1st June – On this day in 1593, the colourful Christopher Marlowe, poet, playwright and supposed spy, was buried in an unmarked grave in the church of St Nicholas in Deptford. Born the same year as Shakespeare, Marlowe was only 29 when he died. He had been fatally stabbed (on or around 30th May) under mysterious circumstances in a tavern also in Deptford. The Coroner’s Inquisition at the time concluded that he had been killed by Ingram Frizer in self-defence, during an argument about a bill (or ‘reckoning’) – for further information, follow the link at the end of this blog post.
|Plaque in St Nicholas’ graveyard|
|St Nicholas Church, Deptford|
There are some who assert (unconvincingly, in my view) that Marlowe was in fact the true author of all the plays attributed to Shakespeare, and that he did not really die in 1593, but carried on writing secretly while hiding in Italy, shipping back the works supposedly written by Shakespeare. Putting that aside, Marlowe’s literary influence on Shakespeare is widely acknowledged, and indeed some linguistic scholars have pointed to internal evidence that Marlowe may have contributed significantly, as a co-author, to some of Shakespeare’s early dramas, such as Titus Andronicus.
As mentioned above, Shakespeare references Marlowe in ‘As You Like It’ – believed to have been written in 1599. The play includes lines thought to refer to Marlowe’s death, spoken by the clown Touchstone:
When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a
man’s good wit seconded with the forward child
Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a
great reckoning in a little room. Truly, I would
the gods had made thee poetical.
The play also includes a direct quotation from Marlowe’s ‘Hero and Leander’ (published posthumously in 1598, but possibly available to Shakespeare earlier in manuscript form).
Phoebe, besotted with Rosalind dressed as Ganymede, says as an aside:
Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:
‘Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?’
Allusions to Marlowe, and quotations from his work, also appear in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado about Nothing and the Merry Wives of Windsor, among others.
Further information about the relationship between Marlowe’s work and that of Shakespeare, and about the peculiar circumstances of Marlowe’s death (leading some to think it was an assassination, and others to infer that the death was faked), can be found on the Marlowe Society’s website here including the (translated) text of the Coroner’s Inquisition here – a document not discovered until 1925.