This association seems consistent with the belief that Marlowe was of humble origins like those of William Shakespeare, whom most believe to be the son of John Shakespeare, a "brogger", wool "merchant" and municipal official in Stratford. Walsingham most certainly did not recruit his agents from among the nobility, as evidenced by the likes of Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres, and Robert Poley --con men, petty crooks, sting artists, and rat finks whose living was largely that of "ratting" on Catholics.
Nothing about either Marlowe or Shakespeare can be understood without first grasping the divided loyalties, the relgious bitterness, the hidden agendas that characterized Elizabethan society. In a recent book, Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare, Clare Asquith puts much of Shakespeare in context.
For example, in "King Lear," two sisters, motivated by material gain, falsely promise that they will give all their love to their father. Their honest sister is exiled for saying she must divide her love for her father with the obedience she will owe her husband. Significantly, religious dissidents at that time were refusing to pledge fealty to King James. Similarly, when Elizabethan audiences watched Laertes protest the brief obsequies given his sister Ophelia, they knew that Catholics were furtively burying their loved ones with the old rites, while publicly holding fake burials with the "maimed rites." Violent quarrels sometimes erupted in churches, and zealous Protestants exhumed bodies in the night.Marlowe received his degree though he was absent his classes at Cambridge for a period of some two years. He was very nearly denied his degree amid suspicions that he had literally "gone to Rheims" and had become a "Catholic". His cause was taken up by the Privy Council in a letter signed by Cecil (later Lord Burghley) and supported by the Queen. The Queen herself ordered that Marlowe be granted his degree. The document is dated June 29th, 1587 [from the Public Records Office - Acts of Privy Council]. In a terse, personal note, Elizabeth stated that Marlowe had been involved in "affaires in the Queen's service" and implied that the nature of those "affaires" was of no concern to Cambridge.
--The Washington Post's Book World
One wonders --what "service to the Queen" had this Elizabethan "secret agent" performed while absent his University studies? Had he literally "gone to Rheims" --a hotbed of Catholicism, a magnet for initiates? Was he undercover, an agent provocateur whose task it was to entrap the enemies of the Queen? That the Queen intervened on his behalf seems to support that theory.
About William Shakespeare, we know little more, possibly less. Because William was the son of John Shakespeare, a known Catholic, we assume that William had been christened "Catholic" at the local parish church. In Elizabeth's England, Catholics still loyal to the Church in Rome practiced their faith literally "underground" in basements or cellars. This was so despite Elizabeth's famous statement that she had no wish to "...make windows into men's souls".
We know that Shakespeare's Stratford was a hot bed of resistance to the "new religion". William' father, John, left a written testament of his enduring Catholic faith. William Shakespeare's daughter, Susannah, was a "recusant" charged with refusing to attend Protestant services. We know that members of William's mother's family --the Arden's --had been executed cruelly for having adhered to the "old" faith of Catholicism. Edward Arden was executed in 1583 by the usual method: he was dragged behind horses, then hanged, cut down still alive, disemboweled and castrated before his heart was cut out. Death would have been a relief.
We know little more than that William's name appears on the First Folio not published until after his death. A recent development, however, holds promise. A cache of books, dating to the time of the Florentine Academy of Lorenzo di Medici was found in Lancashire. Authors include Ovid as well as works by the foremost Plato scholar of the period --Marsilio Ficino. This "Plato Academy", the intellectual well-spring of the Renaissance, lived in the di Medici palace while a young Michelangelo was honing skills as a sculptor under the tutelage of Bertoldo, the famous student of Donatello.
The book of near pornographic verses by Ovid is of special interest. The margin notes are said to be in a "...Shakespearean hand". Are they the very thoughts of young William Shakespeare? The notes date to a time after Shakespeare left Stratford but well before registering his first play in London. If all is true, the margin notes are the only hard evidence of Shakespeare's "lost ten years".
Apart from the birth of his three children, absolutely nothing is known about Shakespeare's life between the ages of 18 and 28, but there are some intriguing clues. Wood first checks out a fascinating theory which takes young William up to serve in an old Catholic house near Preston in Lancashire. There Michael meets the Hoghton family, who believe a family will proves Shakespeare lived with them. Wood also investigates the possibility that Shakespeare first trod the boards in an ancient hall at Rufford near Liverpool.It is also interesting to find the name of William's Stratford school master, John Cottam, among the effects recently discovered in Lancashire. Cottam's name also appears in various histories having to do with the appearance on English soil of the "infamous" Jesuit, Edmund Campion. If little is known of Shakespeare, it may be because little is known of anyone forced by the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" to live literally underground, beyond the gaze of official religion or Elizabethan orthodoxy.
--Michael Wood's, In Search of Shakespeare
Marlowe is believed to have been killed in self-defense by one Ingram Frizer in 1593. The location in Deptford is often called a "tavern" but was, rather, a government safe house. Just one week earlier a warrant had been issued for the Marlowe's arrest amid accusations of atheism, blasphemy, subversion and homosexuality. Marlowe had recently returned from Flushing where his "performance" seems in retrospect over-the-top, even by Marlowe standards. He had openly declared himself homosexual and atheist and reserved for himself the right to mint his own coins. His former roommate and fellow dramatist, Thomas Kyd, had declared under torture that a document denying the divinity of Christ belonged to Marlowe.
Frizer may have been Marlowe's "side-kick" in espionage, if not a partner in crime. Marlowe had been selected by Cecil to go to Scotland --perhaps to set the stage for James' assumption of the English crown upon the death of Elizabeth, a "virgin" Queen. But, as Marlowe came to the end of his life in 1593 and Elizabeth not until 1603, the planning was indeed farsighted. Does this have anything do with Marlowe's death? What is the motive for murder? Why would Marlowe move against a partner?
There is no denying that within weeks of Marlowe's "death", Ingram, his "partner", was in Scotland. Only the incurious could not wonder who, in Scotland, did he meet? What did they talk about? Why were they talking at all? What did it all have to do with Marlowe, Shakespeare, indeed, the Queen herself?
In 1895, an American, William Zeigler, made what is still the most compelling case that Marlowe did not die that fateful night in Deptford but, rather, faked his death and was aided in his escape by the very man who had claimed to have killed him in self-defense --Ingram Frizer. The idea that Marlowe had written Shakespeare was not new. In fact, Elizabeth I herself raised that possibility as she raged against Richard II which she considered to be an indictment of her own dictatorial regime.
Though attributed to the Stratfordian actor, Shakespeare, Elizabeth charged that the play had been the work of Marlowe though he was widely believed dead at the time. Surely Elizabeth, who defended Marlowe when he had been threatened by expulsion from Oxford, would have known about Marlowe's death! Why then did she declare him alive by attributing to him a recent play? Elizabeth herself is thus the source of speculation that Marlowe, with a little help from his friends, faked his death. She is likewise the source of speculations about whether Marlow had written Shakespeare. Zeigler maintained that, contrary to earlier notions that "Marlowe" had been an early nom de plume of William Shakespeare, 'Shakespeare' was, rather, the nom de plume of Christopher Marlowe.
But every coin has two sides. In Flushing, Marlowe, is always over the top, exceeding his own reputation. Perhaps now expendable as an agent in service to his Queen, Marlowe's performance is pure theater, characterized by blasphemies that he most certainly knew would be reported widely. His "performance" may have been in the language of espionage --a cover!
Perhaps the early theories were correct: that it was not Marlowe who wrote Shakespeare but Shakespeare who wrote Marlowe at a time when "Marlowe" was Shakespeare's "cover". We know that William Shakespeare was an actor. Perhaps Marlowe was his greatest role --a role he played when his very life was on the line. Perhaps the cover had been too successful. Perhaps the cover had acquired an uncomfortable life of its own. Perhaps, an Elizabethan James Bond wanted to "...come in out of the cold".
The time line may support this speculation. Within a week of Marlowe's "death" the very first plays to be attributed to Shakespeare were officially registered under the name William Shakespeare. Had the "cover" been laid to rest? Had its author reclaimed his life? In subsequent plays, "Shakespeare" alludes to Marlowe's fateful last hours in a "little room", upstairs in Deptford.
TOUCHSTONE: When a man's verses cannot be understood, nor a man's good wit seconded with the forward child Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.There is apparently no controversy about the image of Marlowe that tops this article. There is, however, a less well preserved image, a more humble visage from the same time period. It is tempting to see in it an aspiring poet/actor from Stratford before assuming the role of a lifetime, that of Christopher Marlowe.
--As You Like It, III, ii, William Shakespeare
Elizabeth's reaction to the political content of Shakespeare's Richard II is most certainly the source of speculation about the identity of whomever was said to have died earlier in Deptford. Uncertainties about succession had made Elizabeth uneasy about its subject matter though Richard II portrays Richard II more favorably than Bolingbroke aka Henry IV. "I am Richard II, know ye not that?", she asked the keeper of Tower records. Certainly, the play had been intended to facilitate a planned coup d'etat by the Earl of Essex. Essex was late for his own coup, having taken too long to select just the right shirt. His indecision would ultimately cost him his head.
It is difficult to imagine a self-absorbed monarch not being outraged by all of "Shakespeare" -- Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Richard III, Macbeth, et al. All seem to rage and none too subtly against the abuses of state power, monarchy, orthodoxy of any sort. Police states tend not to like the boat rocked and religious oppression is especially repugnant in that it is done in the name of deities. That it is done in the name of a deity identified with love, charity and mercy is especially troubling. In any case, it would have been difficult for the author of the plays attributed to either Christopher Marlowe or William Shakespeare to have remained in service to the Queen and still claim authorship publicly.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
—William Shakespeare, "Hamlet"
And then, in Shakespeare, is found this very clear warning of dangers that we face today:
...we have our philosophical persons to make modern and familiar things supernatural and causeless. Hence is it that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear.Whoever Shakespeare was, he would have been appalled to learn that in over 400 years all may not end well; all may not be true.
—William Shakespeare, "All's Well That Ends Well"
"It's Showbiz, Your Majesty"