Did Marlowe and Shakespeare Collaborate? Well … yes! … because Marlowe Worked with Oxford, Who then Became Shake-speare

Due Soon at Amazon.com

Due Soon at Amazon.com

So … according to the “New Oxford Shakespeare” editors, Christopher Marlowe and the great poet-dramatist worked together!  Well, that’s a step in the right direction … a giant step on the journey away from Stratford and into the political terrain of London and the court … a journey into what really happened when Marlowe, a Cambridge student and government spy, worked in the 1580s with Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who supervised a group of writers turning out plays of English history during wartime … promoting a new spirit of patriotic identity and national unity.  De Vere took the younger Marlowe under his wing … and when the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588, the earl dropped from public view … reappearing in 1593 as “Shakespeare” on the printed page.  In other words, Will Shakspere had no part in it. So … did Marlowe and “Shakespeare” collaborate? Well, sure! But let us continue the journey away from Stratford, with all possible speed…  

Here’s an advance look at the Marlowe chapter of my forthcoming book 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, based on the series of a hundred “reasons” posted on this blog site:

CHAPTER NINE: THE MARLOWE ENIGMA

Reason 49 – Christopher Marlowe

We now confront the shadowy figure of Christopher Marlowe, the Cambridge student and government spy who was stabbed to death at age twenty-nine on 30 May 1593, just when the initial copies of Venus and Adonis, carrying the first appearance of the printed name “William Shakespeare,” were on their way to the London bookstalls.

Tamburlaine the Great (in two separate parts) had drawn great crowds to the Rose playhouse from 1587 onward, but Marlowe’s name never appeared on any published work during his lifetime. (As audiences seemed uninterested in who wrote the plays they attended, a common assumption that he was “the toast of the town” as a popular playwright may well be a fantasy.) Ironically, however, upon his death the “Shakespeare” name was launched—the name of a previously unknown writer whose highly cultured narrative poem was an instant bestseller. In fact, the name of Shakespeare quickly did become the toast of the town, at least among those who could buy books.

The relationship of “Marlowe” and “Shakespeare” has generated much uncertainty and perplexity among academics. Scholars and biographers have pondered and dissected the inextricable entanglement of those two famous names, and of the works attributed to them, without consensus. Oscar James Campbell notes the confusion in The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare (1966):

“Because the chronology of the composition of Marlowe’s plays and those of Shakespeare is uncertain, and because of the dearth of information about Shakespeare’s activities during the “seven lost years” [1586 through 1592], it is impossible to discuss with precision the literary interrelationship of these two playwrights …Whatever their personal relationship, it is demonstrable that Shakespeare knew Marlowe’s plays and poetry. There are hundreds of verbal echoes and dozens of comparable scenes and situations in the works attributed to the two different men. Frequently it is difficult to guess who is echoing or borrowing from whom….” 

The tradition is that Will of Stratford, being the same age as Marlowe but newly arrived in London, was so inspired by Tamburlaine’s commanding eloquence and unrelenting violence that he began to write Henry VI (all three parts) and then his own blood-gushing play Titus Andronicus. Exactly how Shakspere found the time to write such plays while engaged in his acting career and moneylending is never explained.

[Well … we might as well add here that the New Oxford Shakespeare editors are listing Marlowe himself as his co-author on those three plays– the first time for any major edition of the Works.]

Stephen Greenblatt in Will in the World (2004) has no trouble comprehending the miracle. He imagines—with no supporting evidence—that just when Shakspere was “finding his feet in London,” he noticed the hoopla over Tamburlaine, which “may indeed have been one of the first performances he ever saw in a playhouse—perhaps the first.” That experience “appears to have had upon him an intense, visceral, indeed life-transforming impact.”

The transformation would have been from a young man who had never been inside a London playhouse to a dramatist who not only instantly surpassed Marlowe himself, but also became the greatest playwright of the English language! By 1595 he would have turned out both Richard II and Richard III and, by 1598, completed no less than twelve plays, including Love’s Labour’s Lost, Romeo and Juliet, King John and The Merchant of Venice!

“Shakespeare had never heard anything quite like this before,” as Greenblatt imagines the Tamburlaine experience, “certainly not in the morality plays or mystery cycles he had watched back in Warwickshire. He must have said to himself something like, ‘You are not in Stratford anymore.’” Standing among the groundlings at the Rose and staring up at Edward Alleyn as Tamburlaine, was for Will a “crucial experience” and a “challenge” that “must have been intensified when he learned that Marlowe was in effect his double: born in the same year, 1564 .…”

Let’s take our own look at 1593, when Venus and Adonis, the sophisticated poem that the author termed “the first heir of my invention,” surged to popularity among university students, aristocrats and members of the royal court including young Henry Lord Southampton, to whom it was dedicated. This blockbuster would be joined in 1594 by an even more brilliant poem, Lucrece, whose primary source was the story told by Ovid in his Fasti, a work not to be translated into English until 1640.

On 28 September 1593, the unfinished manuscript of another narrative poem, Hero and Leander, was entered at the Stationers’ Register by John Wolf, who described it as “an amorous poem devised by Christopher Marloe.” But something happened to stop Wolf from printing it. The first edition was finally published by Edward Blount in 1598, attributed to Marlowe, followed in the same year by another edition from publisher Paul Linley, advertising it as “begun by Christopher Marloe and finished by George Chapman.” “Marlowe’s Hero and Leander is the best of the Ovidian romances,” Campbell writes. “It contains the most successful combination of the genre’s distinctive characteristics: descriptions of natural beauty, voluptuous development of erotic situations, and an ornate style. These are also the elements of which Shakespeare composed Venus and Adonis.

So Marlowe and “Shakespeare” were both writing long, romantic, sensuous, erotic poems based on Ovid; they completed them at virtually the same time—in the year of Marlowe’s untimely death—when “Shakespeare” forged ahead by getting his masterful “first heir” into print and taking over the poetical limelight.

Marlowe’s name appeared in print for the first time in 1594, when the play Edward II was published as by “Chr. Marlow” and another play, Dido, Queen of Carthage, was published as by “Christopher Marlow and Thomas Nashe.” “No play of Marlowe’s is more closely related to one of Shakespeare’s than is Edward II to Richard II,” Campbell writes. “For decades scholars assumed that Marlowe’s was the first significant English chronicle history play, and that therefore he taught Shakespeare much. Recently, however, it has been established that Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy antedates Edward II; in other words, Shakespeare helped Marlowe; the combination of Shakespeare and Marlowe helped Shakespeare in Richard II.” In classic understatement, he adds: “The intricacies of these interrelationships are detailed and complex.”

Marlowe was one of the “University Wits” recruited from Cambridge and Oxford by the Elizabethan government during the 1580s to serve as informants or spies for its wartime intelligence service. These young men also worked as secretaries, scribes and writers under the financial support of Oxford, who provided them with writing space and materials as well as plots, themes, language and even entire works to be published anonymously or under their own or fictitious names.

“During his studies at Cambridge,” Daryl Pinksen writes in Marlowe’s Ghost (2008), “perhaps as early as 1585, Marlowe was recruited into the English secret service headed at that time by Secretary of State Sir Francis Walsingham.” Records indicate a “marked increase of spending” as if he “suddenly had a new source of income” and “frequent absences from Cambridge beginning in 1585 for longer and longer periods, also consistent with work as an intelligence agent …. Lord Burghley … was also Chancellor of Cambridge, and worked closely with Walsingham in directing and funding intelligence operations. During Marlowe’s years at Cambridge it is likely he made numerous trips, perhaps to the continent, at the behest of Walsingham and Burghley to spy for his country.”

“In the fast-expanding arena of Elizabethan espionage, writers were an obvious source of recruits,” Charles Nicholl writes in The Reckoning (1992). “They were intelligent, educated, observant young men. They knew the international language, Latin, and the literary tastes of the day gave them a good smattering of French and Italian.” They were geographically and socially mobile, as well as continually in need of cash, so “it is perhaps not surprising that a number of Elizabethan writers crop up in the files of the intelligence services, both foreign and domestic. They are remembered as poets, pamphleteers and playwrights, but down there in the reality of their lives they had to profess other skills if they were to survive.”

Nicholl mentions writers such as Munday and Lyly, both working from the late 1570s as de Vere’s secretaries, and devotes a chapter to “another poet glimpsed in the secret world of the 1580s … an elusive and engaging figure”—Thomas Watson, who was “a close friend of Marlowe,” Lyly and others. Watson is one of many “intermediaries” linking Oxford and Marlowe by just one degree of separation, making it highly likely that de Vere and Marlowe not only knew each other, but worked together on plays such as Tamburlaine the Great and on poems such as Hero and Leander. But it would not have been an equal relationship; Oxford, fourteen years Marlowe’s senior, would have been guiding the younger man.

In 1564, the year of Marlowe’s birth, Oxford was already receiving his honorary degree from Cambridge; in 1575, when Marlowe turned eleven, Oxford was twenty-five and spending a year in Italy; and in 1581, when Marlowe entered Cambridge at seventeen, Oxford, at thirty-one, was recruiting young disciples who, during wartime, would help achieve the great renaissance of English literature and drama leading up to “Shakespeare” in the 1590s. The truth about Marlowe becomes clear within the context of this crucial chapter of England’s history in which he appears; it begins with Oxford’s pivotal role at the center of those young writers who helped create a new language—a new cultural and national identity, leading to a strong sense of English pride and patriotic fervor.

The intention of King Philip’s Armada was to not only to conquer the island nation, but also to crush the humanistic spirit of the Renaissance in England and overturn the Protestant Reformation. If any single aspect of English life created the immediate, fertile ground from which “Shakespeare” sprang, it was this prolonged expectation of invasion. Once the Anglo-Spanish war became official in 1584, the arrival of enemy ships loomed ever closer; during the next four years, Burghley and Walsingham were determined to employ “the media”— books, pamphlets, ballads, speeches and plays (especially plays of royal history) that promoted unity in the face of internal religious and political conflicts, which threatened to render England too weak to survive.

The phenomenon of “Shakespeare” involves not only the solitary figure of de Vere; it involves an array of others who wrote for him or with him or who lent their names to creations that were entirely his, all contributing to a body of work by Oxford that is much larger than the one “Shakespeare” has been allowed to claim. His labors include a vast body of translation as well as original poetry, prose, plays, dramatic literature, song lyrics, musical compositions and political tracts, presented anonymously or under names of real persons living or dead, not to mention fictitious persons whose “biographies” are skimpy and tentative at best.

Marlowe fits into this picture as one of Oxford’s satellite figures who may (or may not) have contributed his own labors to anonymous works such as Tamburlaine. (All works later attributed to Marlowe were either unpublished or published anonymously during his brief lifetime.) Tamburlaine may have been written earlier by a younger Oxford, who could have given it to Marlowe (age twenty-three in 1587) to work on. Performed on the public stage before the Armada sailed in 1588, its speeches roused audiences to a fever pitch; the character of Tamburlaine, according to Frederick Boas in University Drama in the Tudor Age (1914), seemed to Englishmen to embody Philip of Spain himself. He is a tyrant calling himself master of the lands and seas, confident he will conquer “all the ocean by the British shore” and that “by this means, I’ll win the world at last!”

Such arrogant confidence and raging, bloodthirsty ambition might well have served to alarm Englishmen over the danger they faced and to further motivate them to join together to defeat the Armada.

Burghley wrote on 21 June 1586 to Walsingham, asking if he had spoken with the queen in support of de Vere. Five days later Her Majesty signed a Privy Seal Warrant authorizing an annual grant to Oxford of 1,000 pounds, an extraordinary figure, especially since England was at war with Spain and desperately needed funds. The grant, to be paid in quarterly installments, expressly stated the earl was not to be called on by the Exchequer to render any account as to its expenditure—a clause which, Ward writes, was “the usual formula made use of in the case of secret service money.”

Oxford was playing an important but unpublicized role for Elizabeth, Burghley and Walsingham during these dangerous times. The earl had made extensive sales of land between 1580 and 1585, indicating he had been personally financing writers and play companies, so now the otherwise frugal queen was compensating him for past, as well as future, expenses. In 1585, upon the outbreak of war with Spain in the Netherlands, annual payments to Walsingham rose to 2,000 pounds; it is “at this stage of increased funding and activity,” Nicholl writes, “that Marlowe enters the lower ranks of the intelligence world.”

Eva Turner Clark in Hidden Allusions (1931) notes that the writers known as the University Wits went into high gear during 1586 and 1587. “Play after play flowed from their pens. These were chronicle plays, revenge plays, Senecan plays—mostly plays calculated to keep people at a high pitch of excitement during wartime. Gathering this group of writers together, directing their work, and producing their plays on the stage was the function of the secret service office that Lord Oxford filled and upon which he spent the money that had been granted to him…. In order to keep a heavy program going, he [and Burghley] appealed to recent graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, and even to those on the point of graduation, who gave promise of dramatic ability, to assist in this important work of stage propaganda.”

“Lord Oxford, as a prolific writer and scholar, an eclectic, devotee of the theatre, generous patron of literary men and musicians, drew into his orbit the best writers and wits of the day,” Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn write in This Star of England (1952). “He was the center and prime inspiration of the University Wits: such men as Lyly, Watson, Kyd and Munday—all of whom he employed—as well as Greene, Peele, Marston, Dekker, Lodge, Nashe and Marlowe. Somewhat older than most of them, infinitely greater than any, he attracted these intellectuals as a magnet attracts steel chips; … he supported, encouraged, and directed these men, broadening their classics-bound culture through his knowledge of Italian, German, and French literature, as well as of feudal customs and the ways of court-life, while devoting his abundant creative energies to the production of dramas which not only entertained and stimulated the elect but also delighted and edified the intelligent though unschooled.”

Oxford had purchased the London mansion known as Fisher’s Folly to provide writing space for the younger men, who apparently had been turning out anti-Spanish plays for at least several months before the queen authorized the earl’s annual grant. On 20 July 1586 the Venetian ambassador in Spain, Hieronimo Lippomano, wrote to the Doge and Senate that King Philip had been furious over reports about plays being performed at the Elizabethan court: “But what has enraged him more than all else, and has caused him to show a resentment such as he has never displayed in all his life, is the account of the masquerades and comedies which the Queen of England orders to be acted at his expense.”

During the second half of 1586, after Walsingham had foiled the Babington Plot to put captive Mary, Queen of Scots on the English throne, Oxford sat on the tribunal at her trial, when she was found guilty of treason. Mary Stuart, mother of twenty-year-old James VI of Scotland, was beheaded on 8 February 1587 at Fortheringhay Castle. Her execution virtually ensured that Philip, with the blessings of the Pope, would soon launch his Armada against England.

On 29 June 1587 the Privy Council sent orders (signed by Burghley and Archbishop Whitgift) to Cambridge authorities that Marlowe should receive his Master’s degree, despite frequent absences from the campus amid rumors he was a Catholic traitor—which is what he seems to have pretended to be, as part of secret service work, during visits to the English College at Rheims in Northern France, a key seminary for Catholic defectors. The Council certified that Marlowe had “behaved himself orderly and discreetly whereby he had done her Majesty good service, and deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealings … because it was not her Majesty’s pleasure that anyone employed as he had been in matters touching the benefit of his Country should be defamed by those that are ignorant in the affairs he went about.”

In a letter to Burghley on 2 October 1587, Marlowe was named as a courier in dispatches to Walsingham from Utrecht in Holland, indicating that after leaving Cambridge, his travels for intelligence work were continuing apace. The evidence makes it seem likely that Oxford was giving Marlowe a “cover” in London, according to the needs of Burghley and Walsingham, by taking him under his wing. To what degree Marlowe actually wrote the works for which he is credited is a matter of conjecture; some Oxfordians believe that Oxford wrote all of them.

“Shakespeare” was forged out of the fires of wartime. Because of stage works written or promoted by de Vere, young men from different parts of the country, Protestants and Catholics alike, speaking different dialects that often needed interpretation, descended upon London in the summer of 1588 and volunteered to join together in the face of a common enemy. (That kind of “public relations” effort to foster national unity would be used in the twentieth century by the U.S. government, whose media operations during World War II became a workshop for writers, photographers and filmmakers, enabling them to sharpen their skills.)

England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada was, perhaps inevitably, followed by a shameful episode that might be called a “bloodbath” of those same writers. Having utilized their services to help England survive, the authorities no longer had the same need of them and became afraid of their freedom to express themselves and of their power to influence the public. After defeating the enemy without, the government focused on enemies within.

After England destroyed the Armada in the summer of 1588, Oxford played a prominent role in the celebratory procession to St. Paul’s Cathedral on 24 November. An observer reported in A Joyful Ballad of the Royal Entrance of Queen Elizabeth into the City of London:

The noble Earl of Oxford then High Chamberlain of England

Rode right before Her Majesty his bonnet in his hand…

And afterwards unto Paul’s cross she did directly pass,

There by the Bishop of Salisbury a sermon preached was;

The Earl of Oxford opening then the windows for her Grace,

The Children of the Hospital she saw before her face….

This triumphant appearance seemed to mark the end of Oxford’s public life. He soon disappeared from court and public view, retiring to the countryside after selling Vere House and Fisher’s Folly. His wife, Anne Cecil, had died in June of 1588 and her father, Burghley, as Master of the Court of Wards, instituted procedures against him in early 1589 for debts dating back at least two decades and amounting to a staggering 22,000 pounds, rendering his annuity of a thousand pounds virtually useless.

Oxford had been the central sun around which the writers revolved, so when he could no longer finance their labors they began to fly out of orbit. The result, directly or indirectly, was the loss of nearly all of them within a span of some five years.

The Earl’s company of child actors, known as Paul’s Boys and/or Oxford’s Boys, was forced by the government to dissolve in 1590; soon after, writes Clark, “the loud complaints of members of the group are heard; one member dies in poverty; another fails to receive promised preferment; another is killed in a tavern brawl; and others drag on in miserable existence. The goose that laid the Golden Eggs was dead.”

Outcries from the writers took various forms that only certain members of the royal court and the aristocracy might have understood. Nashe, in his 1589 preface to Greene’s prose work Menaphon, entitled “To The Gentlemen Students of Both Universities,” referred to an “English Seneca” who had been forced to “die to our stage,” that is, to abandon his commitment to theatre: “Yet English Seneca read by candlelight yields many good sentences, as ‘Blood is a beggar,’ and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches. But oh grief! Tempus edax rerum: [“Time, the consumer of all things”] what’s that will last always? The sea exhaled by drops will in continuance be dry, and Seneca, let blood line by line and page by page, at length must needs die to our stage.”

The death of Walsingham in April 1590 sent the world of English espionage into a tailspin, with factions competing for prominence. The strongest was controlled by the father-son team of William and Robert Cecil, the latter determined to gain power over all intelligence-gathering apparatus and, too, over the public stage with its playwrights, play companies and playhouses. Upon the secretary’s death some of his spy network fell into the hands of his cousin Thomas Walsingham, who began to lead a kind of rogue operation. Watson and Marlowe both entered into his patronage and Marlowe continued to travel abroad. Nicholl reports that Marlowe was lodging in January 1592 with two other English spies in Flushing, a Dutch seaport town ceded to England in return for support against Spanish invaders. He was arrested as a counterfeiter and deported, a bizarre episode that ended with him returning home as a prisoner to face Burghley in private and answer his questions. Might it be reasonable to ask how Marlowe found time to write? It appears that whatever his literary and dramatic contributions may have been, they had ceased when Oxford gave up Fisher’s Folly in 1589 and could no longer support the University Wits.  Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984) agrees that it was Oxford who had discovered Marlowe’s dramatic ability and brought out Tamburlaine in 1587, to teach the people what might be expected of a ruthless conqueror like Philip; and later, for publication, he had put Marlowe’s name on it.

“The relationship between the two playwrights [Oxford and Marlowe] at this time may be taken to account for the similarities in Shakespeare’s early historical dramas to Edward the Second, printed in 1594 as Marlowe’s,” Ogburn also suggests. “The supposition would be that the play was an early one of Oxford’s that the earl turned over in draft to Marlowe to make what he would of it.”

Dorothy Ogburn writes of “evidence that Edward II is a direct forerunner of Henry IV and of Richard II and is by the same hand, created out of the same consciousness: it is not plagiarized from someone else. There are innumerable correspondences between Edward II and these dramas, not only in locutions, imagery and mannerisms, but also in point of view.”

On 18 April 1593, the highly cultured and sophisticated narrative poem Venus and Adonis was entered at the Stationers’ Register in London, without an author’s name. On 30 May Marlowe was killed in the company of three other spies. Among them was the most important government agent, Robert Poley, now working for Burghley and Robert Cecil, the latter determined to prevent nobles such as Oxford, Essex and Southampton from choosing a successor to Elizabeth, who was now in her sixtieth year. The only way Cecil could hope to retain power behind the throne beyond the reign of Elizabeth was to become the kingmaker himself.

It appears Cecil had viewed Marlowe as knowing too many secrets to be trusted and as too dangerous to remain alive. By June 1593, virtually at the time of Marlowe’s death, Venus and Adonis went on sale. No author’s name appeared on the title page, but the printed signature beneath the dedication to Southampton carried, for the first time, the name of an otherwise unknown author—William Shakespeare—evoking the image of a warrior-poet shaking the spear of his pen.

Oxford had returned.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Reblogged this on the lethal text and commented:
    Sneak preview of the Marlowe chapter from Hank Whittemore’s forthcoming book, ‘100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford’; fascinating insights into the propaganda-intelligence milieu of Elizabeth’s polity

    • Thanks, Paul — and also thanks for the re-blog! Keep up your good work.

  2. EXCELLENT!!!!!!!!!! xxxx From: Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare Blog Reply-To: Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare Blog Date: Wednesday, October 26, 2016 at 12:04 PM To: CYNTHIA CRANE Subject: [New post] Did Marlowe and Shakespeare Collaborate? Well Š yes! Š because Marlowe Worked with Oxford, Who then Became Shake-speare

    WordPress.com hankwhitt posted: “So … according to the “New Oxford Shakespeare” editors, Christopher Marlowe and the great poet-dramatist worked together! Well, that’s a step in the right direction … a giant step on the journey away from Stratford and into the political terrain of L”

  3. A slightly different perspective on the Shakespeare/Marlowe collab

    Liz Leigh

    If you are not willing to look stupid, nothing great is ever going to happen to you – Dr. House

    On Wed, Oct 26, 2016 at 10:04 AM, Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare Blog wrote:

    > hankwhitt posted: “So … according to the “New Oxford Shakespeare” > editors, Christopher Marlowe and the great poet-dramatist worked together! > Well, that’s a step in the right direction … a giant step on the journey > away from Stratford and into the political terrain of L” >


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