Over the holidays, I was discussing the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy with my father in law. He is an admitted novice when it comes to Shakespeare, but – like most of us – he has some basic experience with the plays. He was unfamiliar with the fact that there is a group of people who doubt […]
The following day, Elena spent most of the morning lying on the sofa reading, fighting off any weariness by making herself cups of tea. In the end, Michael had gone to work a little later than normal, though not until he had made sure she was feeling better.
Around eleven, just after she had re-opened Mary’s book, she turned the page – and her heart skipped a big beat.
Before her was a painting and a very familiar face. She knew those eyes, as cute as a dog’s, but as sharp as the devil. And those lips, too, and particularly the thick, flowing hair. Even his shirt, or coat, black with the strange gold stripes and buttons; she recalled it from that dream in the church. He had his arms folded, with a slight but telling smile, as if he knew something. On the top left of the portrait was a date, 1585, and what appeared to be his age, 21.
There was a knock on the door. Elena knew who it would be. She got to her feet slowly and walked to the door.
“Mary, you’d better come in and look at what I’ve just come across.”
Without saying a word, Mary followed into the living room, where Elena handed over the open book she’d borrowed from her friend.
“Mary, this is him, I’m sure.”
“Damn and blast, I haven’t got my specs with me,” Mary held the book a little further away from her. “Oh, my… are you sure, Dear?” Mary immediately sat down and drew a deep breath.
“I should’ve known this, something was bugging me.”
Elena walked over, pointing at the portrait. “My Latin is very rusty, what does this verse mean?”
Mary had gone almost white and was holding her chest. “I’m too old for this. Let me see. Oh, Elena.”
“What is it?”
“It means, ‘what feeds me… destroys me’.”
“He said that I had destroyed him.”
Elena sat down beside her friend. “Last night, and then he died.”
Mary lay the book open on the coffee table and took her hand. “You poor girl. I’ve seen this portrait so many times before, why didn’t I think of it?”
“Where have you seen it?”
“Didn’t I tell you? I went to Corpus Christi College Cambridge in the late seventies. And this, my Dear, is the notorious, even infamous playwright Christopher Marlowe, though he was often called Kit.”
Elena’s shock was now turning to embarrassment. “I don’t think I know too much about him, if I’m honest.”
Mary was shaking her head. “No, if you don’t have a strong interest in literature you might not have.”
“So what do you mean by notorious?”
“Oh, he was supposedly a brawler, a bragger, highly controversial, but a literary genius as well.”
“How does that work?”
“Well, for one thing I don’t believe all the stories.”
“It’s a long story, but he was said to be an atheist and a counterfeiter, despite the fact that he spent six years at Cambridge studying divinity. But his first play, Tamburlaine, rocked the Elizabethan stage around the mid 1580s. It was so popular, he had to do a part two.”
“Mary, I never knew this.”
“And he wrote other plays, great plays, like Edward the Second, The Jew of Malta and Faustus. Ah, Faustus.”
“I’ve heard of that one, the name.”
Mary’s gaze assumed its own dreamlike quality. “It’s probably his most well known play today, and it’s still performed from time to time. It’s about John Faustus who sells his own soul to the devil in exchange for earthly knowledge and magical power.”
“It sounds like pretty heavy stuff to me.”
“Oh, it is, he even manages to conjure up people from the past like Helen of Troy, in the flesh. Which reminds me, I must read the Iliad again, it’s so important.”
Elena began to smile. “Now I’ve read that, such a great story, but so brutal. I can see why Kit Marlowe would use references from it.”
Mary stood up, looking restless. “A war that lasted ten years, all over Paris of Troy kidnapping Helen of Sparta, but maybe that’s a sounder pretext than some of our modern wars.”
“It’s all so tragic.” Elena was playing with her hair. “But tell me, if Marlowe was so great, why don’t I know more about him? What happened to him?”
“He was murdered, Dear.”
Elena looked shocked. “But wait, I saw him die, in bed. I think. Assuming it was him…”
“It seems poor Marlowe overstepped the mark one too many times, in his own way a bit like poor John Faustus. He died in a supposed tavern brawl in London in 1593, I believe.”
“Right, but then what could he have meant when he said that I destroyed him?”
“I think he was referring to this verse.” Mary was pointing again at the portrait. “It’s the reverse of what a phoenix does.”
Elena looked back blankly at Mary.
Mary moved over to the fireplace. “You see the phoenix, in mythology, rises from its own ashes.”
“I get that, but Marlowe is saying it in reverse?”
“Kind of, Dear, kind of. I’m pretty sure it can’t be a mistake.”
“You wouldn’t go to all that trouble of having your portrait done with a mistake on it. But what does he actually mean? It’s very negative and obscure.”
Mary looked back at the portrait. “You see his pose, the folded arms? In Elizabethan portraiture this pose means ‘I keep secrets’.”
“It means precisely that. That’s his real career, if you like, he was as an intelligencer.”
“A spy, in other words, Dear. The English secret service was in its infancy then, all tied up with the on-going conflict with imperial Spain and other Catholic countries. He would play roles, portray himself as someone he was not so he could infiltrate enemy organisations and find out about their plans. That’s why I don’t believe all the negative stuff written about him, you can’t necessarily take the things he said and did at face value. And he was doing this sort of thing while he was still at university.”
“So he probably worked for the government.”
“Yes, for his queen and they certainly protected him more than once, got him out of some sticky situations which were all to do with his role as an intelligencer.”
“And all these plays you’ve told me about, he did all that in his spare time?”
Mary chuckled. “It seems that way, but, then ‘I know not what seems’, my Dear.”
“Which reminds me.” Elena, opened her laptop and searched for Christopher Marlowe. “Hm.”
“What is it?”
“He was christened on February 26 1564 in Canterbury.”
Mary pointed a finger at Elena. “The number twenty three you saw in your first dream. Was this dream, this ghost, or whatever he was, trying to tell you he was born on February 23, three days before his christening?”
“Isn’t it true that babies were baptised within a few days after birth back then.”
Elena continued on her laptop, using astrological software which calculated birth charts. Allowing for the change over back to the older Julian calendar still being used in late Elizabethan times, she brought up the midday chart for February 23, 1564, set for Canterbury, where Christopher Marlowe was born.
“I don’t believe it.” Elena was ushering Mary towards the chart.
“Incredible, Dear, simply incredible. Pluto, Hades himself, almost exactly conjunct his Sun in Pisces when he was born. What are the chances of that?”
She put down the laptop.
“Are you alright, Elena?”
“I’m sorry, I’ve just had one of those shivers go up my spine. I’m like you, I don’t believe in coincidences either. It’s as if he really was speaking allegories to me from beyond the grave, four hundred years after he died. But why? And how is any of this real?”
copyright Milly Reynolds 2020
The man who many see as the forerunner to playwright William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, died on this day (May 30) 1593, in Deptford, London.
Marlowe was born in Canterbury, Kent, England, sometime in mid to late February 1564. There is an extant record showing that he was baptised on February 26 of that year.
In those days babies were usually christened quite quickly because of high mortality rates among infants. Therefore Marlowe was probably born just two to three days before this date.
Although born to a cobbler, it would seem that young Christopher was quite a precocious child. He went to The King’s School in Canterbury.
It’s worth remembering that then, as still now, Canterbury is the seat of England’s premier archbishop, a very important place.
Later, though perhaps at a relatively late juncture in his early life, he went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge on a Parker scholarship.
In 1584 he got his BA degree and an MA in 1587, although the university was reluctant to award him the latter because of certain, irregular, though quite lengthy absences from the college.
Suffice it to say, that much has been written and speculated about these absences, as well as what he purportedly believed. Some say he was an atheist, despite spending years studying divinity.
Nevertheless, Marlowe went on to a meteoric literary career as a poet and playwright. He is often credited with inventing blank verse, poetry which doesn’t rhyme but written usually in iambic pentameter.
His play ‘Tamburlaine the Great’, was a huge success in London in 1587, so much so that he wrote a second part to it the following year.
There followed a string of ‘hit’ plays; ‘The Jew of Malta’, ‘Edward the Second’, ‘The Massacre at Paris’ and, probably his most famous play, ‘Doctor Faustus’.
The subject matter of his plays was often controversial, as was his apparent second career as a spy, or ‘intelligencer’ for the Elizabethan government. He seems to have been recruited for this whilst still at university.
Such controversy finally caught up with him in May 1593, when, after apparently being arrested on charges of ‘blasphemy’, released on bail, and then spending a whole day in an obscure house or pub with some rather shady ‘friends’ – he ended up being infamously murdered, during an argument about the bill, the ‘reckoning’.
The circumstances of this too are endlessly speculated on. Incredibly, the inquest of this murder was discovered as recently as 1925.
Even Shakespeare may allude to this in his play, ‘As You Like It’, where he seems to have known some of the details of Marlowe’s premature death.
So Marlowe’s meteoric rise and fame lasted about six years. After this, his reputation, maybe because of the controversy he courted, fell away dramatically.
Today, however, his reputation is back on the rise. He is seen as the true forerunner to Shakespeare, someone who ‘set the scene’ for The Bard’s longer career.
copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019
Soon I intend to do another piece speculating Marlowe’s birthdate and time for my ‘Astrology Musings’ section.
*If you would like a personal astrology report, please contact me on: email@example.com or details.
Somebody stopped me
in the Canterbury street, like a hand
on my arm which took me
by surprise. Two dark eyes full of
verve, like air fanning fire, arresting
me with their stare,
a challenge written with an effulgent
quill; in my mind I saw it tripping
over pages with invention
in sweet candlelight.
So many years before, a Kentish king
knelt before the altar in solemn
genuflection, and now
you, your head brimming with catechism
and heady charm, speaking out like
Machiavelli, Paul becoming
Saul to declare another truth
in your eyes, in mottos and tatty trinkets
of shop windows, which only repeat
your daring pose in ignorance
poem © copyright David F. Barker 2013
I’m sorry, but I think you’re in my seat. OK, let’s
have a look at your ticket. Oh yes, that’s it, you
need to move along one. Thanks very much,
no harm done.
Ah, looks like it might be a full house tonight.
Maybe it’s the intrigue surrounding the play.
What do I mean? Well, you know – Cardenio,
and all that. One of his supposed ‘missing’ plays.
Apocrypha, I believe that’s the right term,
although that word always sounds so medicinal
to me! Anyhow, what I mean is, it all seems a
little too suspect, if you want my opinion,
something they’ve cobbled together from
various sources, though I’m sure it will be
enjoyable all the same. Better than reading Don
Quixote again, at any rate! What was that? You
think it is pretty close to the original? Right. Well,
we will see. I mean, who among us has read the
original? Oh, I see. Mn.
But then of course, there are still those who
believe he never wrote any of those plays.
And you must admit, you can see where
they’re coming from, can’t you? Well, he was,
after all, relatively uneducated, say compared
to Fletcher, even Ben Jonson. Could he really
have written Hamlet or King Lear, or described
places like Italy so well without ever setting
foot there? I have my doubts.
I say, are you feeling alright? You’re looking a
little off colour.
Actually, if you don’t mind me asking, have I
seen you here before? Maybe in town
somewhere. I thought so! I do apologise if I’m
staring but there’s something about your face,
your eyes. That hairline. And the beard. Wait!
Do you know, you’re the spitting image of that
portrait of… they found in Corpus Christi…
© copyright David Francis Barker 2012
* some time ago we went to see the play Cardenio at Stratford, which was based on parts of a play which may have been written by Shakespeare, which itself was based on Cervantes’ Don Quixote. I imagined myself in the theatre talking to the ghost of Christopher Marlowe, who some believe to be the real Shakespeare. Complicated, it is! But then real history always is, not like the myth that we are presented with most of the time at school and elsewhere…
Wordspiller (for Christopher Marlowe)
So you are the spiller of words, almost
as far from me as
Beowulf is to you.
Wordspiller, your crosspose outstands me,
but I backthink
the falling choirs where you sadwalked
your summerwaiting mind, to
when your glories were mere
like the Greathallow who once
to see for himself
your forliving Angles (he oncebethought
angels) and their saxon King
Ethelbert redeemed to newspells that
you mindweighed as truthless.
Now I meet your clearstead gaze; for
the muse which stretchfed you
has not alleaten you yet
poem © copyright david f. barker 2012
(for Kit Marlowe)
A voice calls from across the cold centuries,
a harsh whisper in my ear.
There is merit in what he says,
enduring years of indoctrination,
speaking out against that which bore him.
The town of empty palaces, of inordinate wealth,
forcing him to re-position,
to consider the advocacy of freedom,
though mere anarchy in the eyes of the state.
But wait, before you all condemn,
just as a spy must provoke and take a stance,
so a playwright may also be a player.
Does he ask, ‘what kind of world could this be?
What pure lives might we lead?’
If only we could accept the sight before us –
the corruptible body of Christ.
© copyright David Francis Barker