Saturday, January 30, 2010

Marlowe and Shakespeare Similarities: What the Scholars Say

Let's put to rest the notion that Marlowe must be ruled out as a possible author of the Shakespeare plays "on literary grounds."

Click here for the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society's take on the closeness between the works of Marlowe and Shakespeare - a closeness supported by two centuries of mainstream Shakespearean scholarship. And there's also Daryl Pinksen's pieces on the style issue and the Mendenhall experiment.

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content. Emmerich, What similarities exist between Shakespeare and Marlowe?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

In Plain Sight: What the Witness Protection Program Can Tell Us About Shakespeare by Daryl Pinksen

I. Marlowe’s problem

When Christopher Marlowe met with Robert Poley, Ingram Frizer, and Nick Skeres at Deptford on May 30, 1593, a raft of potentially fatal charges against him had just been circulated around the Privy Council, courtesy of Marlowe’s nemesis, the devious Richard Baines. In Marlowe’s last known conversation with Thomas Kyd — the playwright lately tagged as a collaborator with Shakespeare on the anonymous Edward III — Marlowe made it clear that he intended to flee England for Scotland, and urged Kyd to do the same. Unfortunately, both Marlowe and Kyd were arrested before either had a chance to escape the coming repression.

Marlowe’s arrest on May 20, 1593, would hardly have dampened his impulse to run; rather, it would have underlined the sense of urgency. Given these circumstances, along with the fact that the men present at Deptford with Marlowe had associations with Marlowe’s patron Thomas Walsingham, and the spurious explanation given by these men in the Coroner’s report, it seems at least possible — likely, one could argue —that Marlowe had made good on his plan to escape.

What we do know is that in early June 1593, Marlowe was pronounced dead, he was believed dead, and after that, so far as we know, he was never seen alive again. In spite of this, the soon-to-follow plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare — a man who, biographically, is arguably one of the most un-writer-like writers of all time — do sound like Marlowe, and scholarship has been making note of this similarity for centuries.

The claim made by Marlovians is that Marlowe’s death had been faked, as a ruse to allow him to escape to some unknown location and begin a new life with a new identity without fear of pursuit. This speculation is understandably met with scepticism, and the whole thing is usually dismissed as an impossible, conspiracy-fuelled fantasy. But is it really so far fetched? Reports of people faking their death (or rather, failing in the attempt) surface every few months. This is not now a novel concept, nor would it have been then. And assuming a new identity in order to escape pursuers is even more common. The witness protection program in the U.S., WITSEC, with similar programs in dozens of countries, routinely creates new identities for people they are trying to protect. The public finds neither of these scenarios preposterous in a modern context; movies, TV shows, and books have made them familiar to everyone.1

What makes this story sound so incredible is neither the “faked death” nor the “new identity” scenarios themselves, both of which are now common enough to border on the mundane. The problem lies in who it is we’re talking about — Shakespeare. The fact that the works of Shakespeare function as quasi-religious texts for millions of his literary devotees heightens the emotional content of any discussion of authorship. To those disturbed by the suggestion that Marlowe wrote the works of Shakespeare, they should take comfort in the fact that there is no incontrovertible evidence of Marlowe’s survival after 1593. All we have to work with, and perhaps all we will ever have to work with, are the surviving texts and the accompanying documents.

Nevertheless, these texts do tell a story beneath the stories and reveal a psychological profile of their creator which sounds far more like the work of a disgraced exile writing under an assumed identity that an actor/theatre producer/grain merchant from Stratford. If the writer of the Shakespeare plays was Marlowe, presumed dead, in exile, struggling to survive under a new identity, then an examination of those works, in concert with observations from WITSEC, may reveal some noteworthy similarities.

II. How WITSEC keeps people alive

The Federal Witness Protection Program grew out of a need to protect mob witnesses from certain assassination. After several expensive and often failed attempts to protect witnesses with guards, the originator of the WITSEC program, Gerald Shur, soon realized that “the most efficient way for the government to protect a mob witness was by giving him a new identity and relocating him to a new community.”2

Once a witness is accepted into the program, there are a few simple rules witnesses are expected to follow. First, witnesses and their dependents must undergo a legal name change. WITSEC provides all of the accompanying documents for the witness and their families, but will not provide falsified documents such as death certificates — even though this would undoubtedly ensure a higher level of safety, the government needs testimony from live witnesses. Second, they cannot tell anyone from their old life about their new identities or where they have been relocated. Third, they cannot tell anyone they meet, including people they date or even marry, about their old identities. Fourth, they must not return home. This last restriction has proven unbearable for many, as sometimes “the desire to go home and get back in touch with one’s family and friends would become overwhelming.”3

As tough as the program was for the many criminals who were relocated, it was even harder for the small number of noncriminals who found themselves trapped with no other way out than to go into WITSEC. Agents strongly cautioned these noncriminals about how gruelling their new life would be. As Gerald Shur put it, “being relocated was something I would not wish on anyone. The only reason to do it was if it was your only hope to stay alive.”4

The strain that separation from their past lives put on noncriminals was agonizing, and it had a profound influence on their psyches:
The small number in the program who were not criminals found this transition overwhelming, even torturous. Having to give up their identity and live a life that to all appearances eradicates one’s past was deeply disturbing for them. Many felt themselves trapped in two different worlds. Within the safety of their family, they shared a past — a heritage, memories, actions, relationships — that they were forced to deny every day as they lived a lie at work or with friends and went about their daily routines not only in an alien place but in a totally new guise. Relocation destroyed their sense of self. 5
III. “Shakespeare” and WITSEC

So what does WITSEC have to do with Shakespeare? A careful reading of the plays and sonnets allows us access into the mind of their creator, no matter how guarded he was about avoiding personal revelations. That he was unusually guarded for a writer of this period is generally accepted; in Stephen Greenblatt’s superb Shakespeare biography, Will in the World, he poses the question, “Why is everything [Shakespeare] wrote — even in the sonnets — couched in such a way that enables him to hide his face and his innermost thoughts?”6

Greenblatt’s reading of the Shakespeare canon is illuminating. In Will in the World, Greenblatt is fascinated by the recurrence time and again in the Shakespeare plays of the themes of loss of self, hidden identity, exile, banishment, and scandal. Greenblatt regards it as a fascinating mystery:
Again and again in his plays, an unforeseen catastrophe … suddenly turns what had seemed like happy progress, prosperity, smooth sailing into disaster, terror, and loss. The loss is obviously and immediately material, but it is also, and more crushingly, a loss of identity. To wind up on an unknown shore, without one’s friends, habitual associates, familiar network — this catastrophe is often epitomized by the deliberate alteration or disappearance of the name and, with it, the alteration or disappearance of social status.7
Granted, these themes were not exclusive to the work of Shakespeare, they were common plot devices in the plays of many of his contemporaries. But none of those other writers displayed the depth of preoccupation with these themes that Shakespeare did. Why Shakespeare? Shakespeare’s life — the biographical Shakespeare — betrays nothing to provide a credible explanation. He was well off enough by the early 1590s to afford a partnership in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and his wealth and social status only continued to climb throughout his career.

So what lies at the root of this strong undercurrent in Shakespeare’s plays? There has been speculation that Shakespeare was a “hidden Catholic” and that fear of being found out created this pre-occupation. Or perhaps Shakespeare was embroiled in the English intelligence service, as Marlowe had been, and this led to fear of a downfall similar to Marlowe’s. Maybe, as Greenblatt suggests, it stemmed from his father’s financial troubles, back when William was a teenager, and this experience had seared itself into his consciousness. None of these explanations sound convincing. Perhaps we need to consider that this preoccupation was born of the author’s direct experience, making it impossible for him to eliminate or disguise in his writing. If this is the case, then we must abandon Shakespeare, but need look no further than Christopher Marlowe.

What Stephen Greenblatt is describing in Will in the World sounds exactly like the psychological profile of an exiled writer living under an assumed identity. Compare Greenblatt’s description above to this description from WITSEC agents about the impact that relocation had on noncriminal witnesses:
Noncriminal witnesses . . . had to deal with a deeper problem. The psychologists described it as loss of identity, dignity, and self. . . . A noncriminal witness explained . . . “In giving up our pasts we paid a heavy price, because what you are as a person is based on where you came from and the people who love you.” 8
If the works of Shakespeare were not written by Christopher Marlowe, a disgraced poet in exile, his old name destroyed, his old life destroyed, then how else are we to explain Greenblatt’s observations? That Marlowe authored these plays is the simplest explanation, and yet to accept it would mean that Christopher Marlowe’s death in 1593 would have to have been faked.

One wonders how the psychological impact of living under such a condition might manifest itself in a writer’s work. Perhaps Stephen Greenblatt has already provided the answer, for it is not merely loss of identity, banishment, and disgrace that permeates the work of the writer of the Shakespeare plays. As Stephen Greenblatt tells us:
Shakespeare’s business throughout his career had been to awaken the dead.9
Daryl Pinksen

© Daryl Pinksen, 2010

Daryl Pinksen, a regular MSC contributor, is the author of Marlowe's Ghost, Grand Prize Winner of the 17th Annual Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Awards.

1The TV drama “In Plain Sight,” which debuted on the USA network in 2008, deals with WITSEC agents and those in the program living under new identities. See:
2Earley, Pete, & Gerald Shur. WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program. New York: Bantam Dell, 2002. p.84.
3Ibid., p. 93, 274-5.
4Ibid., p. 368.
5Ibid., p.10.
6Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2004. p.173.
7Ibid., p.85.
8Early and Shur, op. cit., p. 388.
9Greenblatt, op. cit., p.376.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

"Mr. W.H.” and the Well-Wishing Adventurer by Peter Farey

Around this time last year, in an answer to one of Carlo's questions on this blog, I briefly referred to the question of who the “Mr. W.H.” of the Sonnets really must have been, and the implications this might have for the Marlovian theory. Although this is covered fairly fully in my essay “Hoffman and the Authorship” (from which I have unashamedly cut and pasted some of what appears below) it occurs to me that it might be helpful if I say a bit more on that question here.

The book of Shake-speares Sonnets was registered with the Stationers' Company on 20th May 1609: “Tho. Thorpe. Entred for his copie under the hands of master Wilson and master Lownes Wardenes,” and was printed “By G.Eld for T.T.,” who is naturally assumed to be the Thomas Thorpe who registered it, and also the “T.T.” who signed the well-wishing message printed after the title page, as shown below.

Calvin Hoffman took the “only begetter ... Mr. W.H.” to be the inspirer of the Sonnets, claiming that it was Thomas Walsingham—the “W.H.” coming from the, if hyphenated, name "Walsing-Ham." This wasn’t all that improbable if it is assumed (as E.A. Webb’s Walsingham pedigree has it)1 that Walsingham was a few years younger than Marlowe. As is now clear, however, Thomas was born in 1560/61, and was therefore some three or four years older than the Sonnets' author.2

Yet throughout the Sonnets before the “Dark Lady” ones (i.e. all those up to Sonnet 126), there are references to how much older the writer is to the man he is addressing, such as:
How can I then be elder then thou art? (S 22)

T'is thee (my selfe) that for my selfe I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy daies, (S 62)

Against my loue shall be as I am now
With times iniurious hand chrusht and ore-worne, (S 63)

Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonesse,
Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport, (S 96)

O thou my louely Boy who in thy power,
Doest hould times fickle glasse, his fickle, hower: (S 126)
By far the most popular candidates for the “W.H.” mantle have been either the third Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley (born between nine and ten years after the author), or the third Earl of Pembroke, William Herbert (born some sixteen years after him), both of whom seem far more suitable because of the age factor. This assumes that what Thorpe calls


must be the inspirer of them, and therefore the person to whom at least most of them must have been addressed. Opponents of this theory have pointed out that to address a belted earl as “Mr.” at that time would have been inconceivable, and that Wriothesley's initials were the wrong way round anyway.

This Gordian knot was cut by Donald Foster, however, in his “Master W.H., R.I.P.”, where he made the following comments concerning the phrase “to the only begetter”:
As it happens, Thorpe's contemporaries had precise notions of what constituted “begetting” a text. According to this popular conceit, only the (pro)creative author may be called a “begetter,” and then only if the textual offspring was self-begotten, upon the author's own “Fancy” or “Mind” or “Brain” or “Invention.” Translators do not qualify—nor do commentators, publishers, patrons, paramours, scribes, inspirers of poetry, or purloiners of manuscripts. With but one unremarkable exception, nowhere do I find the word begetter, father, parent, or sire used to denote anyone but the person who wrote the work.3
As far as I can discover, nobody has ever challenged this actual statement, or managed to find a single example of an exception other than one he had discussed. Subsequent editors tend to have either rejected or ignored it, presumably because it is difficult to see how “Shakespeare's Sonnets” could have been written by a “Mr W.H.” Most of the commentators, as is clear, also take the meaning to be that of “inspirer” instead.

G. Blakemore Evans4 does take issue with Donald Foster's solution (that the “W.H.” is a misprint), and makes much of that one exception (from Samuel Daniel's Delia), even though Foster made it quite clear that the normal usage is being consciously reversed by claiming that the inspirer rather than Daniel himself was the real author. As far as I can discover, however, his is the only objection to Foster’s claim. So Thorpe must really be saying that the one and only author of the Sonnets is “Mr W.H.”

This is of course not the problem for Marlovians that it would be for others. As Foster puts it,5 “One hypothesis, which I leave for others to expound, is that Shakespeare was not the author of Shake-speare's Sonnets.” If Marlowe had indeed survived and was now living under an assumed identity, then there is no reason at all why his name could not have had the initials “W.H.”, even with the first name "Will." As Sonnet 135 puts it:
Who euer hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
And Will too boote, and Will in ouer-plus,
Nor need there be any problem with “our ever-living poet” either. As Foster points out, “In a fairly extensive search, I have not found any instance of ever-living in a Renaissance text to describe a living mortal.”6 To use it to describe someone whom the world believed to be dead, but who in fact was not, would therefore be nicely ironic. What this is doing is wishing the poet not eternal bliss, but the same immortality he has promised to the addressee in sonnets such as Sonnet 81:
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall ore-read,
And toungs to be, your beeing shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead,
You still shall liue (such vertue hath my Pen)
Where breath most breaths, euen in the mouths of men.
All of this may seem rather over the top if it is Thomas Thorpe actually writing it, however. His being the adventurer who is “setting forth” also depends upon a rather awkward requirement that the transitive meaning, “publishing,” be used without any object. But is he the actual well-wisher, or could he instead be just passing the message on for someone else?

Seldom mentioned in this context is the fact that the Sonnets were entered in the Stationers' Company Register on Saturday 20th May 1609, and just three days later, Tuesday 23rd May, the second Virginia Charter was granted:
...and that suche counsellors and other officers maie be appointed amonngest them to manage and direct their affaires are willinge and readie to adventure with them; as also whose dwellings are not so farr remote from the cittye of London but that they maie at convenient tymes be readie at hande to give advice and assistance upon all occacions requisite.... And further wee establishe and ordaine that Henrie, Earl of Southampton, William, Earl of Pembrooke, [followed by fifty other named people] shalbe oure Counsell for the said Companie of Adventurers and Planters in Virginia.”7
Note those "adventurers." This must have been quite big news, and it seems most unlikely that anyone other than those members or the voyagers themselves would, without good reason, have spoken of himself as an “adventurer ...setting forth” that May.

Given that the two most popular candidates for the Sonnets' “fair youth” are the first two names on that list, might not the “well-wishing adventurer” in fact be one of them? If we take it, as seems quite likely, that the poet had been sending them to his friend over many years, is it not possible for the latter to have had them published as a gift to him now, whilst taking care to protect his own identity? The strange order of the dedication makes it look as if the adventurer is Thorpe, but with the poem split at the only space there is, between “W.H.” and “ALL," and the blocks of text before and after “WISHETH” swapped to the more usual order that Foster indicated,8 the true message is clarified.



I am not saying that this is something that is necessary to do, only that it makes the meaning clearer. In which case a message is being sent via Thorpe to the “onlie begetter” (author) Marlowe, on behalf of “the well-wishing adventurer” — the Sonnets’ original addressee. You know it makes sense!

Peter Farey

© Peter Farey, 2009

Peter Farey's essay “Hoffman and the Authorship” is the 2007 recipient of the Calvin & Rose G. Hoffman Prize, administered annually by The King's School in Canterbury for a "distinguished publication on Christopher Marlowe." He is a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society.

1See A.D. Wraight & Virginia F. Stern, In Search of Christopher Marlowe. McDonald & Co., 1965. p.280.
2Ibid., p.282.
3Foster, Donald W. "Master W. H., R. I. P." Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 102, 1987. p.44.
4Evans, Gwynne Blakemore. The Sonnets. New Cambridge Shakespeare, 1996. p.115.
5Foster, op. cit., p.48.
6Ibid., p.46.
7Text from
8Foster, op. cit., p.44.

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