Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shakespeare, Marlowe and the Elizabethan 911

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

When Mary of Guise garrisoned an additional four thousand troops in Edinburgh, England decided that it was time to launch a pre-emptive strike based upon the "intelligence" that was available. Norfolk's position was basically this: you are either for us or against us. He proposed a pre-emptive strike to smoke out 'heretics' [terrorists?] and bring them to justice, that is to say --the rack or the noose or both!

Sir William Cecil --later Lord Burghley --admonished spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham who urged caution. Cecil's position was: 'you're either for us for you are for the heretics!'
I do not like wars. They have uncertain outcomes.

--Elizabeth I of England

Scotland, however, was never capable of launching a full scale invasion of England --either under Mary of Guise as regent or later under the rule of Mary Queen of Scots. Mary, a Catholic, was "dispatched" to Scotland because Francis II had died and Mary's mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici didn't like her. Mary, Queen of Scots was Catholic, of course, but while she was welcomed in Scotland she soon fell from grace, called a 'mermaid', slang for 'whore'. She sought asylum in England but that turned out not to have been a good idea. Hers is a sad life.

She represents one of several significant links to the Italian Renaissance. She was the daughter-in-law of Catherine de Medici. Catherine was the daughter not of Lorenzo de Medici called Il Magnifico but of Lorenzo de Medici II. It was this "second" Lorenzo to whom the exiled Machiavelli had kissed up in hopes of regaining his position of influence in Florence. He was not successful and lived out his life whoring, writing and tending his fields.

The religious "cultural" wars were worse in France, officially Catholic, where Protestants --called Huguenots --insisted upon the freedom to worship as they chose.

A brutal massacre of Huguenots in 1572 --called the Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve --was the 911 of its day, a bloody act of terrorism that divided Europe. Some six thousand or more men, women, and children, were butchered on the streets of Paris. As was the case during the Christian slaughter of Muslims in Jerusalem during the First Crusade, blood ran ankle deep through the streets of Paris. These horrific events would inspire the famous play by Christopher Marlowe, The Massacre of Paris, a work of protestant propaganda, designed to rally righteous indignation and, perhaps, justify similar atrocities against Catholics.

Shock waves reverberated throughout Europe at this act of 'terrorism'. Queen Elizabeth cancelled negotiations for the hand of King Charles's brother, Francis, Duke of Alencon. He was sent packing by the protestant Queen.

Shakespeare wrote convincingly about life in a police state; his productive life was spent in one. Shakespeare probably witnessed cousins drawn and quartered for being Catholic. The 'downfall' of his father, prominent in Stratford, may be because the elder Shakespeare still professed the "Old Faith" --Catholicism. 'Shakespeare' may have lived out his entire life "underground" only to revert to the "Old Faith" on this death bed.

'Shakespeare' railed against tyrants and got away with it because he made his points in historical context. From within a cover that James Bond might have envied, 'Shakespeare' could always plead innocence of sedition. It was only show biz!

A production of Richard II infuriated Elizabeth I who saw herself in it and suspected that it had been performed to incite public opinion against her. Performed on the very eve of Essex's planned coup d'etat, Shakespeare's 'players' had been paid to perform Richard II. It was alleged that the performance was timed to inflame the crowd, to set the stage for the Essex 'coup d'etat'.

Essex was late for his own coup d'etat --unable to decide upon a proper shirt! History may have turned upon a cuff or ruffle!

"Do ye not see that I am Richard II?" Elizabeth had said. We may suppose, then, that Shakespeare had come close to being hanged, disemboweled, drawn and/or quartered.

Later, Shakespeare and his fellow actors would perform his MacBeth --the tale of the murder of a Scottish King --for a Scottish King who had only recently become King of England. Following the Gunpowder plot, it was nervy, courageous, perhaps, foolhardy! King James himself had cried havoc and let loose the dogs of oppression --if not war. Guy Fawkes was accused of planning to blow up Parliament, an act of treason!

Suspiciously, the gunpowder was traced to the government's own store, just as Don Rumsfeld's 'missile that struck this building' may have been a US Global Hawk, not Fl 77. Then as now, the country had a "war on terrorism" to fight, a divided Kingdom to consolidate! James exhorted a near hysterical public: "We dinna need the papists now!!" He might have added: we will smoke them out or you are either with us or with the terrorists!

If the 'official conspiracy theories' are correct, Christopher Marlowe did not write Shakespeare. Marlowe, it is said, died of a knife wound in 1593 and was long dead by the time Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, Richard II, Richard III, MacBeth, The Merchant of Venice (inspired by Marlowe's "Jew of Malta"?).

Nevertheless, the 'facts' and circumstances of Marlowe's death intrigue us. The 'official theory' is that Marlowe, a known homosexual and atheist, had gone too far in Flushing, boasting of his sexual preferences, denying the divinity of Christ, declaring that he had as much right as the Crown to mint coins. Marlowe, often called 'Marley' or 'Morley', was immediately targeted for investigation, suspected of heresy and high treason.

The most famous story is that a rake, a liar, a common grifter like Richard Poley might have helped Marlowe fake his own death in Deptford in 1593. A passage from MacBeth has fueled much speculation along those lines. It is, therefore, tempting to hear the bard's voice in the following lines describing a murder and a resurrection:
The time has been
That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there, an end. But now they rise again
With twenty mortal murders on their crowns,
And push us from our stools.

--MacBeth, III: 4

Recent writers have claimed that the lines "...the brains were out, the man would die" reference the "murder" of Christopher Marlowe. But --if a bard has license then likewise audiences and readers. It is tempting to read much into those lines beyond MacBeth's murderous coup and his eventual fall. Whatever happened in Deptford, there was most certainly something in it for Poley, Ingram Frizer, and Nicholas Skeres --all of whom were not only on the make but helped frame Mary Queen of Scots in a 'sting' and thus groom her for the block.

Shakespeare had good reason to be a "closet" Catholic. Sir Francis Walsingham, a master spy, employed a small army of accomplished agent provocateurs to enforce the "state" religion. Christopher Marlowe may have been one of them. Both Marlowe and Poley had been spies for Walsingham, a fanatic protestant. Once a spy, it is difficult to indulge a change of heart, an attack of conscience. It may be too late to come in out of the cold.

I am not addressing authorship issues in this article, rather the politics of the time, a 'politics' that might have motivated many another to live, literally, underground as did many 'Catholics' in the Midlands. In the end, 'Shakespeare' is that body of work that we call 'Shakespeare'. Presaging A.J. Ayer and the philosophers of philosophical analysis, the bard himself put it this way: 'What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet'.


MacBeth

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