Christopher Marlowe – Shakespeare? Spy? #history

Christopher Marlowe Much Ado About SomethingChristopher Marlowe

This week I was required to look at Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus – but I confess I found Christopher Marlowe more intriguing than his play.

He has of course been suggested to be the person who wrote Shakespeare’s plays – as neither of the playwrights have much of a provenance, both are shrouded in mystery.

Born in Kent to a shoemaker, Marlowe’s education is traceable, though he had a few problems at Cambridge. He achieved his BA coming 199th of the 231 candidates. The college was not going to award him an MA because of several long unexplained absences. However the Privy Council and Sir Francis Walsingham ‘had a word’ to ensure he received it.

Walsingham was an Elizabethan spymaster who led a team that infiltrated Catholic plots of the time; he learned of the plans for the Spanish Armada for example. The implication is that Marlowe was one of his spies. He had certainly spent time in Europe when he should have been up at Cambridge.

He was obviously something of a rabble-rouser. He fought the son of a publican with sword and dagger killing him in 1589; he spent only twelve days in gaol.

In the Netherlands in 1592 he became involved with counterfeiting and was sent back to the UK in chains. But this may have been a plot against the then Catholic nation, certainly Walsingham effected his release.

Later that year he was arrested again for threats made to a Shoreditch constable. Later still he attacked a tailor with a staff and dagger.

In May 1593, in a private drinking establishment, Marlowe became angry over settling the bill and attacked one of his drinking companions. He was stabbed through the eye and died. He was 29 years old!

When did he find the time to write his plays? Doctor Faustus proved to be an evergreen classic that is constantly reinvented and relocated.

The Shakespeare allegation? Some suggest his murder was a cover-up, that he escaped to Europe where he secretly set about writing the Bard’s work. Implausible enough, but we would also have to believe that he reformed and stopped getting into drunken brawls.

More on the Spanish Armada in 1492 and all that!




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