Thorpe. Thomas Thorpe. Who was he? And how was he connected
Shakespeare? And with Marlowe?
Thomas Thorpe was born in 1569 or 1570 which made him 5 or 6
younger than both Shakespeare and Marlowe. He was the son of Thomas
an innkeeper in Barnet, Middlesex.
In midsummer 1584 young Thorpe was apprenticed for nine
Richard Watkins who had a shop at Little Conduit in Cheapside. Watkins,
a respected member of the Stationers' Company, had been a Warden and
its Master on several occasions.
On the fourth of February in 1594 Thorpe took up his freedom
Stationers' Company and from then on he had the rights of a publisher,
not a printer. We don't know the whereabouts of Thorpe during the six
between the time he gained his freedom from his apprenticeship until
when he published his first book.
That book on which Thorpe cut his publishing teeth in 1600
Christopher Marlowe's THE FIRST BOOK OF LUCAN, Marlowe's translation
from the Latin
concerning the war between Caesar and Pompey. He had obtained it in a
roundabout way. The work had originally been entered in the Stationers'
by publisher John Wolfe in September 1593. At some later date its
copyright was assigned to Edward Blount who sold it--or more likely
gave it--to his
young friend, Thorpe. Blount had become friendly with the publisher and
remained so throughout Thorpe's career.
Edward Blount, according to Shakespearean scholar Sidney
publisher of great integrity. Among his many publications were the
English edition of Cervantes' DON QUIXOTE, Marlowe's HERO AND LEANDER,
Florio's translation of Montaigne's ESSAYES, the first English-Italian
and Shakespeare's First Folio on 1623. Blount had also been a good
of CM and of Marlowe's patron, Thomas Walsingham. We know this because
Blount published Marlowe's Hero and Leander early in 1598 he dedicated
book to TW and in the dedication referred to Marlowe as "the man that
been dear to us."
When Thorpe published Marlowe's LUCAN in 1600, he took the
unprecedented step of dedicating in to his friend, Edward Blount.
Normally books were
dedicated to nobility or men of proven distinction. The last words of
dedication to Blount confirms the close relationship between the two
"Thine in all rites of perfect friendship."
Did Thorpe know Marlowe personally? It seems unlikely that
have met Marlowe before 1594 up to which time Thorpe was an apprentice.
So what are wee to make of Thorpe's dedication wherein he refers to
as "that pure elemental wit?" He goes on to say Marlowe's "ghost or
can be seen walking in the churchyard in (at the least) three or four
Are we seeing here the ghost of Marlowe floating through the St.
churchyard? Or the 'reincarnated' Marlowe with three or four
under his arm striding across St. Paul's churchyard towards Blount's
at the sign of the Black Bear. Thorpe could have known Marlowe
from his work and from what Blount told him, but he could have known
personally only if a conspiracy had taken place in Deptford and Marlowe
not been killed the year before Thorpe gained his freedom in the
In 1605 Thorpe's publishing career began in earnest. In that
published George Chapman's ALL FOOLS and Ben Jonson's SEJANUS. The
play again came to Thorpe through his friend, Blount. Various editors
noted the excellence of the text, and one wrote: "The exactness of the
annotations, the closeness with which the typography conveyed Jonson's
intentions, and the corrections made in proof all suggest that Jonson
the printing himself."
In 1606, Thorpe published Chapman's THE GENTLEMAN USHER and
HYMENAEI. This was a very active time for Thorpe who in 1607 published
Marston's WHAT YOU WILL and Jonson's VOLPONE. The following year saw
publishing two more major dramatic texts: Jonson's MASQUES OF
AND OF BEAUTIE and Chapman's THE CONSPIRACTY AND TRAGEDY OF CHARLES,
OF BYRON which contains a dedication to his patron (who had been also
patron), Sir Thomas Walsingham.
Queen Elizabeth had knighted Walsingham in 1598. This was a
honour since Elizabeth was known for her parsimony in conferring
knighthoods. It was the other way around under James I, who would
confer a knighthood on
almost anyone who wanted one-so long as you paid him Â£30
In the play EASTWARD HO, the collaborating authors, Jonson, CH, and
joked about the thirty-pound knights. James thought that not very funny
had them hauled off to jail.
In 1609 came Thorpe's blockbuster, SHAKE-SPEARE'S SONNETS.
him a black name for he supposedly published it without the author's
authority and probably not even his knowledge. This supposed piracy led
to tarnishing Thorpe's reputation Sidney Lee called Thorpe 'predatory
and irresponsible,' a scoundrel who searched for neglected copy and
appropriated what he could find, having no compunctions on publishing
works without their authors'
approval no matter how such copy had ben obtained.
Lee's assessment of Thorpe was never seriously questioned
when Leona Rostenberg published a book in which she revealed Thorpe's
character and his apparent integrity. That term, 'integrity' is exactly
Lee applied to Blount. It seems doubtful that Blount would have
a lifelong friendship with a scoundrel. What Lee evidently never
was that whoever wrote the Sonnets, it was Thorpe who published them
if he hadn't, we would not have them today. So whether Thorpe had been
to publish them or not, we owe him a debt of gratitude.
Thorpe was certainly not the unscrupulous scoundrel Lee had
Here's how Katherine Duncan-Jones assessed his character: "Thorpe's
publications for Jonson, Chapman, and Marston identify him as a man to
whom the most intellectual of the leading dramatists were likely to
sell their texts. Jonson, in particular, had notoriously exacting
standards, and in the case of the five works he sold
to Thorpe, he clearly took great pains to ensure that the texts were
in all respects.Are we really to believe the man to whom the martinet
entrusted those works would the following year snatch and maul a
collection of poems by Shakespeare?" Not likely. Jonson evidently was
delighted with Thorpe as a publisher. Thinking along traditional
lines, since Shakespeare acted in Jonson's SEJANUS, Jonson could
well have recommended to
Shakespeare that if he wished to sell his Sonnets, Thorpe would be
good choice. And Ms. Duncan-Jones believes that Shakespeare did sell
manuscript to Thorpe. My belief is that Blount possessed the Sonnets
handed them to Thorpe for publication as he had done with other works.
Now, it does seem exceedingly strange in the strange and
literary life of the Stratford Shakespeare, that he not only failed to
publication of 'his' sonnets, but apparently took no notice of the
work. Of course, IF he had nothing to do with them, his action-or,
lack of action-is readily understandable.
There are a number of oddities in Thorpe's dedication of the
First, we are struck with the unusual shape of the wording in the
Secondly, every word in the dedication is followed by a period. Many
believe this is unique. Not at all; at least not with Thorpe who as we
published Jonson's VOLPONE two years before publication of
Sonnets. The dedication by Jonson had a similar shape to that which
composed for the Sonnets. Also, in Act 5 of the 1605 quarto of SEJANUS
proclamation by the Roman Senate is printed in capital letters with a
after each word.
Another factor overlooked is Thorpe's failure to praise
in his dedication of the Sonnets. After all, he called Marlowe a pure
elemental wit in his dedication of Lucan's First Book. Shakespeare's
1609 towered over Marlowe's. Why didn't he or Blount ever (as far as we
know) mention the man Shakespeare while they both had a deal of good to
say about Marlowe? We have authentic connections between Marlowe and
Thorpe while any connection between Thorpe and Shakespeare is
One of the strangest aspects of SHAKE-SPEARE'S SONNETS is
either in the dedication or in the Sonnets themselves is identified.
W.H., the ever-living poet, the well-wishing adventurer, the young man
is urged to marry, the rival poet, the dark lady-none of them are
It's one big puzzle. Because of these mysterious unidentified
inhabiting the Sonnets, Thorpe has been called 'the sphinx of
One sonnet which has puzzled me in connection with the Stratford actor
sonnet 76 where the author cries out: "Why is my verse so barren of new
So far from variation or quick change? Why, with the time, do I not
aside To new-found methods and to compounds strange? Why write I still
one, every same, And keep invention in a noted weed, That every word
almost tell my name, Showing their birth and where they did proceed?"
very good reason for Marlowe wanting to change his style because of the
peril to his life if he were discovered among the living, but I can't
see why the Stratford actor would worry about changing his style.
Publication of the Sonnets turned out to be the high point
Thorpe's publishing career, although sonnets by that time were
considered old fashioned.
Thorpe's last entry in the SR was on 3 November 1624 when he
Edward Blount assigned over to Samuel Vicars, Marlowe's Hero and
In 1635, he was assigned a lodging in the attractive 15th
almshouse at Ewleme which was administered by the University
dignitaries. Miss Rostenberg wrote that Thorpe died a pauper. Not so,
says Katherine Duncan-Jones. "It must surely have been a very fortunate
old man," she wrote, "who after an extremely hazardous professional
career could end his days in such a well-ordered and secure
establishment." She continues: "Ben Jonson, who died apparently in
lonely misery in his chamber by Westminster Abbey, was scarcely so
Thorpe has received a bad press solely because he published
SHAKE-SPEARE'S SONNETS allegedly without the author's permission. A
study of his career
reveals an entirely different assessment of the man. Jonson, Chapman,
Marston respected his careful work and their frequent use of him as
publisher shows him to have been a publisher of merit.