|Biography Part II|
The only writer with the proven ability to write poetry and dramatic verse at a "Shakespearean" level. For two centuries, scholars have proclaimed that Shakespeare learned how to write by studying Marlowe's style.
Speculation that they were friends and shared manuscripts is prompted by the striking similarity of Marlowe's later works to Shakespeare's early works.
A Dangerous Mind
The religious authorities mark him as an enemy
On the evening of 5th May 1593, an anti-immigrant poem, now known as the "Dutch Church Libel," was posted o the wall of a London church. It was in blank verse similar to Marlowe's, was signed by someone calling himself "Tamburlaine," one of his most famous characters, and included references to two of his other plays. The implication seemed to be that he was, at least in part, responsible for stimulating the civil unrest that was being threatened in it. The Privy Council insisted that the author should be found and punished.
A few days later, the playwright Thomas Kyd (of Spanish Tragedy fame) was arrested, apparently following a tip-off that he was responsible for the libel. His room was searched, and allegedly heretical papers found, which he said must have come from Marlowe, when they were 'writing in one chamber' together a couple of years earlier. Although innocent of the original charge, Kyd was tortured, and trying to distance himself from Marlowe as much as possible accused him of atheism. He later repeated in writing roughly what accusations he must have made, and followed this up with a letter to Sir John Puckering, the Lord Keeper, giving further details.
On 18th May, Marlowe was sent for to appear before the Privy Council, the Court being then at Nonsuch in Surrey, which he did on Sunday the 20th. In contrast to the way Kyd had been treated, however, he was released "on bail," with a requirement that he report back to them daily until told otherwise. There is no record as to whether he did in fact do so or not.
Meanwhile, other damning documents were appearing, all of which confirmed him not only as an atheist himself, but one who encouraged atheism in others. These were the so-called "Remembrances" concerning Richard Cholmeley, some further accusations about him, and the famous "Baines Note," with its list of accusations levelled against Marlowe. So much damning material seems to have appeared in such a short time, in fact, that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that an orchestrated campaign had been mounted against him.
A Date at Deptford
What happened at Dame Bull's house?
Only ten days after his first appearance before the Privy Council, however, Christopher Marlowe was gone. According to the report of the inquest on his death, he and three other men Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley met on the morning of 30th May 1593 at the Deptford home of a widow called Eleanor Bull. They had lunch together, and spent a quiet afternoon in the house and walking in the garden. After dinner that evening the other three were sitting with their backs to Marlowe, who was lying on a bed near to them. An argument broke out between Marlowe and Frizer concerning the payment of the bill, or "reckoning." Marlowe drew Frizer's dagger from behind him and hit him on the scalp with it, wounding him. A struggle ensued in which Frizer thrust the dagger into Marlowe's head, just above the right eye, killing him instantly. Two days later the Coroner of the Queen's Household, who officiated at the inquest, and sixteen jurors, found Frizer to have acted in self-defence, and he was free within the month. Marlowe was reportedly buried in the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Deptford, on the evening of June 1st, 1593.
The First Heir of His Invention
Suddenly . . Shakespeare
Within weeks of Marlowe’s reported death on May 30, 1593, the first appearance of William Shakespeare’s name as a writer occurred with the publication of the poem Venus and Adonis. The author referred to the poem as “the first heir of my invention”. It had been registered anonymously on April 18, 1593 before Marlowe’s arrest only obtaining the name of William Shakespeare when it was printed sometime in June. It was dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, who at the time was still a ward of the court under the guidance of Lord Burghley. It is the first time William Shakespeare’s name is recorded as a writer.
The rise of "Shake-speare"
A steady supply of plays, in the style of Marlowe
Before Marlowe, scholars say, neither true English blank verse nor genuine English tragedy existed. By 1593, the year he was arrested on suspicion of heresy, Marlowe had laid the foundations of what today we know as Shakespearean drama. Why are Marlowe's revolutionary accomplishments largely unknown? Because Marlowe’s name has been reviled for four hundred years, his reputation in ruins. Shakespeare by contrast has enjoyed a never-ending rise in fortune bordering on deification.
Marlowe’s literary career was abruptly severed in 1593 just when he seemed on the verge of true greatness. Shakespearean scholar A. C. Bradley, writing in 1880, tells us: "Marlowe had many of the makings of a great poet: a capacity for Titanic conceptions which might with time have become Olympian; that Marlowe must have stood nearer to [Shakespeare] than any other dramatic poet of that time, or perhaps of any time later, is probably the verdict of nearly all students of the drama."
Before the arrival of Shakespeare, Marlowe alone demonstrated the ability to write ‘Shakespearean’ plays. If Marlowe had remained alive after 1593 and continued to grow as a writer, his plays could have equalled the Shakespeare plays. Another Shakespearean scholar, F. P. Wilson, writing in 1951, made the case that "what we may anyhow believe is that in  there perished at Deptford the only man of Shakespeare’s age who could have been a rival poet."
But what if Marlowe did not perish in 1593? And what if, since he stood accused of atheism, blasphemy, and treason, it was impossible for him to publish work under his own name? And what if Marlowe were the victim of the worst form of literary blacklisting, in real fear for his life, writing and publishing in secret? Perhaps, if he had survived, he would not have been a rival of Shakespeare, he would have been Shakespeare.