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Monday, August 20, 2012

Christopher Marlowe's Death & Shakespeare's Life

I came across a great article about the coded references Shakespeare wrote into As You Like It about Christopher Marlowe's violent death.



The critic Fintan O'Toole does a great job of describing the kind of writer Shakespeare had to become in the police state that was Elizabethan England: "Shakespeare lived in a nasty state, and dealt with dangerous matters of the day, from murder to mayhem, with ingenious theatrical subterfuge."

He also goes on to repeat the very convincing theory that Shakespeare referred to Christopher Marlowe's death in the play, and the audience of the day would have immediately understood the reference.

I agree with this theory and I applaud Mr. O'Toole for exploring it further.

What he doesn't ask is why Shakespeare would have made the reference in the first place. Surely there was a calculated risk. Shakespeare wanted to write the line to say something to the crowd, but what precisely?

Mr. O'Toole seems on the right track when he concludes the article that "The reckoning that killed Marlowe helped to give birth to Shakespeare." but he doesn't continue the thought, and he doesn't answer this question.

I don't think Shakespeare was a passive participant was he was "born."

In my version of Richard III, I explored the love/hate relationship I think Shakespeare and Marlowe had, and the effect that Marlowe's death/murder would have had on Shakespeare.

I came to a working theory that Shakespeare was not just sad that his fellow playwright was dead, and he was not just in fear that the authorities might crack down on other playwrights like himself, but that he in fact took advantage of the opportunity.

I think Shakespeare took control of the situation and asserted himself as the rightful heir to Marlowe. The way in which he did so is shown in my version of Richard III, since I think it was this play where Shakespeare emerged as the greatest playwright in Elizabethan London.

Marlowe who had written the first popularly successful play in London's public playhouses, Tamburlaine, about a shepherd who becomes a powerful warrior, was now gone and his death left a great void.

With Richard III, and likewise in the references to Marlowe in As You Like It, Shakespeare was celebrating Marlowe's memory, building trust with the audience, and telling them that it was now he, Shakespeare, and no other, who was their shepherd.


Cheers,

David