Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Clues: Marlowe in Shakespeare's Sonnet XXIX?

Hmmm . . . Marlowe in a painful state of exile after his "murder"?

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,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,

Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee,—and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Clues: Marlowe in Shakespeare's Sonnet L?

As seen in a number of the sonnets, a grief-stricken speaker references a painful journey and/or a state of exile. Marlowe on the run/in exile after Deptford?

HOW heavy do I journey on the way

When what I seek, my weary travel’s end,

Doth teach that ease and that repose to say,

‘Thus far the miles are measur’d from thy friend!’

The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,

Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,

As if by some instinct the wretch did know

His rider lov’d not speed, being made from thee:

The bloody spur cannot provoke him on

That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,

Which heavily he answers with a groan

More sharp to me than spurring to his side;

For that same groan doth put this in my mind:

My grief lies onward, and my joy behind.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Mirabile Visu: Arthur Miller's Tragedy and the Common Man

One would be hard-pressed to find a more concise and articulate explanation of the tragic ethos than Arthur Miller's "Tragedy and the Common Man" essay, which first appeared in the New York Times in 1949. Of course, Death of a Salesman is widely considered to be the greatest 20th-century tragedy, and so--if I may borrow a line from his Linda Loman--"attention must be paid" to Miller. Miller makes a passionate case that the average modern man can be as tragic a figure as a king, and thanks to his poignant and clear rationale it is easy to view a Willy Loman in the same tragic light and stature as a Lear, Hamlet, or Oedipus: "Insistence upon the rank of the tragic hero, or the so-called nobility of his character, is really but a clinging to the outward forms of tragedy . . . The quality in such plays that does shake us, however, derives from the underlying fear of being displaced, the disaster inherent in being torn away from our chosen image of what and who we are in this world." And Miller's explanation of the all-important "tragic flaw" is provocative and lucid: "The flaw, or crack in the characters, is really nothing--and need be nothing, but his inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity, his image of his rightful status. Only the passive, only those who accept their lot without active retaliation, are 'flawless.'" Thus, Miller argues, when the character takes a step forward to confront the challenge to his dignity and attacks "the seemingly stable cosmos," he elevates in tragic stature. With that tragic advance, however, he must also face the terror and fear that will inevitably accompany his "questioning of what has previously been unquestioned."

Read the taut, enlightening, and philosophically accessible "Tragedy and the Common Man" again and again. You may learn more about the pure essence of the tragic genre in his 1500 words than in any other place.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, July 2008

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Who Was John Penry?

Does the Welsh Puritan martyr, John Penry, play a role in the fake death of Marlowe? You bet, writes Samuel Blumenfeld in The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question. Penry had protested the draconian policies of John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, according to Blumenfeld, "began to plan his own little reign of terror against the Puritans." Whitgift had imposed major prohibitions against preaching and printing--essentially, he had enacted an era of strict censorship--in the hope of crushing any Puritan attempts to weaken the Anglican Church. Penry's satiric underground pamphelteering against Whitgift and the Anglican Church eventually led to his arrest on treason and subsequent execution.

Of interest, observes Blumenfeld, is the fact that Penry was sentenced to die on May 25, 1593, but his execution at the gallows was delayed until May 29 (Penry had written to Lord Burghley and the Earl of Essex in the hopes of a commutation). May 29 is one day before the "murder" of Christopher Marlowe in Deptford (Marlowe had been arrested on heresy and released on bail over a week before), only a few miles away from Penry's execution at St. Thomas-a-Watering. According to Blumenfeld, the body examined at the coroner's inquest (by Queen Elizabeth's coroner, by the way) that was supposed to be that of the "murdered" Marlowe was really the body of John Penry, and credit Lord Burghley and/or his son Robert Cecil with arranging for Penry's corpse to be at Deptford. As Blumenfeld also affirms, "None of [the] sixteen witnesses to the coroner's inquest had ever known Marlowe or Penry and thus were in no position to certify the identity of the corpse they were looking at." Interestingly, Penry's burial place is unknown.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, July 2008

Click here to see Sam on YouTube discussing the John Penry theory.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lazy Summer Flick: The Man Who Knew Too Much

In 1957, the famously catchy “Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” won an Oscar for Best Original Song, appearing twice in the Alfred Hitchcock classic, The Man Who Knew Too Much. In the film, the McKenna family inadvertently finds themselves involved in plans to assassinate a European head of state while they are vacationing in Morocco. In order to prevent the McKennas (James Stewart and Doris Day) from interfering in the assassination attempt, kidnappers abduct their son (a young Christopher Olsen) in a bid to keep them quiet. The story escalates as the McKennas are led on a wild goose chase through Europe to find their son and prevent the assassination from occurring.

James Stewart and Doris Day are a delight to watch. Stewart, who plays a doctor, is once again solid as a stoic all-American do-gooder, but there is also a wonderful underlying tension of world-weariness and worry in some of his mannerisms. Day, for her part, gives an interesting performance. Suspicious from the very beginning of the movie, her character is immediately portrayed as the more alert in the marriage, and when she learns that her son has been abducted, her grief is so tangible that it almost suffocates the viewer. Also, as mentioned previously, Day sings her signature song, “Que Sera Sera,” twice in the film. I find it ironic that the message of the film’s theme song is to simply enjoy whatever the future brings, when every action taken by the McKennas is made in an effort to prevent the occurrence of pre-meditated events.

Stewart and Day’s relationship does seem a little archaic. While it is clear that Stewart’s character truly cares for his wife, the manner in which he speaks to her is condescending. Instead of acknowledging her opinion when she notices something suspicious, he initially brushes her comments aside as paranoia; when he discovers that their son has been kidnapped, Stewart gives his wife tranquilizers before revealing the news to her, as though she would not be able to contain herself. Particularly in the first half of the movie, there is a sense that Day does not have the same sensibilities or control over her emotions that her husband has. Despite the above criticism, The Man Who Knew Too Much is a thoroughly enjoyable film. An interesting fact: the climax of the movie takes place during a concert at London's Royal Albert Hall, and throughout the entire 12-minute scene, not a single word of dialogue is spoken. The Man Who Knew Too Much is classic Hitchcock thriller, and the perfect film for a lazy summer day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Marlowe's faked death & Shakespeare as frontman: a question for Samuel Blumenfeld, author of The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection

Q: Sam, how do you respond to those who find it absolutely implausible that Marlowe's death was faked and that Shakespeare was a frontman?

Sam: I think I show in my book how the faked death was engineered by Burghley, his son Robert, and Thomas Walsingham. Obviously it was a risky enterprise, but there was no choice. If Marlowe was to be saved, that was the only way to do it.

Indeed, it is the faked death which makes this story so extraordinary. When Marlowe took on another identity and went into exile, no one could have predicted that he would go on to write these masterpieces. But a way had to be found whereby these new plays could be staged.

Was Shakespeare deliberately set up to be the frontman for Marlowe's works? As a theatre shareholder he could receive the plays and as an actor take part in their staging. And obviously he had the cooperation of the other shareholders. The whole operation worked quite smoothly.

There has always been much speculation as to how Shakespeare became an actor and a theatre shareholder. But now it seems possible that he was helped into that position by others in order to be a front for the receipt of the plays. Probably Thomas Walsingham and Ed Blount knew that the plays were not only masterpieces but potential moneymakers.

Shakespeare had established his discretion and reliability when he signed the dedications to Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. From being a poet, he then becomes an actor and a shareholder. An interesting advancement of his career. And he gets publicity from Meres which solidifies his reputation as a "playwright."

Obviously, there is much more involved with Shakespeare's career than meets the eye.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, July 2008

Samuel Blumenfeld, a World War II veteran of the Italian campaign, has authored more than ten books. His latest, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, was published by McFarland. He is a former editor in the New York book publishing industry and has lectured widely on a diverse range of subjects. He is a regular contributor to MSC.

Click here for Sam's discussion on fake death and exile clues in Shakespeare.

See Sam on YouTube addressing the authorship controversy.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

A Few Curious Items About Marlowe's "Death" on May 30, 1593, in Deptford

Christopher Marlowe did not "die" in a tavern brawl on May 30, 1593. The "death" occurred at the home of the widower Eleanor Bull, a relative of Queen Elizabeth confidante Lord Burghley(William Cecil), who was then the lord treasurer of England. According to Samuel Blumenfeld in The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, Deptford, on the southern bank of the Thames, was a "seaport where Burghley's spies conveniently went abroad and returned and could freshen up at Eleanor Bull's safe house before making their way to London." Deptford, writes Blumefeld, "was also the home port of the Muscovy Company, also known as the Russia Company . . . the earliest investors were Lord Burghley and Francis Walsingham. Its purpose was to promote trade with Russia and Asia and sponsor maritime explorations." Present at Bull's with Christopher Marlowe were three interesting men. Ingram Frizer, who allegedly "killed" Marlowe in self-defense, was Thomas Walsingham's servant and a low-level swindler/con man. As Blumenfeld informs us, after the "killing" Frizer was eventually pardoned by Queen Elizabeth and returned to work for Walsingham (interesting how Walsingham took Frizer back, given how close Walsingham was to Marlowe). Nicholas Skeres, as Peter Farey writes in "Marlowe's Sudden and Fearful End: Self-Defence, Murder, or Fake?" (found on his exceptional Marlowe Page on the web), was involved in Frizer's financial rackets and "has been connected with the so-called 'Babington Plot' against the Queen's life, as one of Sir Francis Walsingham's agents provocateurs." Finally, there is Robert Poley, who, according to Blumenfeld, was Francis Walsingham's chief double agent during the Babington Plot, "an expert in double-dealing, a well-experienced informer, and a very clever agent provocateur."

Blumenfeld raises a good point about the alleged fight over a bill that led to Marlowe's "death": "Why this fuss over a bill that was either to be paid by [Thomas] Walsingham or Burghley? The four men were there on some sort of 'business.' So the idea that there would be a dispute between Ingram and Marlowe over the bill is preposterous."

And what exactly was their business on that day? A very curious gathering of men at a very curious location on May 30, 1593, wouldn't you say? May 30, by the way, was ten days after Marlowe had appeared before the Star Chamber and had been released on bail (the warrant for his arrest on the charge of heresy--punishable by death--was issued on May 18, two days before his Chamber appearance). But things get even more curious. Stay tuned!

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, July 2008

Click here for Sam Blumenfeld's 5/23/09 post on Eleanor Bull.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Marlowe and Machiavelli: For Your Consideration

It is not uncommon to come across scholarship pointing to the profound influence Niccolo Machiavelli, the Renaissance political theorist, may have had upon Christopher Marlowe. For this reason, I highly recommend Irving Ribner's rather contrarian reality check, "Marlowe and Machiavelli" (Comparative Literature, Vol. 6, No. 4; Autumn, 1954). In the article, Ribner clarifies how the stage villain known as the "Machiavel," popularized in Elizabethan theatre (e.g. Barrabas in The Jew of Malta and Iago in Othello), in fact bears scant resemblance to anything Machiavelli wrote. As Ribner asserts, "Marlowe, with [Thomas] Kyd, was among the most important perpetuators of this 'pseudo-Machiavellian' burlesque stage tradition. Its relation to Machiavelli's political doctrine does not go much beyond its borrowing of the Florentine's name." Thus, maintains Ribner, we should not confuse Marlowe's use of the ruthless and sinister Machiavel in The Jew of Malta ("the model for what was to be one of the most popular stock characters of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage") with Marlowe's defense or attack of the Renaissance philosopher, for we can trace little of this evil theatrical stereotype to anything written by Machiavelli. And as Ribner reminds us regarding Barrabas, "[f]or the most part his activity involves no political decisions." Nevertheless, Ribner suggests that Marlowe viewed the Machiavel as good theatre, and with The Jew of Malta "use[d] it for all that it was worth."

Marlowe's Tamburlaine (in Part I), however, eagerly "presents . . . doctrine very close to Machiavelli's actual thought" in his attempts to master Fortune (chapter 25 of The Prince) and in his embodiment as the hero/superman lawgiver (espoused in Machiavelli's Life of Castruccio Castracani), who, according to Ribner, "can restore a corrupt state to virtue by returning it to its original principles, but who, while effecting his reforms, may rule outside of law and with complete authority." Ribner also makes an interesting point that by Part II of Tamburlaine, we can see some evidence of Marlowe's disillusionment with the Renaissance theorist, "and by the time of Edward II he appears to have abandoned almost entirely" true Machiavellian philosophy.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, July 2008

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