On a spring afternoon in 1593, four men entered an inn. A few hours later, three came out. What happened in this room has been the subject of speculation from cheerful Puritans, a solemn and desolate Shakespeare, and generations of critics, for the man who died in this room, although some claim he was not, was the playwright Christopher Marlowe.
Christopher Marlowe is of course not as well known as Shakespeare, although he was more famous in his lifetime. He was born exactly two months before Shakespeare. He went to Cambridge on a scholarship, where he probably became a spy. He wrote about encroaching demons, Christian hypocrites, godless tyrants who endured without punishment, and a king in love with his courtier. Rumors abounded about his own life - "necromancy, atheism, sodomy" - "and likely played a role in his death, allegedly in a dispute over the score - 'the reckoning'. It is suspicious that all the men in the room at this time were somehow involved in Elizabethan intelligence networks; The story of the three survivors is a bit hard to believe. If he could summon his own shadow we might get some answers, but everyone knows that in order to speak to a ghost, you need to make the right sacrifice and say the right words. For a poet, perhaps the words themselves are the sacrifice.
Marlowe is buried, they say, somewhere in the corner of a churchyard in Deptford, near where he died. Nobody knows exactly where his grave is; A plaque on the back wall commemorates him and a rosemary plant as a souvenir. In Westminster Abbey, the stone bears his name with a question mark after his date of death. Some conspiracy theorists suggest he faked his death and wrote Shakespeare's plays under a pseudonym, making a good spy story but poor reading comprehension; the two men, both brilliant, have such a different syntax, such a different approach, such a different rhythm that it is impossible to confuse them.
Some conspiracy theorists suggest he faked his death and wrote Shakespeare's plays under a pseudonym, making for a good spy story but one with poor reading comprehension.
However, there is an easy answer to that question mark, or easy enough for a certain type of person, which was the type of person I was in 2013 when I graduated from college and followed in Marlowe's footsteps at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Unlike him, I didn't study theology, but like him, I used a subject I had the slightest intention of pursuing professionally to get to what felt like a stairway to another world. I was 22 and if someone had asked me to spy for the queen I probably would have said yes, for the danger, a good story and a hill to die for. So I thought it perfectly reasonable to dig up a graveyard in search of answers about a long-dead poet whose main audience these days are English professors and college students who have tried more than once to see what happens when you summon a demon Latin in the forest
Of course, my adviser, the church in question, the University of Cambridge and probably the British government would have had other ideas, so I was unable to dig up the cemetery where Marlowe was allegedly buried. I had to try to dig up everything else I could find. I studied biological anthropology at Cambridge with the vague aim of doing forensic anthropology. A few years ago, when I was dividing my time between English and anthropology, driving between a forensic anthropology and pathology lab at UMass and my Shakespeare class at Smith, I thought I could combine the two by boning narratives reading. I came to Cambridge with this metaphor; my admissions essays included a long section on how I overcame my fear of death and the dead by studying their bodies, learning their stories, and becoming their evidence collector, storyteller, witness, a tool of sorts for life after death.
Was Shakespeare's rival ever his ghostwriter?
That was something of a lie: I was still afraid of death, and the only immortality that interested me at that moment was real, physical, vital immortality, the kind that literally implies a beating heart. I used to be afraid of hell and then I stopped believing in God and now I was afraid of death out of nowhere and a little bit of hell too. I readDoctor Faustoand I recognized myself in the title character's inability to sincerely plead for salvation. I wrote my thesis about it, a play directed by a friend and in which I acted; There was a time when I knew the whole play by heart, and that was the same spring I woke up to nightmares of red eyes and blazing stoves.
One of the critics I read for my thesis said something that has stayed with me ever since: read or watchDoctor Fausto, you need to be immersed in the mind and spirit of a Christian for the duration of the play. You have to believe in it for the trick to work for the game to completely horrify you. Part of the horror of the play is that it's completely theologically orthodox at heart: what happens to Faust happens to him.shouldhappen. But it isn'tRightit happens, not morally or instinctively or emotionally, and in that dissonance lies a world of subversion. The god of this work knows no mercy, and partly because Faust knows this, and knows that the moral universe he will not submit to is unjust, he is damned.
Most of what we know about Marlowe is confusing. Much of the conventional knowledge that is passed on is basically a story; Scholar after scholar, however brilliant and credible, will find that WWe are not sure if this is true; yet it seems true, and if it is not, it must be true.. There is a portrait of a young man, unidentified, from 1585; his age is given as 21, which is the correct age for Marlowe. It was found in Corpus Christi in the 1950s, with a motto on it:What feeds me destroys, What nourishes me destroys me. There is no evidence other than age and college to suggest this is Marlowe, and he probably would not have had the money for the portrait or the elaborate doublet the young man is wearing in the photograph. but the facelooksright, and the motto is so perfect it's almost out of business.
Even Marlowe's name could be mysterious. Baptized Christopher, he was almost universally called Kit; his surname is variously translated as Marlowe, Marley, Marlin, and even Merlin. Another story, which is almost certainly false, is that Kit's spy codename was Mercury (there was a Mercury who worked in Elizabethan intelligence), a trickster, fast-paced and ever-changing. A character emerges from these stories: smiling, irreverent, driven by an inner fire. Ruthless and smiling, but tortured. Almost immediately after his death, the stories began: moralists wanted him struck down by the hand of God, a cautionary tale; An anti-theatrical pamphlet published shortly after the murder said he died cursing. Others consider him a ruthless hero, a kind of martyr, the darling of the muses. His story, as we love to tell it, seems irresistibly modeled on one of his own works: A merchant's son rises from nothing to fame, a miraculous success, but is torn by his own exaggeration, his desire for something deeper, his inability to sit still or content be.What feeds me destroys me.
One of the stories about Marlowe, one with more meat than others, is that he was an atheist. This is implicit in the allegations that led to his arrest, openly phrased in the note written by another spy to incriminate him and because of his connections to Walter Ralegh and other freethinkers and because he wrote things in his works wrote like:I see religion as a child's toy.I tried to imagine what it must have been like to not believe in God in a world that seemed like itthe whole worlddid. Catholic or Protestant, they all believed, and many so firmly that they would kill, die or torture in its name, would give up their own soul in hopes of justice, martyr one another in hopes of becoming a martyr.
Catholic or Protestant, they all believed, and many with such force that they would kill, die, or torture in their name.
In the environment where I grew up, everyone believed in God. They all went to church. When I was thirteen and my faith flipped like a switch and my sense of God vanished, like an inner eye opened for the first time or went blind, I didn't think at firstThere is no god. at first I thoughtGod took my faith and I'm doomed. When you feel at odds with the whole world, perhaps with the whole universe, you inevitably feel a deep sense of injustice. You can take it upon yourself and try to end it, killing a significant part of yourself in the process, or you can cultivate it, nurture that dark seed inside you like a flower, be proud of it, and brag about it even if you do hurts.
I chose Stolz, and from his work it seems that Kit did too. That's what made me fall in love with him, or at least obsess, for the first time. If I couldn't read his bones, I would read his plays, and what wasn't in them I would find out in history. While commissioned to study primate aggression and head trauma in medieval Irish cemetery populations, he became acquainted with the biography of Marlowe. One critic went so far as to have a coroner read the 400-year-old inquest into Marlowe's death and write down what he thought the death must have been like. I wondered about it, but I also wondered who buried it. His family was two days away in Canterbury. Ten days before his death he had been arrested on blasphemy-related charges but was released pending inquest. Did you know? His mother couldn't read, neither could his sisters; his father could scribble his own name. What would it have been like to go to Cambridge, speak and write Latin, Greek and French, wear English like your own skin and come home to people who never had the opportunity to learn to read? Wondering at his own luck, at what would have happened to his spinning mind if he hadn't been so lucky?
What would it have been like to go to Cambridge, speak and write Latin, Greek and French, wear English like it was your own skin, and come home to people who never had the opportunity to learn to read?
When I was six years old, the reformed school I attended took my books and told my parents not to let me read so the other kids could catch up. I purposely slammed my fingers on my desk to get a book out of my backpack and read it in the nurse's office to escape boredom for ten wonderful minutes. At that age I was already spending a lot of time thinking that I was doomed; I didn't really believe in Jesus, I just didbelievedI believed in because I knew that's what you had to do to get to heaven. Nothing transactional I thought it might be pure.
This is the central problem of John Faustus, and Marlowe writes it as someone who has felt it, caught up in this endless puzzle of damned logic. Sure Faust messes things up by summoning a demon, but if you think you're inherently incapable of receiving salvation, then why not get what you can while you can? Why not sign your own death warrant, set your own time and place, and gain some measure of control?
I didn't know what happened to Kit Marlowe in that little room in Deptford that led to him being stung, but somewhere at the crossroads of my research on the osteological effects of torture, the history of serial murder and life. by Christopher Marlowe, I came across a character straight out of hell that might provide an explanation as to why a knife in the eye might have acted as a kind of mercy. After all, crossroads are traditionally where these demons are found.
Richard Topcliffe was about the same age as Queen Elizabeth, about 60 in the 1590s. He came from a wealthy and high-ranking family; he had known the Queen since they were young. Topcliffe was the Queen's own demon. He hunted down priests and tortured them. He loved his job so much that he built his own torture chamber in his home and was given permission to hold prisoners there. He made men who had worked in the Tower of London all their lives cry and give up.
Torture was illegal in Elizabethan England until the 1580s, which may come as a surprise; Our modern understanding has everyone before the Victorians torturing people under the slightest pretext. But he was considered morally reprehensible and among the Queen's men - until a surge in radical Catholic attempts on the Queen's life prompted a royal lawyer to draft a justification for torture in certain cases. Something like a torture memo that upholds the legality of certain methods under mitigating circumstances... you know, for national security. Youth opposition to the Bush administration, which did essentially just that, had sparked an interest in human rights abuses and forensic anthropology as a method of investigating and prosecuting them. It was hard not to see the parallels with Elizabethan England, where an exception to the torture ban originally meant for those directly involved in a regicide grew and grew until finally it could be twisted to the point that it included almost every Catholic in England -- Catholics who were supposed to spy on men like Marlowe.
One story about Marlowe is that he was cruel. He wrote violent plays that ended violently, and in between, we know, he got into various fights. One ended in death, though he did not deal the killing blow and retired long before he arrived. But still. His heroes kill and sometimes go unpunished. Write about blood. Once in a production ofTambourine,The musket balls on stage were real, and a woman and her son were shot dead in the audience. A violent man who gets involved with other violent men ends up violent; It's not an unusual story, and if he was a spy, an informant who turned people over to torture, well that fits the narrative.
But another story about Marlowe is that he was kind. Another playwright actually called him "kind Kit Marlowe." All his contemporaries called him Kit, even those who didn't know him well; They had intimate and friendly relations. He certainly had many friends; He was invited into great houses, and after his death poets and playwrights wrote glowing hymns of praise and mentioned him long after he had gone. His works are dark, but often funny. They are brutal, but there is a thread of universality in them: we all suffer, we are all human, we all deserve mercy, and it is cruel and unjust that the world does not give it to us. How can we not expect better, from him, from each other, from God?
There is a thread of universality in his works: we all suffer, we are all human, we all deserve mercy and it is cruel and unjust that the world does not give it to us.
Whatever story is true, we know that Marlowe wrote these works and poems with his brutality, empathy and beauty. We also know that he was probably employed as a spy, did ugly dirty work and died because of it. We don't know who he really was, what he believed in, or why he was killed. But wefeelas do we, for we know the stories he told, and those stories resonate with something—good or bad—in those of us who feel compelled to unravel the knots of Kit's narrative. that he, like all of us, was sometimes cruel and sometimes kind, and capable of evil and also of great courage, and that he did some, but not all, of the good and terrible things which our tales ascribe to him—does not satisfy.
So I asked myself, well aware of the impossibility and imprudence of the question: how could a poet and radical, who himself was in danger of being persecuted and tortured, someone with whom he felt deeply connected, whomtaste"Were you involved in something like that?" In a production byEduard II, in the National Theater, I was hit with full force by this difficulty. just before the endEduard II.,Just before Edward is murdered in a particularly gruesome manner, he lists the ordeals he endured: his captors systematically deprived him of sleep and a decent meal. They put him on his feet to stand upright and still. They have music at full volume. They shaved their beards.
This is not sensational torture; not the shelf or what you see24. It could have been straight out of the CIA playbook on "enhanced interrogation," except in the case of Edward, who was not interrogated. But the description startled me because it wasn't at all the kind of thing anyone would make up. It has been described in detail, with intimate emotional awareness; In other words, it felt like the story of someone who had been there.
The description startled me because it wasn't at all the kind of thing anyone would make up. It sounded like the story of someone who had been there.
Edward is not a good king. He's not particularly cute. For most of the play, he's selfish and overdramatic, making frustratingly stupid decisions. But in this scene, he's undoubtedly the one we need to empathize with. She's clearly a victim, and Lightborn, her killer, is literally an Anglicization of Lucifer, a monster who defines himself by how creatively he can kill. While the usurper of Edward's throne could certainly argue persuasively to kill Edward - "even for reasons of national security" - looking at the play we cannot agree with him (and indeed he is executed too). . Marlowe uses brutality to evoke empathy, even for characters we'd otherwise think deserve what they get. Faustus knows what he's doing, but in his desperately hurt final monologue, we can't help but feel sorry for him. Edward has done bad things for all the wrong reasons, but when he is brutally killed, his scream echoes ours.
For a long time, maybe since I lost faith, I thought that logic and evidence were the only way to solve a problem or a mystery. But when I saw the piece, I realized that I would never do thatsaberlike Kit Marlowe knew what kind of torture spies really use. He would never know whose side of these techniques he was on or who had heard it from. She would never know with certainty or satisfaction what had happened in that room, not from a medical report or an examination. Not even for digging up half the graves in St. Nicholas Cemetery looking for a man in his 20s with some sort of orbital trauma and decayed jewelry that doesn't belong in an unmarked grave.
Support Electric Lit: become a member!
Perhaps then he would find him and end the speculation that he had escaped to Italy and written what we call Will Shakespeare's plays. But the answer to that is already in poetry; his influence on Shakespeare is monumental and undeniable. Shakespeare gives him an epitaph better than any tombstone:Dead shepherd, now I see your chainsaw / He never loved who did not love at first sight. Marlowe wrote two well-known poems, 'The Passionate Shepherd' and 'Hero and Leandro', and from the latter comes the line quoted from Shakespeare about true loveAccording to your taste. Some people think Mercutio is a tribute to Marlowe. wealthy oneThe stormit is an inverted fist, an old man's response to a young man's anger. Some people live long enough to know when to let go of their magic, to know when passion has turned to danger, when one has gone from gray to black. Knowing that gray exists, and also knowing that living alone in it isn't always as satisfying as it might seem.
Writing is a form of necromancy, and a shadow from the underworld can tell us much more than its bones when it feeds on blood.(Video) Chris Chan: A Comprehensive History - Part 55
What did Shakespeare think of him? What was it like for the two to meet and recognize each other, photographing so differently but in the same way, working in a way no one else was able to? These fictional answers beget more questions, and these fictional delights must serve fictional purposes. Margaret Atwood's book on writing,deal with the dead, referencesThe stormas a kind of touchstone; I think Faust is also mentioned there. Writing is a form of necromancy, and a shadow from the underworld can tell us much more than its bones when it feeds on blood. All writing is incantation, and all spirits come to us with secret stories. I had become a shadow of Marlowe, a vivid reflection of a man I had cared for, if not quite understood. But I could understand it with the right magic. With the right words. And so I began to cast my spell.
Atwood writes that "all narrative writing ... is fundamentally motivated by fear and fascination with mortality - by a desire to undertake the perilous journey into the underworld and bring something or someone back from the dead." “All stories are ghost stories. They are stories that assure us that we will always be more than bones, however insignificant the facts of their foundations, and if that is the only way out of mortality - "the only way in and out of this little room in Deptford." – then I am” will do it. Take it. "The danger is in the words," Marlowe says to Faustus, and that's true, but so is everything else.
Take a break from the news
We publish your favorite authors, even the ones you haven't read yet. Get new fiction, essays, and poetry delivered to your inbox.