Today in Theatre History: MARLOWE’S MURDER; OR, SOMEONE REALLY GOT HIS GOAT–May 30, 1593

Marlowe--"I need a goat like a hole in the head."

Marlowe’s famous last words:  “I need a goat like a hole in the head.”  (Note the subtle significance of the wispy goatee.)

On this very day in theatre history, exactly 420 years ago–May 30, 1593–young Christopher Marlowe–l’enfant terrible of the Elizabethan stage–was stabbed to death in the head (or the eye or the forehead or just above the eye or between the eyes, whichever you prefer) in an apparent dispute over a bar bill in Deptford.  He was 29 years old.  Scholars of Elizabethan drama are familiar with the details of Marlowe’s sad end (Mrs. Bull’s inn, Deptford, Ingram Frizer and Robin Poley, etc.).  But the circumstances continue to provide fodder for conspiracy fans who argue that his death wasn’t just about a drunken disagreement over a bill.  Perhaps not.  Marlowe spent much of his adult life in secret government employment as a spy.  And he certainly enjoyed living a rough life in the company of rough people, as spies habitually do.  The depositions taken after the murder are all one-sided, of course, giving the impression of a cover-up.  Let’s face it, Marlowe made enemies, through his spying, through his plays and through his less-than-amiable personality.  So it may be possible that his death was a hired hit.  He had just been arrested ten days earlier for attempting to counterfeit money and for making what were perceived as pro-Catholic statements.  So there were ample reasons for doing him in.

Elizabeth I had good reason to off Marlowe.

Elizabeth I had good reason to off Marlowe.

But I’m not convinced.  Everyone knows that the real reason Marlowe was killed was because he was about to reveal that Shakespeare was, in fact, James Timley, cousin of the Earl of Oxford, who had been quietly conveying secretly written scripts from Queen Elizabeth to the Lord Admiral’s Men.  The Queen, of course, was not actually the Queen, but a goat named “Fensterstock Hammersmith” in drag–and the plays were in fact the product of a committee of disgruntled clerics from Bologna hoping to break out of the confines of their monastic drudgery and make a new beginning in the bright lights and fast life of the London stage.  But the Queen/goat obviously couldn’t reveal that her/its plays were from a group of frustrated Catholic monks, so… she/it had Marlowe killed.

Furthermore, let’s not forget that Deptford was the center of England’s goat trade at the time.  And if not the center, then certainly goats must have once been there.  After all, can you prove that there were never any goats in Deptford?  No, of course you can’t.  So I think we can safely agree that there was a very strong goat/Deptford connection going on here.  Which, I think, clearly proves my point.

No outrageous conspiracy.  Just the facts.

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