eventually to spend itself in the fury of the Thirty Years War. With this the scientific age was born.
To enable us to arrive at a realistic assessment of what the Baines Note portends regarding the significance of the obscene allegations it offers, it is essential to be fully aware of this historical context in which the tragedy of Marlowe was played out. It has been given too scant consideration by his critics and biographers, especially in its wider implications, but it is central to our understanding of what happened. Throughout Europe reaction against the free-thinkers was on the move in the last decade of the sixteenth century and even in Elizabeth’s England the clouds were gathering ominously.
To fill out this picture a digression concerning the power and function of the Court of Star Chamber, the English equivalent of the Inquisition, is in order.
THE COURT OF STAR CHAMBER was created by the Tudors by an Act of 1487, 3 Henry VII, to provide a strong arm of the law deriving its power and authority directly from the king and the Privy Council. It operate independently of the English common law courts to which it stood in the relation of a higher judiciary, despite the fact that it did not impose the death sentence. Nevertheless its judgments were regarded to be of ‘greater terror and amazement to offenders’, for they included brutal and inhuman punishments from whipping and branding, cutting off of ears, amputation of hands when the stumps were cauterized by plunging into hot pitch, to severe and often exorbitant fines. Nor did those charged by the Star Chamber necessarily escape the death penalty eventually, as in the case of the Earl of Essex who received ‘the overture of his ruin’ from the Court of Star Chamber, and was finally, executed. This court alone was empowered to use torture.
This powerful higher court was, in fact, the judicial arm of the Privy Council, who served as its members, and it was from its inception presided over by the Lord Chancellor and the Archbishop or his bishop, aided by the Lord Treasurer, the Keeper of the Privy Seal, temporal lords and chief justices, who finally numbered about thirty judges during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The Court of Star Chamber was greatly augmented under Cardinal Woolsey, Archbishop of York, when he was also Lord Chancellor heading this court, who elevated it to its position as the supreme court of the land with powers as wide as its constitution was vague. Although particularly concerned with jurisdiction in cases of riot and unlawful assembly, libel and slander, forgery, perjury fraud, dueling, and disputes between English and foreign merchants, and testamentary cases, in practice its jurisdiction was unlimited. All offences, including treason, murder, and heresy, could be examined and punished at the discretion of the sovereign and the Privy Council under the Star Chamber Court.
Its most important difference was that the procedure of the Star Chamber was not according to the common law of England, and therein lay the terror in which its name was held. It operated without any jury, being its own prosecutor and judge, and the accused were allowed no benefit of legal counsel; it could proceed on rumor alone without prior evidence; it was empowered to apply torture, and confessions so extracted were regarded legal; it proceeded from the assumption that any person arrested, for whatever reason, might be examined for other alleged misdemeanors by a method called ‘scraping the conscience’. Witnesses were heard in secret, and if any evidence was given by a witness who later recanted, the evidence given (probably under duress) nevertheless carried the full weight irrespective of an subsequent retraction.
No wonder that this ‘great and high Court of Star Chamber’ was seen as ‘but an usurpation of monarchy upon the common law of England, and in the prejudice of the liberties granted to the subject by the Great Charter’. It was one of the more despotic legacies bequ3ethed to the nation by the vigorous Tudor dynasty of Henry VII and his son Henry VIII.
In the 1590’s Elizabeth’s then Archbishop of Canterbury. John Whitgift, a man of very different caliber from the benign, tolerant Matthew Parker, was intent on using the power of the Star Chamber to stifle the beginnings of English scientific and metaphysical inquiry, which he saw as dangerous to the stability of state and church, the breeding ground of heresies which must be stamped out ruthlessly. Doubtless he recalled how
‘the grave archbishops and bishops, finding the heresy of the Erastites to creep into this kingdom held it the surest way for suppression to bring it to this bar, [i.e. the Star Chamber] where the bishop of Winchester’s confutation, London’s sharpest reprehension, the archbishop’s wholesome discipline, together with the grave judicial medicines, stopped the current of those flowing streams which would have been like to have brought an inundation upon Christ’s church and people.’
Perhaps he even quoted this precedent at the meeting of the Privy Council when the warrant for Marlowe’s arrest was dispatched, proposing it was high time that their lordships too the matter seriously and decided to apply such ‘grave judicial medicines’ to these free-thinkers that were spreading their ideas in the realm.
In the heightened atmosphere of the witch-hunt of this period a particularly unpleasant individual came into his own province of power at the cruel persecutor of the Roman Catholics, the notorious Richard Topcliffe, whose name appears in the special commission against the Jesuits issued by the Privy Council on 26th March 1593. We note this date. Because the frequent use of the rack in the Tower was noticed and aroused indignant comment, being held odious by the population, Topcliffe was granted authority to torture priests in his own house. He boasted that he had a rack made to his own design ‘compared with which the common racks in use were child’s play’. His diabolical treatment of the saintly Jesuit priest, Robert Southwell, would be incredible if it were not confirmed in Topcliffe’s own handwriting. Southwell was arrested in 1592 and eventually executed in 1595. His writings in poetry and prose on sacred themes were illicitly published and widely read. Gabriel Harvey praised them as ‘elegant and pathetical’, and Ben Jonson was among his most ardent admirers.
This was the atmosphere of the 1590’s in which Marlowe was hunted. Topcliffe has been described as ‘a monster of iniquity’. Baines was in the same profession, and both men obtained confessions under torture to gain the ‘evidence’ they needed. Such men are not disposed to be nice about whether it represented the truth or not, and Kocher’s view, that Baines was far too decent a chap to have insinuated matter into Marlowe’s indictment unless he really had said these things, is naïve.
In the Star Chamber Archbishop Whitgift would have precedence over Lord Burghley. It is difficult, if not impossible, to draw a clear distinction between the overlapping duties of the Privy Council and the Star Chamber Court. The Privy Councillors wearing their Star Chamber ‘hats’ did not all sit at the same session, but probably took turns in these duties. The Star Chamber Court was located in the outer quadrangle of the Palace of Westminster, and was doubtless so-named because ‘all the roof thereof was decked with images and stares gilded’. Its sessions were from nine o’clock until eleven every morning during the law terms on Wednesdays and Fridays’ and the officers permanently in charge there were the clerk, three attorneys and an examiner. It employed its own pursuivants or messengers, who were sergeants-at-arms, to deliver warrants and apprehend malefactors.
Henry Maunder, who was sent to arrest Marlowe, is designated ‘one of the messengers of her Majesty’s Chamber’ on the warrant dated 18th May, which was a Friday during the law term when the Star Chamber would have been in session, so that he would be one of their sergeants-at-arms. As Marlowe did not answer the summons until 20th May, which was a Sunday, he probably rode the fifteen miles from Chislehurst to the Queen’s Court, then at Nonesuch, where the Privy Council would also be present to attend on the Queen’s person. The record of Marlowe’s appearance before their lordships is accordingly found in the Acts of the Privy Council”
‘This day Christofer Marley of London gentleman, being sent for by warrant from their Lordships, hath entered his appearance accordingly for his Indemnity therein, and is commaunded to give his daily attendaunce on their Lordships until he shal be licensed to the contrary.’
The absence of any threat in the wording of this entry does not indicate, as Bakeless assumed, that there was no intention to proceed against him. It rather indicates that Marlowe was well known to their lordships, who allowed him his freedom while investigating the charge against him. Those who saw him when he was delivered under arrest are not likely to have been the full Privy Council, for it was a Sunday. It may have been only Lord Burghley himself with one or two others present at Court. The Privy Council record does not name the member or members who presided.
Thomas Walsingham and Marlowe were familiar with the methods employed and they could have been under no illusion that his bail meant that he was safe. There would have been days of fearful apprehensive waiting during which their desperate plans were laid. When Baines’ Note was finally completed its delivery was somehow delayed or intercepted, as is evident from the curious alteration of the dates on the official copy, which were almost certainly not made by the same hand that made the deletions of the items already discussed, for the purpose behind the deletions in the text and the alteration of the dates is quite different. This interceptor, as I shall call him, was most probably Thomas Walsingham or someone who was acting for him. He would have noted the virulence of the contents so that whatever escape plans had been formulated had to be urgently expedited, for there would have been only one outcome from such an indictment.
Baines had done his devilish work well.
God’s Holy Fool
Marlowe was peculiarly vulnerable through his characteristic independence of mind; his brilliance, which evoked envy and spiked Greene’s attack on him in print, and exposed him in the distorted and lurid light that superstition finds most congenial; his privileged association with the Court circle that held its meetings in secret behind closed doors, which engendered suspicions; and his rash proselytizing, by which he foolhardily spoke his mind to some who were not ready to receive his message of religious tolerance.
Through the characters in his plays he had the temerity to express controversial ideas that nevertheless passed the censor because they are spoken ‘in character’ by the personages in his plays, and not as emanating from the dramatist. Thus, speaking in the character of Machiavel in his prologue to The Jew of Malta he declared for all the world to note in an admixture part Marlowe, part Machiavel;
I count religion but a childish to toy,
And hold there is no sin but ignorance.
This bold statement was certainly intended to make his audiences take note and think. Marlowe is expressing criticism of the contemporary malpractice of religion at its most hypocritical in this tragedy masquerading as ‘black comedy’, a witty, diverting, sharply satirical commentary on sectarian and racist intolerance and religious hypocrisy cleverly presented in a fast-moving dramatic entertainment which finally draws the moral that dishonesty does not pay.
Marlowe was not, I believe, attacking the worship of God as divine creator of the universe, for this was not compatible with his philosophy or his nature. He was a profoundly moral human being whose sparkling with complemented a deeply serious and searching attitude of mind and soul questing for moral justification. His early plays before 1593, though immensely popular, are not superficial entertainment but speak to their audiences at many levels. All address problems reflecting human behavior with an underlying theme of moral integrity. This is the characteristic of the entire Shakespearean canon, which has established these plays as the greatest ever written and gives them their universal and eternal appeal. They will never be outdated. Marlowe’s message that bigotry and sectarian hatred are rooted in ignorance is as relevant today as it was in his own day.
Throughout history there have been those who have felt the heavy obligation to speak out and tell the truth as they perceived it – and take the consequences. Such people have been called ‘God’s holy fools’. The prophets told the unpalatable truth about injustices and moral wrongs they saw around them, and were prepared to suffer for it. The disciples of Jesus were all cast in this mould and suffered as witnesses to his divine truth, and after them comes an endless procession of saints and martyrs, many of them obscure and unsung, who dared to speak out and were silenced. The supreme example is Jesus himself, who spoke the message he was born to deliver knowing he would have to pay the ultimate price.
This immensely brave, foolhardy and scary profession is of an ancient human tradition. Giordano Bruno followed it in his own fashion and paid the price, which Marlowe escaped. We should not lightly forget that his genius was nurtured in the Anglican church to which his education had initially dedicated him,, and if he did not preach from a pulpit it was nevertheless a kind of preaching in which he indulged. He turned reproving eyes on the established church to make courageous criticism exposing contemporary religious malpractice.
Harry Levin has summed up this remarkable poet-dramatist’s special contribution as a reforming influence in his time with true insight:
‘The doubts and aspirations that Marlow3e voiced, the aesthetic impulses and scientific curiosities, may be less typical of their time and place than has commonly been supposed; but to that extent he is the more original, and plays an even more strategic role than had been previously recognized. His combination of sensuous perception and speculative intelligence is not to be valued less because it is rare. Civilization is shaped and changed by genius and not by mediocrity.’
Marlowe was not only a dramatic-poet of genius, he was one of those deeply thoughtful people who, seeing the world to be a badly managed place, have felt impelled to declare that there must be a better way of running the human show. Such people are pioneers who either become successful leaders, or are crushed. They inevitably make enemies. In this, too, Marlowe was treading his path of destiny.
We have not yet finished with Marlowe’s enemies, for Kyd’s evidence must now also be examined in order to answer the charges brought and to test their truth; for Kyd’s two extant letters have been credited word for word by Marlowe’s modern critics, with few exceptions, as presenting a true picture of him by his erstwhile ‘friend’, Thomas Kyd, although it is clear he had no love for Marlowe and had an obvious reason for maligning him.
Thomas Kyd, the dramatist who wrote The Spanish Tragedy, a revenge play in blank verse that rivaled Tamburlaine the Great in popularity for many years, was by profession a noverint, or copier of manuscripts, for which a stylish Italic hand was used. Dr Tucker Brooke has compare the Italic hand in which the copy of the Arrian heresy found amongh Kyd’s papers is written, with the Italic hand Kyd uses for the Latin quotations with which he embellished his first Letter to Sir John Puckering, and he claims that these could be an identical autograph.
This is a feasible hypothesis. Marlowe, being perhaps very busy, and having doubtless ready cash from his government work was possibly doing his less affluent friend, the noverint, a small favour by employing him to copy this paper for him, having maybe borrowed it from Northumberland’s library where a copy existed, and intending to use the treatise as the reference for his lecture to the members of Raleigh’s coterie on the dogma of the Trinity, which we know interested them. This would explain why this paper allegedly belonging to Marlowe was living among Kyd’s own, for its presence seems otherwise hard to explain, though human carelessness is always a factor,, and this Kyd used as his explanation to his interrogators.
Kyd’s two Letters to Dir John Puckering were written after his release from prison when, doubtless still bearing the injuries of his racking, the pathetic man sought to return to the service of his lord (the reactionary Earl of Sussex, not Lord Strange as some believe) and found the door shut because the taint of ‘Atheism’ still clung to him. It was to ‘shake the viper off my hand into the fire’ that Kyd wrote to Puckering, pleading for a good word to be put in for him with his lord to exonerate him from the fatal charge and clear his name.
Upon his release from prison Kyd’s burning interest must have been to find out what had happened to Marlowe, on who behalf he had suffered so unjustly. One can imagine his chagrin on learning that Marlowe, unlike himself, had been neither imprisoned nor racked, but was allowed his freedom on his recognizance. Such favoured treatment for the man who was guilty and for whom Kyd had borne the ordeal of torture! Naturally, he would have made every effort to discover the details of Marlowe’s death. He would learn that Marlowe had a quarrel with Ingram Frizer, had lost his temper and attacked him from behind (oh, reprehensible!) and Frizer had then in his own defense stabbed him, for which they jury had acquitted him of murder.
These facts, of which Lord Puckering would have been aware, Kyd makes full use of in his first Letter, presenting Marlowe as ‘intemperate & of a cruel heart’, aiming to gain sympathy for himself as the innocent victim of so ‘malicious’ an Atheist. He writes, interspersing his Letter with Latin tags (here translated into English in the Italicized passages) which are chosen to emphasize his case:
‘That I should love or be familiar friend with one so irreligious, were very rare, when Tully saith, Those are worthy of friendship in whom there resides a cause why they should be esteemed, which neither was in him, for person, qualities, or honesty, besides he was intemperate & of a crule heart, the very contraries to which my greatest enemies will say of me.’
He adds piously,
‘It is not to be numbered amongst the best conditions of men, to tax or to upbraid the dead Because the dead do not bite, But thus much had I (with your Lordship’s favour) dared in the greatest cause, which is to clear myself of being thought an Atheist, which some will swear he was’.
Kyd names Hariot, the mathematical genius, and his friend Warner as those with whom Marlowe was most frequently seen in company (they at least thought his friendship well worth cultivating) and he hints that they may be of Marlowe’s heretical opinion – he himself will neither accuse nor excuse them – but if Lord Puckering should wish to interrogate them he would learn that he, Kyd, is not ‘of that vile opinion’.
At the end of his wordy Letter he complains that some had suspected him of being the cause of ‘the former shipwreck’ – meaning that he was believed to have implicated Marlowe by his confessions on the rack. He also offers to turn informer.
‘I shall beseech in all humility & in the fear of God that it will please your Lordship but to censure me as I shall prove myself, and to repute them as they are indeed Since of all injustice none is more pernicious than that of those who, when they most deeply deceive, do it in such manner that they shall seem good men. For doubtless even then your Lordship shall be sure to break open their lewd designs and see into the truth, when but their lives that herein have accused me shall be examined & ripped up effectually, so may I chance with Paul to live & shake the viper off my hand into the fire for which the ignorant suspect me guilty of the former shipwreck. And thus (for now I fear me I grow tedious) assuring your good Lordship that if I knew any whom I could justly accuse of that damnable offence to the awful Majesty of God or of that mutinous sedition toward the state I would as willingly reveal them as I would request your Lordship better thoughts of me that never have offended you.’
Kyd’s heart is chock full of bitterness, this much is clear, and he sees Marlowe and his friends as his enemies whom he is ready to inform against. The whole tenor and purpose of his first Letter is to distance himself in every way possible from friendship with the ‘Atheist’ Marlowe, and to ingratiate himself with Lord Puckering as one who hates all Atheists and will willingly assist in bringing them to justice. The ‘mutinous sedition’ he refers to is the verse inciting the Londoners to riot against foreigners,, which had brought the officers of the law to search his room – whereupon Kyd was arrested and racked.
Now that Marlowe’s star is fallen, Kyd feels he can malign him with impunity, being an Atheist and a dead one, and he set about doing so with cunning. The man he depicts in his Letters is not recognizable as the man befriended by Walsingham, Blount, Watson, Hariot, Warner, Chapman, Roydon, Raleigh, Northumberland, Lord Strange, with whom his acquaintance ranged from sincere amity to the deepest bonds of friendship. The stigma of Atheism has remained with Kyd and he is prepared to go to any length in order to recover his lost reputation, ‘the greatest cause’ as he calls it. That is a potent motive, and one may forgive the poor, injured man for bartering Marlowe’s reputation dead, and already sullied by circumstance and rumour, for his own reputation living. Kyd is astute enough to forestall what Lord Puckering may think on reading his Letter (the dead do not bite). Kyd is no fool, and he is also one of the most successful dramatists of his time, and here he is out to impress and win Lord Puckering’s sympathy for his own innocence; so by blackening Marlowe he seeks by contrast to whiten himself. If such was his intention, however, Kyd’s Letters do not cast a favourable light on his own character, let alone Marlowe’s.
When Lord Puckering took him up on his offer to disclose all he knew about Marlowe’s Atheistic beliefs and remarks, Kyd wrote a second Letter, in which he reports his recollections of Marlowe’s table talk: ‘to jest at the divine scriptures, gibe at prayers, & strive in argument to frustrate & confute what hath been spoke or writ by prophets & such holy men.’ This sounds as though it may have been in part serious conversations, in part jesting table talk. We know that the young lads at Cambridge used to make a practice of turning the wrong way at the Creed when in chapel out of sheer devilment! If when the wine flowed Marlowe’s noted wit indulged in a bit of irreverent fun recollected perhaps from his student days, who are we to deny Shakespeare his cakes and ale? But this is not to assume that his jesting was obscene and blasphemous.
Such human behavior is in a different category from the scurrilities of Baines’ Note. Kyd’s notes of Marlowe’s table talk are all in this jesting vein free from obscenity, with one exception. This is the repetition of an item in Baines’ Note that is one of the informer’s stock-in-trade obscenities designed to bring in implications of sodomy as blasphemy – here claiming ‘St John to be our Saviour Christ’s Alexis, I cover it with reverence and trembling that is that Christ did love him with an extraordinary love.’ We should remember that Kyd had been interrogated on the rack, probably by Baines. Homosexuality is not presented in this instance by either Kyd or Baines as something that Marlowe approved – in both instances the statement is intended to present Marlowe as an obscenely blasphemous critic of Jesus.
The fact that Kyd offered Lord Puckering his willingness to inform on Marlowe and his friends suggests that Baines would have found him a co-operative respondent during his interrogation – aided by the persuasive turn of the screw – and this item was very likely implanted in Kyd’s mind by Baines. If Marlowe’s mind had really been of this caliber of crudeness, which is in such stark contrast to the refinement of his poetic works, he would never have found honourable welcome in the inner circle of the Elizabethan intelligentsia.
The chronology of events is all-important in considering Kyd’s Letters. Both are undated but were written after Marlowe’s death. Gossip about the sordid events at Deptford would soon have spread through the tavern talk of the sixteen jurymen relating how Marlowe had attacked his friend ‘maliciously’. Kyd, still smarting painfully in body and mind from his unjust racking and the taint of Atheism, and now desperate to regain his lord’s patronage, would have been predisposed to believe every word he was told about Marlowe’s death. He seizes upon these ‘facts’ to colour his Letters with emphasis (twice repeated – once in each Letter) on the allegedly reprehensible character traits of the dead Marlowe, depicting him as just such a nasty individual as Frizer’s story implies, assuring Puckering that this ‘Atheist” was a man off ‘intemperate’ nature and ‘of a cruel heart’, contrasting his own gentle disposition. In his second Letter he returns gratuitously to this theme harping on an alleged mean streak in Marlowe’s character in a context in which it is quite irrelevant:
‘That things esteemed to be done by divine power might have as well been done by observation of men, all which he would so suddenly take slight occasion to slip out as I & many others, in regard to his other rashness in attempting sudden privy injuries to men, did overslip though often reprehend him for it & for which God is my witness, as well by my lord’s commandment, as in hatred of his life & thoughts I left & did refrain his company.’
Here he mixes in a reference to ‘sudden privy injuries’ with a report on opinions of skepticism of a scientific nature. The very phrase he uses suggests the unprovoked attack on Frizer as being in Kyd’s mind. Marlowe’s manner of death in the sordid Deptford quarrel was obviously a source of gratification to Kyd.
If Kyd ‘s portrait of the dead poet as a nasty, rather vicious person were really true then it would be a matter of amazement that Marlowe had so many friends who loved him and cherished his memory. Blount refers to him tenderly as ‘the man that hath been dear unto us, living an after-life in our memory’. Of no other contemporary poet do we have such clear documentary evidence that he was cherished as a man held in the warmest esteem by his patron as his friend, not just for his poetry, and admitted to the society of the noblemen whose inner circle was penetrated by a select few. Blount’s moving dedication to Thomas Walsingham of Hero and Leander has no parallel in Elizabethan literature as a testimony of genuine friendship between patron and poet here expressed from the patron’s side, not from the poet’s, of which latter there are numerous examples in the dedications of literary works by poets suing for noble patronage. Blount’s dedication is in a different category. It is unique.
That the exiled Poet of the Sonnets loved his friends in return and missed them sorely is most touchingly testified in Sonnets 30 and 31. These included the learned and venerable George Chapman, who was a devout Christian to whom such obscene blasphemies as are imputed to Marlowe would certainly have been offensive. This argues that he never made such remarks at all, and that Kyd and Baines are lying.
The aspersions Kyd casts on Marlowe’s character and unworthiness of friendship are in complete contradiction of this evidence. We know from his own admission that Kyd intensely disliked Marlowe, and whatever friendship had existed – and it was probably always tinged with envy – was turned to hatred by the injustice of his injurious treatment, which is reflected in the palpable bias and malice expressed in his Letters, which derive an obvious, strong motivation for untruthfulness from his turbulent feelings. If Kyd is lying on one count, there is every reason to conclude that he is lying on other counts, and his Letters are consequently worthless as evidence on which we can base a reliable assessment of Marlowe’s true character.
Scholars have been swayed to accord more weight to the maliciously motivated reports written by Kyd to Lord Puckering because it represents handwritten documentary evidence. If it is in writing it must be true, is a common assumption. It is also argued that Kyd knew Marlowe personally. Yes, he knew him, and he knew that he was lying and went out of the way to excuse himself – but it was in ‘the greatest cause’.
Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.
Othello Act 2 scene 3 11.254-55
So cried Cassio. The man who put those words into his mouth had also wrung them from the bitter experience of his own heart.