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


Thomas Kyd's Letters After Being Tortured

A.D. Wraight from The Story That The Sonnets Tell



Poison Letters


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 compared the Italic hand in which the copy of the Arrian heresy found among 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 whose 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 of '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.

Danby’s Inquisition, Baines’ Note and Kyd’s Letters have here been subjected to some sharp scrutiny which has established that they cannot possibly be blandly accepted as giving a true picture of the Poet, who was hailed by his contemporaries and friends as ’the Muses darling’, that ‘pure elementall wit, Chr. Marlow’, and ‘kynde Kit Marloe’. His fellow poet Michael Drayton called him ‘neat Marlowe,’ the word ‘neat’ meaning unsophisticated, natural, a man without pretension. Edward Blount described him as ‘the man that hath been dear unto us’’; the brilliant Hariot and the noble Chapman cherished him as a dear friend; Raleigh and Northumberland welcomed him into their circle; he was a beloved friend to his patron, and was warmly received into the cultured family of the Walsinghams who were close to the Queen who had commended him for his ‘faithful dealing’; he was the valued friend of Thomas Watson whose Latin poetry had won him the patronage of Sir Francis Walsingham. Those by whom Marlowe was admired and loved as a friend included the cream of Elizabethan society. Their verdict on him had no axes to grind. When we consider Marlowe’s writings, it is clear that his friends judged him aright for in them we read his heart, his mind and his spirit, which speak to us of nobility, not baseness.

Whereas with Shakespeare scholarly opinion accepts his great works as representative of the man himself, and the mundane facts of his life are disregarded as having any relevance to his character, with Marlowe it is the opposite. His works are dismissed as representing the man. It was not always so with Marlowe. His earliest biographers J.H. Ingram and C.F. Tucker Brooke have passed judgements of breadth and understanding. Tucker Brooke wrote as late as 1930:

Hero and Leander in particular has biographical significance. It forbids us to believe that Marlowe was fundamentally or finally intemperate, as Kyd called him, or of a cruel heart. Nor can we easily suppose that its placid beauty was achieved while the author was employing his less poetical hours as a libertine, a secret agent, or a revolutionist.’


Ingram declined to be impressed by Marlowe’s detractors: ‘the only basis for imputing ‘hellish sins’ to him is puritanical malice, - supported by libel and forgery.’ He points out that Marlowe was ‘the companion, the compeer, and the admired of all that was best of his time.’


The gradual descent into the latter-day fahionable detrimental view of Marlowe’s character was given impetus by Dr Boas’ publication of Kyd’s Letters. Boas, being also Kyd’s biographer, naturally tended to see them as valid testimony to be accepted as irrefutable documentary evidence. He set the pattern that others have followed.


‘Kyd, in the letter first printed by me in 1899, told Puckering that Marlowe’s associates were “Harriot, Warner, Roydon, and some stationers in Paules churchyard”. Harriot is the well-known mathematician who had long been in Sir Walter Raleigh’s service, and Warner was probably Walter Warner, a mathematical friend of Harriot. Nash has Harriot in mind when he declared in Pierce Pennilesse, “I heare say there be Mathematicians abroad, that will proue men before Adam”. It is to Harriot also that the Jesuit pamphleteer, Robert Parsons, referred in his Responsio ad Elizabethae edictum (1592), as “Astronomo quondam necromantico” the preceptor of the “schola frequens de Atheismo” which Walter Raleigh notoriously held in his house. In the English summary of the Responsio the words used are:

“Of Sir Walter Rawley’s schoole of Atheism by the waye, & of the Coniurer that is M[aster] thereof, and of the diligence vsed to get yong gentlmen of this schoole, where in both Moyses, & our Sauior, the olde and the new Testamente are iested at, the schollers taughte amonge other thinges, to spell God backwarde.”

‘It is worth noting that when on Whitsun eve, 2 June 1593, the informer Richard Baines brought charges of blasphemy against “Christopher Marly” (Harl. MSS.6868 ff.185-6), he too brings Moses, Harriot, and conjuring into close relation.’


Dr Boas then proceeds to quote the relevant items from Baines’ Note, and he finds ‘a remarkable family likeness’ in the words used by Baines and Kyd. He concludes :

‘Can it be doubted that out of the statements of Baines and Kyd taken together, and supplemented by the less specific allegations of Nash, Parson, and others, a fairly consistent picture can be framed?’


Dr Boas, a great scholar, is impressed, but he had forgotten on important factor. All these sources represent Marlowe’s enemies. None of them is a reliable witness. To Baines and Kyd he adds a Jesuit pamphleteer, while Nashe was sweating in fear to dissociate himself from the fatal taint of ‘Atheism’ that clung to Marlowe and all the free-thinkers whom Nashe, with an eye to his own safety, satirizes for daring to pursue speculative scientific questioning. Everyone of Dr Boas’s witnesses were men who had an axe to grind; all were enemies of free thought. Dr Boas is entitled to his point of view, but, if we step back for a moment, let us consider what he is inviting us to accept as valid evidence of his ‘consistent picture’.


Are we to believe the Jesuit pamphleteer, Parsons? The informer Baines? The broken, pathetic Kyd in his remarks about his dead (and hated) former friend, Marlowe? And the subtle Poley, who once confessed, “I will sweare and forsweare my self rather then I will accuse my self to doe me any harme’? the cunning Skeres, who was involved in a well-documented case of chicanery together with his friend Frizer? and Frizer, whose urgent problem was to extricate himself from a charge of murder?

The whole matter hangs on the and honest of these witnesses. Frizer’s acquittal on his plea of slaying in self-defense required that Marlowe be presented as his base-minded, unprovoked attacker. He was clearly taking no chances to escape the gallows. The story he told, with the smooth-talking  Poley and Skeres as his witnesses, had to stick – and stick it did for four hundred years.


The final word may be allowed to Marlowe’s greatest biographer, Dr John Bakeless, whose deep study of the Poet’s life and works entitles him to an authoritative opinion on whether the inquisition is an ‘unassailable document to depend on.’. The ‘discovery of the document relating to Marlowe’s death raises as many questions as it answers’, comments Bakeless. It is by no means an open and shut case. And Dr Samuel Tannenbaum quotes the opinions of several eminent physicians to support his view of the obvious untruthfulness of the corner’s report:

‘The Coroner’s inquest was a perfunctory matter . . . his story cannot be accepted as a faithful account of what actually transpired . . . One who knows the anatomy and pathology of the human brain knows that it is almost impossible for death to follow immediately upon the infliction of such a wound . . . The Coroner’s “grim tale” of Marlowe’s violent and untimely end, therefore, is not a true account of what happened.’


If anyone still contends that the coroner’s inquisition records the true facts, then one salient question requires an answer. Why were Poley, Skeres, Frizer closeted with the intellectual Poet for eight hours on that fatal day? They were not his close friends. If it is argues that this was in connection with some government plot, then what was Frizer doing there? He was not a secret agent. A satisfactory explanation for this day-long conference has never been given. It is merely claimed that the inquisition is infallible because it is ‘official’. Officialdom, apparently, cannot err, and, above all, it must not be questioned!

Finally, we have the testimony of the sonnets in which the tragedy of Christopher Marlowe is shadowed forth unmistakably. In Sonnet 74 he tells us that he viewed as utterly base the sordid affair at Deptford, whereby the story was put about that he had died ‘the coward conquest of a wretch’s knife’. If this was not true, then the whole edifice maligning Marlowe collapses like a house of cards.

To admit that one has been mistaken is never easy, but it is honourable. There will assuredly be those with the necessary stature who will accede this, and will be ready to consider the evidence presented, and to judge it on its merits with fairness and without prejudice. More than this one cannot ask. Even if Marlowe were not Shakespeare, he is one of our very greatest poet-dramatists and thinkers, who has been monstrously maligned and misrepresented. This reassessment aims to adjust the focus, so that we can at last see him as he really was, when –

Reckoning Time, whose million’s accidents
Creep in ‘twixt vows, and change decrees of Kings,

will bring redress, and restore his vilified image. The cumulative evidence here presented reveals what logic has long indicated, but no academic scholar has dared to think – that the maligned poetic genius, “Marley the Muses darling’ was none other than our 'Gentle Shakespeare'.





Wraight Dismantles Academias' Christopher Marlowe Myths

1. Violent
The Myth of the Bradley Duel

The Myth of Corkyn v. Marlowe

2. Homosexuality
3. Blasphemous Atheist

Kyd's Statements After Being Tortured
4. The Flimsy Credibility of Baines' Note

Wraight on Bruno:
Giordano Bruno's Influence on
Rennaisance Free-Thinkers

A.D. Wraight's Open Letter to Charles Nicholl, Author of The Reckoning, concerning the Murder of Marlowe's Reputation

A.D. Wraight: Her Work

The Story That The Sonnets Tell
Christopher Marlowe and Edward Alleyn
In Search of Christopher Marlowe:
A Pictorial Biography with more than 300 photos

Wraight's Exile Sonnets

Ovids Elegies, translated by Marlowe
(with A.D. Wraight's comments)


More . . .


Alex Jack
Hamlet by Marlowe

David Rhys Williams
Shakespeare Thy Name Is Marlowe

Louis Ule
Christopher Marlowe 1564-1607:
A Biography



The Clue In The Shrew
Isabel Gortazar

Hoffman and the Authorship
Peter Farey

The First Man Proclaims It Was Marlowe
William Gleason Zeigler (1895)

The Second Man Asks:
"Was It Marlowe?"

Archie Webster (1923)


Della Hilton
Who Was Kit Marlowe?

Benjamin Wham (1961)
Marlowe's Mighty Line: Was Marlowe Murdered at Twenty-Nine?


Marlowe-Shakespeare Style

Alex Jack
Literary Similarities Between
Marlowe and Shakespeare

Arthur Wilson Verity
The Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakespere's Earlier Style: Being the Harness Prize Essay for the Year 1885


Marlowe's Extended Canon?

Edward the Third

Arden of Feversham

The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth


Amores, translated by Marlowe
(with A.D. Wraight's comments)


Building Blocks of Marlowe's Case

The Origin and Development of 1 King Henry VI: In Relation To Shakespeare, Marlowe, Peele, And Greene
Allison Gaw

The 1925 Coroner's Report Discovery
The Death of Christopher Marlowe
About Author Leslie Hotson



Is Shakespeare Dead?
About Author Mark Twain



About Cynthia Morgan, editor/publisher
The Marlowe Studies



The Marlowe Society (England)

Peter Farey's Marlowe Page

The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection
#1 Web Blog on Christopher Marlowe

The International
Marlowe-Shakespeare Society