(continued from Part 3) And there’s another riddle: why does Queen Elizabeth pardoned Marlowe’s murderer in a relatively short time? And why does the murderer then return immediately to the service of Thomas Walsingham, Marlowe’s friend? Was there something that had to be covered up?
“Oh I think that was. This was a cover-up. That becomes clear from the coroner’s report which contained so many inconsistencies. It can’t have happened like that. In reality, the whole thing was staged in order to save Marlowe from the death penalty and to get him out of the country. “
And that would lead to a completely different narrative of Marlowe’s death.
May the 29th, 1593—a nocturnal meeting at Thomas Walsingham’s country house. The plan: Marlowe must disappear abroad.
For this, his murder will be staged at the house of Dame Eleanor Bull, a safe house in Deptford, East of London.
The official version is that Marlowe was killed by a companion in self-defense. But according to this plan, witnesses, none of whom know Marlowe in person would be presented with a corpse of a priest who was hung in the previous evening, having been charged with high treason and blasphemy. His body will be buried in the graveyard at Deptford under Marlowe’s name. There are no traces of the hung priest’s body. Marlowe is safe. Officially, he is dead. He can start a new life and leave all his troubles behind.
His escape must have been prepared in minute detail, so that Marlowe could be taken out of the country as quickly as possible. Probably first to France, later to Italy or Spain.
Venice could have been one of the places he hid. The number of Italian settings in Shakespeare’s plays is striking; The Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Much Ado about Nothing, A Fellow, Romeo and Juliet. Why is that? Supporters of the Marlowe Authorship Theory see the strong evidence for their claims of Marlowe’s residence in Italy. Could this also explain the pervasive theme of exile in Shakespeare’s sonnets?
In Love’s Labour’s Lost, Holofernes calls out in Italian,” Oh Venice, Venice! Whoever hasn’t seen you can’t appreciate you?” However, it is not only the Italian plays, it is also the sonnets, which give evidence of the author’s fate.
“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.
No longer mourn for me when I am dead, then you shall hear the surly sullen bell give warning to the world that I am fled from this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell.”
Here the author laments his fate. And for whom will this be more fitting, than for Christopher Marlowe? But how could Marlowe have been hiding in exile for such a long time without at least emerging as a poetic genius under a new name? Or did he perhaps as some scholars suggest, return to England after Elizabeth’s death to work on a new assignment for her successor?
And how would Marlowe’s works have reached Shakespeare? They would have been sent by courier to Marlowe’s patron, Thomas Walsingham. He then, so the theory goes, had them copied and passed on to the actor and theatre agent, William Shakespeare. The agreement being that, Shakespeare will bring them on stage under his name. But is there any evidence of Marlowe’s sojourn in Italy? Did he leave any traces there?
He did. But this only serves to deepen the mystery. In the 19th century, a British diplomat in Padua claims to have seen some letters dating from Shakespeare’s time. And one of these claims that Marlowe lived in Padua till his death in 1627, more than a decade after Shakespeare’s. And where are these letters now? Unfortunately, they’ve been lost.
Meanwhile, Shakespeare is extremely successful not only in London theaters, but also at court. Theatrical spectacles are a welcome diversion in the paranoid world of the palace. The queen constantly fears assaults. The queen’s fears created a climax of anxiety, not only at court but in the entire country. Anyone who loses her favor may easily end up in the dungeons or even on the gallows. She even had his Spanish doctor executed on the grounds of suspicion. He was denounced for planning to poison the queen. The queen’s displeasure, the actors hope, can be appeased by a time on a theatrical trick, an interlude by the fool. Elizabeth and the Royal household never attended a public theatre. They were sights of entertainment for the general public, not for aristocrats. They should neither mingle with a common crowd nor get involved with the production of plays. Nevertheless, Elizabeth is an important patron of the theatre. In the debate about Shakespeare’s authorship, even she has been considered a possible candidate.
In the theatre of Shakespeare’s time, it is common practice to have women’s roles performed by young and beardless boys who had not reached puberty. In those days, it was unthinkable to have a woman appear on stage. Yet a young leather might well be represented by an older star actor, not quite in keeping with contemporary romantic notions of Romeo.
It is established that during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, many of Shakespeare’s plays were also shown at court. Among them, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Midsummer’s Night Dream, and probably also the most famous romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. This latter play was set in Italy. Presupposing the author’s detailed knowledge of the manners and customs in the city state of Verona. The only problem is that Shakespeare never was in Italy. So why did he get this knowledge? Or did he not write a play himself? The predominance of Italian settings has led critics to suggest other authorship candidates with an Italian background, such as the highly educated Italian English translator, John Florio. Or even Emilia Bassano Lanier, the poet and daughter of a Jewish-Italian musician at Elizabeth’s court.
Shakespeare’s name begins to crop up in documents relating to the theatre. Shakespeare also invests in the Lord Chamberlain’s men, a highly successful troupe of actors, playing to packed houses of up to 2000 people. It’s not long before Shakespeare’s name replaces Marlowe’s as London’s leading dramatic figure.
The Curtain Theatre is where the group performs after their original venue, the theatre, has been closed down. The troupe is managed by Richard Burbage, one of the leading theatrical entrepreneurs of the time. The most detailed information of theatre practice of the Elizabethan era comes from Philip Henslowe who ran another theatre, in which Marlowe’s plays were performed. Henslowe’s diary allows us to peek behind the curtains providing precise information on theatrical props and curiosities. Henslowe recalls expenses for a cage, a tomb, a gate to hell and a ghost costume as well as a bear skin, and a rainbow. The actors only know the text of their individual roles. They only get to know the entire play through the performance. Shakespeare’s name strangely is never mentioned in Henslowe’s diary.
The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are extremely popular, but in 1598, the landlord raises the rent, to an extent of the house becomes unaffordable. Shakespeare and the troupe plan to open a bigger theatre of their own at the other end of London, The Globe Theatre. For this, they dismantle their old theatre and ship the timbres across the River Thames. The owner of the theatre is enraged. Unfortunately however, he has forgotten to write into the lease that he owned the building of the theatre as well as the ground it was built upon. The Lord Chamberlain’s men take everything that could be of use in their new location, including of course costumes and props. The latest copy of perhaps of the most famous theatre in the world was built only recently in the Films Studios at Potsdam-Babelsberg near Berlin.
Continued: Shakespeare Conspiracy Theory Part 4