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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Marlowe Inquest ( Bartolozzi Engravings)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0087  Tuesday, 13 January 2004

[1]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Jan 2004 10:13:31 -0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0072 Bartolozzi Engravings

[2]     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Jan 2004 13:51:46 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0072 Bartolozzi Engravings

[3]     From:   Bruce W. Richman <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Jan 2004 13:02:00 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0072 Bartolozzi Engravings

[4]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Jan 2004 19:45:38 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0072 Bartolozzi Engravings


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Jan 2004 10:13:31 -0800
Subject: 15.0072 Bartolozzi Engravings
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0072 Bartolozzi Engravings

Edward Brown and Don Bloom have both expressed doubts about the sort of
fighting moves that would be necessary in order for Marlowe's death to
have been at least semi-accidental.

I know that Canadian commandos were taught until very recently to turn
their opponent's knife into his throat (not eye).  Has anyone checked
this sort of manoeuvre in the various sources to Anglo Sydney's _The
Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe_?  It strikes me as being very much
the sort of thing that would be taught to people who might find
themselves in deadly combat with small weapons.

Cheers,
Sean.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Jan 2004 13:51:46 -0500
Subject: 15.0072 Bartolozzi Engravings
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0072 Bartolozzi Engravings

Perhaps someone has mentioned this already, but as my fragile memory
tells me, Arthur Freeman (I believe in the TLS) pointed out some years
ago that the coroner (or a high ranking local official) was Frizer's
relative.  That may be one reason why Frizer's reconstruction of the
fight was accepted without too many questions asked. Is my memory
misleading me?

Bill Godshalk

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce W. Richman <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Jan 2004 13:02:00 -0600
Subject: 15.0072 Bartolozzi Engravings
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0072 Bartolozzi Engravings

Charles Nicholls' "The Reckoning" features a well-researched re-creation
of the scene and actors in Marlowe's murder.

Bruce Richman
Department of Psychiatry
University of Missouri School of Medicine

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Jan 2004 19:45:38 -0000
Subject: 15.0072 Bartolozzi Engravings
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0072 Bartolozzi Engravings

 >Just intuitively, I find it hard to believe that such a hard wound ,
 >driving very precisely two inches into the eye socket, could have been so
 >casually administered from a man sitting on a bench. I think they held
him
 >down on the bed and drove the dagger into his brain.

My comments were, of course, based on the assumption that the Inquest
report was reasonably accurate.  Since this was the official version of
Marlowe's death at the time, it seems likely to be the one that would be
known to any artist who happened to hear about Marlowe's killing and
draw a picture of it (the scenario that I was responding to).  There
seems no reason to bring in the long dispute about the Inquest in order
to make a passing comment of this kind.

Since the controversy has been brought up, however, I would find the
scenario suggested in the paragraph quoted above (assuming that it isn't
tied into any vast conspiracy theories) a lot more plausible than many
of the alternative explanations that have been suggested by people who
wanted to dismiss the Inquest, but I'm still not sure that it is
necessary.  Proponents of vast conspiracy theories usually spill huge
quantities of ink revealing quite how dodgy and dangerous the three men
who were present with Marlowe actually were, and then somehow seem
incapable of believing that they might get into a fight over something
as insignificant as a bar-bill, despite the fact that similarly poorly
motivated killings can be found in a wide variety of Renaissance
Inquests (often with people who seem to have no prior recorded
reputation for killing of any kind).

My own suspicion is that if Marlowe had not been one of the greatest
Renaissance dramatists, nobody would have looked too closely at the
Inquest and, had they even found it, they wouldn't have been inspired to
start deconstructing it quite so viciously.

My own take is that even if things happened more or less as described in
the Inquest, Frizer and his colleagues might have bent the truth a
little so as to get Frizer cleared without too much fuss.  If Marlowe
really struck the first blow (perhaps drunkenly, as has been suggested)
and Frizer took just a little longer to finish him off than was told to
the coroner, perhaps with a little more deliberation and pleasure than
was strictly necessary for self-defence, and the other two men were
rather more actively inactive - that is, that they could perhaps have
intervened if they wanted, but they decided just to watch and side with
the victor - then it seems unlikely that an Elizabethan coroner's court,
with only the killer and two witnesses present at the scene; all saying
the same thing; would have had any easy way of proving that the killing
was more deliberate or premeditated.  They didn't have anything like
modern forensics, and cases where things were not instantly clear
usually relied on the testimony of witnesses, and there seem to have
been no witnesses here that were against Frizer or for the dead man.

However, even this may not be necessary.  I can certainly imagine a
scene where the other two men were simply busy trying to get out of the
way of a brawl with a deadly weapon; which I imagine is how a lot of
people would react if a knife-fight broke out and there was nobody in
the room they felt like risking their lives for; and where Marlowe's
clumsy pummelling provoked a furious and deadly response.  I wouldn't
recommend that anybody start testing how much pressure you need to put a
knife through somebody's skull and into their brain, but I would tend to
think that it isn't as much as Edward Brown seems to be imagining, and
could certainly be produced by somebody who had turned around on a bench
(the other two men leaning out of the way to escape danger, or running
off, and giving him room) and launched himself forwards effectively
putting much of his weight on the knife, especially if Marlowe's face
was coming up as the blade went down, or vice versa.  Frizer was
presumably fit, strong, and trained in the use of bladed weapons to at
least the same level as modern soldiers.

I am sure there are some people out there who will respond to this by
throwing books of conspiracy theories at me, or at least long lists of
points about Marlowe's death that have been considered unlikely or
implausible by one person or another, but the conspiracy theorists have
long been hanging around Marlowe's killing, and have effectively muddied
the waters.  As usual the replacement conspiracies offered are usually
far more implausible than the details of the Inquest itself, and
routinely contradict one another in their most important details.  I'm
happy to say that we don't necessarily know for sure exactly what
happened in that room - anymore than we have absolute knowledge about
the vast majority of historical events - but I have seen nothing that
really suggests that the most basic facts of the Inquest (a largely
unpremeditated brawl, in which Marlowe was stabbed once in the face and
died) are not the most likely explanation of his death.

Given a choice between a written contemporary account which is not
entirely implausible, and a series of scenarios based on little more
than pure imagination (which start with a number of theories just about
as plausible as the Inquest; such as the idea that Frizer wasn't quite
as innocent as he claimed to be, and didn't strike in pure self-defence;
and end in the realms of paranoid delusions and sheer fantasy; such as
the idea that Marlowe's death was faked by just about every one of the
most important people in the country, and he then went on to write
Shakespeare's plays, while at the same time impregnating a variety of
famous noblewomen and fathering secretly illegitimate Earls about whom
he then wrote Sonnets) then I would still tend to go for the document.
Historical speculation is fun, but it needs to have some basis in fact
(usually an alternative document) before you can pretend that it
reliably drives out contradictory and firmly historical evidence from
the time.

Rather like the Jack the Ripper case, unless some previously
undiscovered document appears and offers a plausible solution, it seems
vastly unlikely that anybody looking back over centuries will be able to
discover the real facts behind the case from extremely incomplete
historical records, when those present at the time were unable to do so,
despite being able to talk to those involved (except the victim) and
view the physical evidence of the scene.  That doesn't stop people
making up stories and selling books.  Making interesting guesses about
things that can never really be known or settled is what a great deal of
scholarship is about.

Thomas Larque.
"Shakespeare and His Critics"       "British Shakespeare Association"
http://shakespearean.org.uk           http://britishshakespeare.ws

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