March 23, 2006

Who Killed Christopher Marlowe?

Filed under: books, literature — ted @ 4:55 pm

Ingram Frizer, with a daggar-blow to the head, in Eleanor Bull’s house.

The more interesting question is why. It could, of course, have been a drunken brawl over the bil. But in a fascinating piece from the latest NYRB, Stephen Greenblatt reviews two books who pose that Marlowe was a spy, working against English Catholics–and that this fact may have had something to do with his curious death:

Riggs and Honan share with Nicholl the conviction that this death was exceedingly unlikely to have been caused by a quarrel over the cost of lunch and dinner. Nicholl thinks that the killer (probably Frizer, acting in collaboration with the other two) acted on orders from someone in the circle of the powerful Earl of Essex—not the earl himself, in all likelihood, but one of his ambitious associates—who thought that Marlowe was getting in the way of a Byzantine plot to destroy the earl’s archrival, Sir Walter Ralegh. Nicholl is curiously diffident about the significance of this claim: “I am not trying to argue that Marlowe’s death has to have a meaning,” he writes; “My reading tends only to a more complex kind of meaninglessness than that of a ‘tavern brawl.'”

Honan thinks that Frizer, who hoped to thrive as Thomas Walsingham’s business agent, decided to kill Marlowe because he feared that Marlowe’s unsavory reputation was a liability to his master: “As patron of a well-known, flagrant ‘atheist,’ Walsingham risked damaging his own reputation, and so depriving his agent of profits and security.” Riggs, more intriguingly, thinks that Marlowe was killed at the command of Queen Elizabeth herself. She did not have to be explicit: a few ominous words, spoken in the right ears, would have been enough.


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