The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0181  Tuesday, 16 April 2013


From:        Ros Barber <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 16, 2013 9:06:51 AM EDT

Subject:     Christopher Marlowe a ‘douche’? 


Will Sutton:

‘We know even if they did write the works that Oxenforde was a complete profligate douche and Marlowe no better.’


Would Will Sutton mind not laying into another talented writer in the midst of defending his own? If he believes Marlowe is a ‘douche’ may I politely suggest he has absorbed a stereotype, propagated initially (and posthumously) by evangelical puritans such as Thomas Beard, and other natural enemies of this brilliant free-thinker. Prior to his untimely death, which many scholars consider an assassination (making him a victim of violence, rather than a perpetrator), there is no evidence anyone but Richard Baines (a Catholic double-agent with ulterior motives) thought Marlowe a ‘douche’. Nashe called him a ‘friend that used me like a friend’, the author of Newe Metamorphosis (Jervase Markham?) called him ‘kynde Kit Marlowe’. There is no evidence he was any more violent than any other Elizabethan young man (see my essay ‘Was Marlowe a Violent Man? in Christopher Marlowe the Craftsman, Ashgate 2010), and unlike Ben Jonson, he never killed anyone. (Is Ben Jonson a ‘douche’?)   


As to his profligacy, we have recent evidence (thanks to David Mateer) that Marlowe was short of money when he first moved to London, and defaulted on debts—not an unusual situation for a struggling writer. Eccles found many other writers of the period subjected to similar court actions. I would hope that for those at the beginning of their writing careers poverty is both understandable and forgivable.


The ‘bad boy’ stereotype is terribly appealing, I realise, but there is plenty of evidence to count against it. Not least that in 1587, five members of the Privy Council, including the Archbishop of Canturbury and Lord Treasurer Burghley, testified that “in all his accions he had behaved him selfe orderlie and discreetlie wherebie he had done her Majestie good service, & deserved to be rewarded for his fathfull dealinge” saying “it was not her Majesties pleasure that anie one emploied as he had been in matters touching the benefitt of his Countrie should be defamed by those that are ignorant in th’affaires he went about.”  It seems little has changed in four hundred and twenty-six years: Marlowe, who served his country, is still being defamed by the ignorant. 


Ros Barber


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