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What Does Shakespeare Tell Us About Marlowe's Escape?

Scholars know that Shakespeare was continuously alluding to and thus thinking about Marlowe.  The allusions often take the form of direct quotes, as in Hamlet and As You Like It.  Many times, however, they are more subtle.  Bloom is no doubt correct to suppose that Shakespeare had Marlowe on his mind when he wrote this passage, supposedly while in early retirement in Stratford:


These allusions have been known for years, if not for centuries.  So it is best that we focus the reader's attention on two new discoveries that are nothing short of phenomenal, considering how many times these texts have been poured over for just this sort of material.  

Note: Further along in this essay I have compiled a table that compares, in graphic form, the allusions in these plays to Christopher Marlowe.  For the reader that is familiar with the background and conversant with all four plays click here.

To take them chronologically requires that we begin with the early source play of the mature Henriad: The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth.  Scholars know it was on the boards in the mid 1580s, because it is specifically referred to in Tarlton's Jests and thus according to Pitcher must date to a time prior to 10 March 1588. (180)

To complicate matters the play entered history on 14 May 1594, however no known copies of this edition survive and, thus, the first edition, of which we have any full bibliographic knowledge, is that of the second (?) edition dated 1598.  It contains a topical allusions that assures us this version was at least slightly modified after 22 October 1596, since the play refers to the "Earl of Nottingham." (177).

The play is, of course, anonymous and its authorship has long been debated, but like the other anonymous plays of Kent it contains interludes dealing with Marlowe's domesticity and, in this case, specifically with a cobbler named John, which was his father's name and occupation.  There can be no question that FV is the source play for the entire Henriad since an analysis of its scenes proves they are incorporated on a wholesale level in the mature three part version of this same dramatic narrative.  As pointed out elsewhere FV evidences the lowest vocabulary of any of these plays, lacks sexual humor and depicts the adults as "tall."  It is thus supposed, by Ule and I, to have been the first work of the Author, a work completed before he reached puberty.  The lack of allusions to the quakes of 1580 and to the comet of that same year are equally suggestive of a pre-1580 date.

However, the play must have been revised for publication and that revision surely dates to the time just prior to its registration, i.e., to the spring of 1594.  All this is of considerable importance when we take note of what can only be said to be its remarkable allusions to Marlowe's tribulations and, according to the author, his escape from certain death.

To follow out these allusions we must begin by noting that the play opens on a real day in history, said to have been the eve of the St. John Baptist, 1410.  Which means it was 23 June 1410.  That was a Monday.  The action assures us that the Prince and his companions have just robbed some poor "carriers" working for King Henry, the Prince's father.  (The sources tell us the carriers were the Prince's, so the change is important.)  In any case, the robbers have split up after the robbery, which takes place just before the plays opens, off-stage, and are "a mile outside of London" where they are to regroup.  It is here that Jockey, or Sir John Oldcastle, later Sir John Falstaff, rejoins the Prince, who asks him "what news with thee?"

Surprisingly Jockey replies, "the town of Deptford [Kent] is risen with hue and cry after your man, which parted from us last night [for he] has set upon and hath robbed a poor carrier."

This "foregrounding," as Bloom calls it, bears directly on Marlowe's circumstances in Deptford, Kent that cause him to be, as the Author puts it, "parted from us."  I have noted that the play opens on 23 June, which cannot have much to do with Marlowe's ultimate fate which began with his unexpected release from capital charges brought against him before the Privy Council, the warrant for his arrest having been issued 18 May 1593 and instructing his captors to search for him at Scadbury in Chislehurst, Kent, a few miles outside London and the ancestral residence of Sir Thomas Walsingham, said to have been Marlowe's friend and patron.

 Marlowe was released on 20 May 1593, never to be heard from again, at least officially.  May 20 in England was, we remind the reader, already 30 May in France. (20 May = 30 May)

We are thus in a quandary.  The play opens on 23 June.  The Prince's man, one should say hencman, arrested in Deptford, Kent for robbing a carrier of the King cannot be Marlowe.  But peace, if we turn to that portion of the play where this rogue is arraigned or tried we shall discover a most remarkable thing.  He is NOT charged with a robbery that took place on 23 June, but on "the 20th day of May past." (Scene Four)  

Now the 20th or 30th of May is the very same day(s) that Marlowe was released on a personal recognizance bond and the day he was supposedly slain on in Deptford, Kent.

All this is well and good, but it is still in 1410 right?  This year cannot, thus, apply to Marlowe.  But peace, the intrepid playwright has not only hanged the date from 23rd June to the 20th of May, he adds yet another essential element of "foregrounding."  

The charges against Gadshill or Gads, as Jockey calls him, are given in formal language, his real name first, "Curbert Cutter, I indict thee, by the name of Curbert Cutter, for robbing a poor carrier the 20th of May last past, in the fourteenth year of the reign of our sovereign lord King Henry the Forth, for setting upon a poor carrier upon Gad's Hill, in Kent, and having beaten and wounded the said carrier, and taken his goods from him---"

Notice, gentle reader, that the Lord Chief Justice, who brings forth these charges, informs the prisoner (and the reader/audience) that the crimes in question took place during the "fourteenth year of the reign of our sovereign Lord Henry the Forth."   This language was customary, since the year was tracked by the number of years the king or queen had been on the throne, rather than in what is now the normal numerical fashion.   However there is a problem.  King Henry IV died during his thirteenth year of rule, so there was no "fourteenth year."

True one has to be a historian to follow this, but there is no question the Author of this play and of the Henriad which follows it was a historian of English dates and reigns, particularly of this reign.  

So we must ask what does all this mean?  Let us again return to the text.  It clearly tells us that the crime in question took place on "the 20th of May last past."   If we recall that Famous Victories first went to print on 14 May 1594, then "the 20th of May last past"  was 20/30 May 1593.

Now this takes us to precisely the right time and the right date for Marlowe's troubles.  It also, as we have seen, takes us to Deptford, Kent, the very place these events unfolded!  There can, thus, be no doubt whatsoever that this is a sustained allusion to Marlowe's troubles.

We should also notice the name the playwright gives Gadshill at this point, "Cutbert Cutter."  We recall, of course, that Marlowe was supposedly slain with his own dagger after he drew it on one Ingram Frizer, in the home of Dame Eleanor Bull, in Deptford, Kent.  Much is now known about this home, and we shall turn to it later.  (Link) But for now we need only see that the rude mechanical name, like Sung the Joiner, or Bottom the Weaver, fits quite well with an entangled Marlowe, who has drawn his dagger and will, supposedly  or allegedly  be slain with it, on this very same night in this very same town.  Cutbert Cutter indeed.  I'm sure period audiences must have found this riotiously funny.

Before we continue, something must be said about Marlowe's companions, one of whom allegedly slew him in self-defense.  Their names are well recorded.  Fizer delivered the blow, but there with him were two other men.  One was Robert Poley and the other was Nicholas Skeres.  All three men could be easily described correctly as "carriers."  But Robert Poley was not just any carrier.  He was the Queen's carrier.  And he was on his way home from the Hague, bearing important documents.  We know this because there is a record of his payment inclusive of this date for that trip.

It would, thus, be difficult to imagine any additional foregrounding that would alert us to the real nature of this cast of characters.  But peace, there is much more to come.  We must now return to the opening lines.  I have mentioned that Jockey informs the Prince that Gads or "Cutbert Cutter" has been detained in Deptford.  What I have not relayed to the reader is the Prince's all important reaction to this news.

His initial reaction goes even further towards identifying Gadshill as Marlowe.  

Here's what he says when he learns from Jockey that Cutter has been arrested, "the villain that was wont to spy our our booties?"  To which Jockey says, "Ay, my lord, even the very same."  

It is at this point that we must remember that many people knew that Marlowe was both the son of a cobbler and a spy. It was as we say, public knowledge. So by calling Gads the "spy of our booties" completes the foregrounding.  All now know who the Prince is speaking about, albeit allegorically.  Or should. Its Christopher Marlowe, the cobbler spy, who "parted from us" on 30 May in Deptford, Kent.

All of this information is explosive, biographically speaking.  But it is still less than the full charge.  It has lain there, like a peal at the bottom on the ocean or like an Aladdin's latten, waiting to be properly stroked to divulge its secrets.  

Remember this was a secret.  And it had to be allegorical or the Author and his agents would be racked and tortured.  Or worse.  

Having now identified Marlowe as Cutter or Gadshill, what is the Prince's pleasure?  

Will he abandon him to his fate in Deptford, Kent or will he intervene?  For those familiar with this marvelous play (and the three that follow) the Prince's commitment to his "spy of the booties" is well known, "well, it skills not; I'll save the base villains life, if I may."   

So we have yet additional "foregounding."  The Prince has pledged Cutter his support.  Will he deliver it?

Indeed he does.  And in a most dramatic and didactic fashion.  We now retrace our steps and return to scene Four, where Cutter is charged with capital crimes by the Lord Chief Justice of England, i.e., no common court.  Just as Marlowe's charges originated not in Deptford, but at the Privy Council, the highest administrative level in the land. 

It is in this scene the Prince, along with Ned and Tom, make their dramatic entrances and where during the ensuing exchange the Prince boxes the ears of the Lord Chief Justice.  He first makes it clear, however, that Cutter is his man.  "Why, my lord, this is my man. "Tis marvel you knew him not long before this, I tell you, he is a man of his hands."

Notice the very carefully chosen words. "Tis marvel" juxtaposed with "he is a man of his hands."  Notice also that the Prince is surprised that the Lord Chief Justice does not recognize Cutter, I supposed "you knew him not long before this."  

These expressions clearly and emphatically identify Cutter as the marvel, Marlowe, who was very much a man who worked with "his hands."  A man the Chief Justice likely knew of, if not knew personally.  And in the larger picture, a man Elizabeth's Chief Justice may have had a hand in indicting before the Privy Council.  

So the stage is now set.  The Lord Chief Justice will not free the prisoner.  He lectures the Prince that none are above the law, a favorite phrase of Elizabeth's and James's Chief Justice, Coke.  Though attacked by the Prince, the Chief Justice stands his ground, saying "I am content to take it at your hands," and has the Prince hauled off to Newgate Prison for his troubles.  The Author and the Judge make it perfectly clear that Cuttler will be promptly hanged.

What have we learned?  We have learned that there are charges which even the Prince cannot save his own agents from.  Namely from the law and pending capital charges.  

But stay a moment our lessons are not over.  

As it turns out, Gadshill is not hanged.   Nor does the Prince languish in Newgate Prison.   Importantly we do not see how the Prince is freed.  He simply appears ex deus machine in scene Five.  A surprised Jockey says, "I am glad to see your Grace at liberty, I was come, I, to visit you in prison."   To which the Prince replies, 

To visit me!  Didst thou not know that I am a prince's son?  Why, 'tis enough for me to look into a prison, though I come not in myself.  But here's such ado nowadays--here's prisoning, here's hanging, whipping and the devil and all.  Bit I tell you, sirs, when I am King we will have no such things.  But, my lads, if the old King, by father, were dead, we would all be kings.   

This is as close to treason as one might come.  And it contains an interesting lapse.  The Prince is not a prince's son, but a King's son.  There were, of course, men in England  and Scotland, who styled themselves as the sons of princes.  James VI was not the son of a King, for example.  In any case the Prince is freed offstage.  And the lesson is that there are things that can only be accomplished out of sight and out of the reach of the law, things which cannot be accomplished within it.

We take this lesson to scene Ten.   That scene takes place "Outside John Cobbler's House,"  where John Cobbler and his wife are arguing with the King's Captain who is "pressing' or "drafting," as we Yanks say, John Cobbler into service for duty in France.  John is not at all happy to go.  He is quickly joined by his man Derick, who is also pressed.  It is at this point that "the Theif" who Derick calls "Gads" re-enters the action.  Derick who sees him first exclaims, "How now, "Gads"! What, does now us, thinkest?"  (The internal quotations are the Author's.)

To which Gads, Cutter, "the spy of the booties" replies, "Ay, I knew thee long ago."  John Cobbler, Derick and Cutter are all pressed into service and shipped to France.  The Captain saying, "I cannot stay no longer, therefore, come away."  Friar Lawrence will echo this, in the Capulet's tomb, "I can no longer stay."

Gads is never seen again.  He disappears into France without a word or backwards glance.

But we know that he survived 20/30 May in Deptford, Kent.  We know that he was saved from capital charges and a pending hanging off-stage after a legal attempt failed to free him.  And we know his name: Christopher Marlowe, "the spy of the booties."  The son of John Cobbler.

Now this alone changes forever our perspective on these distant events.  But our lessons are not yet over.  We must now turn to the Henriad itself, where in 2 Henry IV we shall again be instructed in Marlowe's escape.  

To follow this lesson we must trace out an insight gleaned by Professor Art Neuendorffer an myself  which appeared in a recent post by Neuendorffer on hlas under the heading:

> A Stellar Date For 2 Henry 4
> Saturn and Venus this year in conjunction! what
> says the almanac to that?
>> A triple Almanacke for the yeere of our Lorde God. 1591. being the
>>thirde from the Leape yeere. Wherein is conteyned, not onely the common
>>accompt, which in this our Realme is vsed, with the Romane Kalender
>>according to the late correction of Gregorie: but also, the true
>>computation and reduction of the monethes to their first & auncient
>>seates Christmas day being at the Sunnes entrance into Capricorne,
>> or shortest day: whereby ..... By I.D. [Iohn Dee?]
> And look, whether the fiery Trigon, his man, be not
> lisping to his master's old tables, his note-book,
> his counsel-keeper. 
>1) The Saturn/Venus conjunction on May 30, 1593 (Gregorian)
>2) in Leo (Fiery Trigon)
>3) during a partial solar eclipse
>4) close to the 'seven stars'/Pleiades.
> Sweet knight, I kiss thy neaf: what!
> we have seen the seven stars.
> ******************************* 
>5) When both Shakspere & Marlowe were 29 years old.
> Well, fare thee well: I have known thee these
> twenty-nine years, come peascod-time; but an
> honester and truer-hearted man,--well, fare thee well.
> At about 1 PM on May 30, 1593 (Gregorian) London experienced a
> partial eclipse of the sun while Venus was in conjunction with Saturn.

[But what day was Marlowe actually killed on? Art asks:]

> ...was it on Sunday May 30, 1593 (Gregorian)
> or WhitWednesday May 30, 1593 (Julian)?
> Thou didst swear to me upon a
> parcel-gilt goblet, sitting in my Dolphin-chamber,
> at the round table, by a sea-coal fire, upon
> WEDNESDAY in WHEESON WEEK, when the prince BROKE
> THY HEAD head for liking his father to a singing-man of
> Windsor, thou didst swear to me then, as I was
> washing THY WOUND, to marry me and make me my lady
> thy wife. Canst thou deny it? Did not goodwife
> Keech, the BUTCHER's wife, come in then and call me
> gossip Quickly? 
> ---------------------------------------------------------------
>Professor Art Neuendorffer

Both the English calendar (Julian) and period records assure us that Marlowe "died" on Wednesday in Wheeson Week, supposedly of a stab wound to the head, delivered by one of the Prince's carriers.

There can be no doubt, then, that both Shakespeare and the anonymous author of Famous Victories call our attentions to Marlowe's alleged death in Deptford, Kent and both accounts have him surviving.  Shakespeare's account has him becoming Falstaff, who dies a banished man.  

For a table comparing the allusions to Marlowe click here.

All in all, no period account comes any closer to the truth than these two taken in tandem or even individually.  Marlowe, the prince's man, who worked with his hands and was John cobbler's son,  survived 30 May 1593 and was shipped off to France in the service of the Crown.  What the Crown could not accomplish openly, it could accomplished off-stage.



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