A free e-book has just been made available by the Stratford-upon-Avon based Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, apparently prompted by the recent release of Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous. Written by Rev. Dr. Paul Edmondson and Prof. Stanley Wells, CBE, it is called Shakespeare Bites Back and consists of most of the same old arguments for the Stratfordian authorship we have become so familiar with over the years, together with the habitual contempt for anyone presuming to question that belief.
Pages 21 and 22 apparently concern the Marlovian hypothesis. Let's look at what they say.
The chapter heading is "Duping the Dean" and goes as follows:
Ah yes, I should mention that we are all lumped together in this fashion throughout the document, as a grossly inaccurate and intentionally insulting policy proclaimed in their so-called manifesto: "We should use the term ‘anti-Shakespearian’ to describe those who propagate this particular conspiracy theory."
And there we have the second rhetorical trick which is also so obvious as to be pathetic. The whole issue is constantly referred to as (note the initial caps) the "Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theory." Do they think their readers are so dim as to be unable to distinguish between those who find it necessary to descend to such semantic trickery, and those who don't?
Back to the Marlowe bit.
"...even succeeded in duping the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey..."
Who may not take kindly to being described as dupes?
"...who, in 2002, misguidedly allowed themselves..."
No, they can't get out of it with weasel words. Duped is duped, one born every minute.
"...to be advised by people who want to believe that Christopher Marlowe wrote Shakespeare. "
Want to believe? This is what Freud called projection. If any side in this controversy "wants" to believe anything it is the writers of this e-book. As they know full well, but refuse to acknowledge, all we want is to discover the truth about Marlowe.
"In properly honouring Marlowe by installing a commemorative window in Poets’ Corner, the Dean and Chapter authorized the presence of a question-mark to precede the year of Marlowe’s death."
This is true.
"In doing so they flew in the face of a mass of unimpugnable evidence."
This isn't. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the relevant definition of "impugn" would be "To assail (an opinion, statement, document, action, etc.) by word or argument; to call in question; to dispute the truth, validity, or correctness of; to oppose as false or erroneous." Now, just as one example, this is exactly what I was doing when I wrote "Marlowe's Sudden and Fearful End" which had nothing whatever to do with the authorship question, and which was cited by Park Honan in his Marlowe biography; also my "Hoffman and the Authorship," for which I was the lucky co-winner of a prize for which Stanley Wells himself was once the adjudicator. More to the point, of course, is that nearly every scholar who has examined the documents related to Marlowe's death has "impugned" them in exactly the way the OED says. The evidence seems very impugnable to me.
"Marlowe died on 30 May 1593 as a result of being stabbed in the eye by an identified criminal, Ingram Frizer."
Oh dear, oh dear. It was above the eye, of course, and can anybody tell me for which crime Ingram Frizer had ever been found guilty?
"The coroner’s report survives. It was witnessed by a jury of sixteen men who inspected the corpse."
And took the word of three known liars as to just whose corpse it was, right? Using several sources concerning the law governing the practice of coroners in those days, and the extent to which it was followed to the letter, we have been able to argue quite confidently that the jury would not necessarily have inspected the whole corpse anyway, just the wound which, whilst very dramatic to see (someone sent me the photo of a man with a bread-knife through his eye socket, so believe me!), need not have been what really killed him.
At this time, Marlowe was facing trial and probable execution for proselytizing atheism. That the only three witnesses of what really happened were, as I said, professional liars and all connected with Marlowe's dear friend Thomas Walsingham; that the coroner was the one most likely to be in on any deception and (apparently illegally) working alone; and that the foreman of the jury just happened to be Thomas Walsingham's neighbour, should surely be grounds for some suspicion?
"It is recorded that Marlowe was buried in the churchyard of St. Nicholas at Deptford on the same day as the inquest (1 June 1593)."
Well it would be, wouldn't it? Although the record actually says "Christopher Marlow slaine by ffrancis ffrezer; the -1- of June." Francis Frezer? Are we to assume that this evidence is equally unimpugnable? But remember what Edmondson and Wells say (above) about "properly honouring Marlowe by installing a commemorative window in Poets’ Corner"? Don't these people find it just the teeniest bit strange that the greatest poet/dramatist of the day was dropped into an unmarked grave or pit and simply left there to rot? No known grave, no memorial, no follow-up whatsoever? Why on earth not, especially if, as seems likely, both Thomas Walsingham and another dear friend Edward Blount were there to witness the burial?
"Moreover there are numerous references to Marlowe’s death and tributes to his genius in the years immediately following it."
Yes indeed. People were told he was dead and, believing what they were told, expressed their grief and admiration. "Shakspeare" of Stratford should have been so lucky.
"Most significantly Shakespeare himself alludes to Marlowe in As You Like It when Phoebe is swept off her feet on first seeing Rosalind disguised as Ganymede:
Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:
“Whoever loved that loved not at first sight.” (3.5.)
The quotation is from Marlowe’s famous erotic poem, Hero and Leander (published posthumously in 1598). In As You Like It (almost certainly written in 1599) Shakespeare paid a fine and public tribute to his dead colleague. If Marlowe wrote Shakespeare this means that he is writing about himself as dead, and from beyond the grave."
Is this really the best evidence that Edmondson and Wells can muster? Were anyone to have been in the position which Marlovians claim that Marlowe was at that time, wouldn't they too have been eager to make sure that they were not entirely forgotten without actually giving the game away?
One is tempted to ask the authors just what they think Shakespeare had in mind when, in the same play, he gave Touchstone the words "When a man's verses cannot be read, 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," accepted by all as referring to Marlowe's death. Couldn't it quite reasonably be taken to mean that if being misunderstood strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room, then the said reckoning may not have left him dead at all?
Furthermore, perhaps they have a better explanation than we do as to why Evans (in The Merry Wives of Windsor) would confuse Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd to his Love" with a song based upon Psalm 137, "By the rivers of Babylon," perhaps the greatest song of exile ever written?
"How good does the surviving evidence have to be before it can be refuted? The evidence of the coroner’s report is unimpeachable."
No it isn't! Back to the OED, for the relevant definition of "impeach": "To challenge, call in question, cast an imputation upon, attack; to discredit, disparage." The evidence of the coroner's court has been already been impeached by the majority of orthodox scholars to have studied it. Do they not know this?
"The questionmark in Marlowe’s memorial window should be removed."
Not on the basis of this argument it shouldn't. It was the Marlowe Society, of course, who raised the several thousand pounds that the memorial window cost. What the then President of the Society, who to my knowledge has no anti-Stratfordian leanings, actually said at the unveiling was that the Marlowe Society was agnostic on the subject of authorship of any other works, and did not proselytize. By the question mark against "1593" on the memorial the Society merely queried, not denied, the date of Marlowe's death.
And that's the authors' whole rebuttal of the Marlovian hypothesis! Not a single mention of the mass of reasons we give for believing it highly probable, had he lived, for Marlowe to have been the ghost writer for Shakespeare. No need for all that. The report said that Marlowe was dead and people at the time seemed to believe that someone called Shakespeare wrote the works. Period.
"How good does the surviving evidence have to be before it can be refuted?"
It has to be good enough to withstand detailed examination, as it has been subjected to (and repeatedly failed to withstand) in this case.
There is one quotation the authors use which I particularly liked. "The great scholar F. P. Wilson, author of a book on Marlowe and Shakespeare, once said that the most important thing a scholar has to learn to say is ‘I don’t know.' "
Oh, the irony of it!
© Peter Farey, 2011 stratfordians bite back
Peter Farey is the author of "Marlowe's Sudden and Fearful End" and discoverer of as many new facts related to Marlowe's supposed death in Deptford Strand as anyone since Leslie Hotson.
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