Christopher Marlowe wasn't killed but banished...

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Anatomy of a Hoax

by David A. More


This essay exposes the greatest literary hoax in history: the long-suppressed story of "William Shakespeare" and the banished author his name concealed: Christopher Marlowe. There can be little doubt that the official report of the inquest into the death of the most brilliant and controversial poet of the Elizabethan Age in "a tavern brawl" on May 30, 1593 was a legal fiction, concocted to appease the demands and interests of the Elizabethan church-state, particularly Archbishop of Canterbury John Whitgift, whose court of Star Chamber, would have arranged for the torture and probable execution of Marlowe on charges of blasphemy, heresy and treason.

Less than two weeks after the disgraceful end of the greatest poet-dramatist of the Elizabethan Age in a so-called 'tavern brawl', a literary successor by the name of William Shakespeare appeared to blossom right out of Marlowe's grave with a narrative love poem, Venus and Adonis. Although there was no name given on the title page, the poems were prefaced by warm words of dedication to a contemporary of Marlowe's at Cambridge University, Henry Wriothesley, the young Earl of Southampton. The dedication was signed "William Shakespeare," an appropriate pen-name for a writer who loved wordplay, who once wrote "thy words are swords" and "shaking their swords, their spears." (See Spears in Tamburlaine.)

The following year, another narrative poem came into print--The Rape of Lucrece-- a somber tale of lust and tyranny, ending with the words everlasting banishment, containing a pointed description of a concealed warrior.  For most of his writing career the author was primarily associated with these two poems. They enjoyed exceptional popularity, as evidenced by their multiple editions and many contemporary literary allusions to them.

In fact, it was not until 1598 (five years after Marlowe's sudden end) that "William Shakespeare" was named as a dramatist, as the author of  plays with recurring themes of putative death, banishment, mercy and reconciliation.

Three phases

The Great Shakespeare Hoax® can be divided into three phases. It began with the events leading up to Christopher Marlowe's reckoning at Deptford at the end of May, 1593; followed immediately by the launch of the pseudonym "William Shakespeare," which he (and possibly others) used successfully for many years. The third phase begins with the publication of the First Folio of Collected Plays of William Shakespeare in 1623. Rather than being a grand design from the start, each stage of the hoax appears to have been an ad hoc solution to an immediate problem. That it has remained concealed until this century is a testimony to the seriousness of the charges against Marlowe, and to the importance of Stratford-on-Avon and the Shakespeare "industry" to the economy of England, not to mention the possible involvement of a secret organization that had its roots  in England, and continues strong throughout the world up to the present day. Having no desire to topple the British economy, or spoil someone else's surprise, I offer the evidence and explanation below as a stimulus to discussion and renewed interest in the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.   

PHASE ONE: Banished to death, May, 1593

PHASE TWO: Pseudonymous writer, 1593-1622

PHASE THREE: Collected Plays of Shakespeare (1623)

APPENDIX: Reinventing Shakespeare

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