1. A.D.Wraight's Research

Did Christopher Marlowe die at Deptford in 1593?

The respected author and Marlovian scholar A.D.Wraight thinks not. A hypothesis on the life of Christopher Marlowe after the events at Deptford has been put forward in her book The Story that the Sonnets Tell1. An earlier book by this author In Search of Christopher Marlowe2, written in collaboration with Virginia Stern, is accepted as a definitive reference on Marlowe before the Deptford incident.

A.D.Wraight collates earlier research into (a) the Coroner’s report of the Inquest on Marlowe’s death and (b) the background of the people involved, and concludes that his murder was faked. This raises the question, what happened to Christopher Marlowe next?

Wraight has analysed the 154 Shakespearian Sonnets in a new way with meticulous detail and believes she has identified the poet as Marlowe. Moreover she believes we can plot with some certainty his period in exile after a ‘faked’ murder and the varied emotions he experienced, amongst which despair at the distance from all he loves, and the injustice and inexorability of his fate, predominate.

A.D.Wraight has grouped all the poems according to their subject matter and believes she has identified the true meaning and identities of the “Dark Lady” and “Mr. W.H.”. She believes that Thomas Thorpe, the publisher of the Sonnets, deliberately confused his readers by altering the chronological order of the Sonnets, mixing up the subject matter and order of composition to prevent the identification of the real poet, a fugitive in continual danger.

Scholars have long considered that the Sonnets could be autobiographical since many of them are written in the first person; therefore they appear to tell the life story of the author. The dedication in the Shake-speare Sonnets (the hyphenated name suggesting that it was a pseudonym), present puzzles that have long taxed scholars. Who was Mr W.H.? And who was the “Dark Lady”?

Wraight agrees with Leslie Hotson’s solution3 to these puzzles.His suggestion that the cryptogram which forms the dedication to the Sonnets identified William Hatcliffe as Mr W.H.and that Luce Morgan, a disgraced courtier, was the Dark Lady, (the term “black” was used by Elizabethans in reference to this lady’s profession). These two people provide further clues in identifying the author of the Sonnets as Christopher Marlowe since Hotson was able to show that both were known to Marlowe. Wraight honours Hotson for his work and continues where he left off.

On the following page, I have summarised some of the main points made by A.D.Wraight in her book.

Note 1: A.D.Wraight, The Story That The Sonnets Tell (Adam Hart Publishing, 1995).

Note 2: A.D.Wraight & V.F.Stern, In Search of Christopher Marlowe (Vanguard Press, 1965).

Note 3: Leslie Hotson, Mr W.H. (Hart-Davis Publishers, 1964).

2. The Story That The Sonnets Tell

Research by A.D.Wraight into Shake-speare’s Sonnets led her to conclude that Christopher Marlowe was in fact their author. There follows a summary of the main points in her book on the subject, The Story that the Sonnets Tell1.

Hotson’s theories concerning the personae of Mr. W.H. and the Dark Lady, are overlaid by Wraight’s own hypothesis that Thomas Thorpe set a trap for the unwary by referring to “THE . ONLIE . BEGETTER” (the only inspiration or patron) of the sonnets, when she believes there were three:

  • William Hatcliffe when he was elected ‘Prince of Purpoole’ by his fellow law students at Gray’s Inn,
  • the young Earl of Southampton, for whom Lord Burghley commissioned 17 sonnets for his 17th birthday,
  • and the man who could be called the True Patron, Thomas Walsingham.

Sonnets 1 to 17 form a tightly knit group of consecutive sonnets all on a single theme, persuading the young man to whom they are addressed of the joys and advantages of marrying and begetting heirs to his line. A.D.Wraight suggests that these sonnets were commissioned by Lord Burghley to persuade Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, to marry Lady Elizabeth de Vere as this was a match he favoured. Southampton was his ward and Elizabeth was a member of his own family, but this match Southampton was disinclined to consummate. The number of sonnets (17) seems odd until it is realised they were given to Southampton on his 17th birthday. We should remember that Lord Burghley, as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge was most probably responsible for Marlowe’s recruitment into the Secret Service and was aware of his ability as a poet, so Marlowe would have been a suitable choice for this task.

Sonnets 1 to 17 were not the first to be written, declares Wraight, but were placed at the beginning because they form such a distinct group. The Patron to whom the main body of the sonnets is addressed is not “Mr. W.H.” and historical fact and incident suggest he was Thomas Walsingham. The sonnets addressed to William Hatcliffe are so cleverly mixed with those to Walsingham that the chronology becomes confused, effectively hiding the latter’s identity as the True Patron. When the Hatcliffe sonnets are set on one side, we are left, according to Wraight, with a body of sonnets which may well tell the story of Marlowe’s exile.

If we accept her reasoning we must assume that Marlowe took ship from Deptford (then a dockyard and harbour) for the Continent on, or about, the 30 May 1593 and the sonnets seem to tell us this was to be a long, sad but necessary journey; the poet had to make his way over sea and land, probably through France to Italy.

There is distinct evidence of an Italian influence in Shakespeare’s plays from this time onwards (1593) and Dr. Leslie Hotson has identified a likely connection between Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and the court of Duke Orsino, Duke of Bracciano, as shown in his book The First Night of Twelfth Night2. Hotson refers to an especially brilliant performance of the play in the Duke’s honour on the 06 January 1601 celebrating the Duke’s visit to the Court of Queen Elizabeth.

Wraight refers to this set of sonnets as the Sonnets of Exile, which form a considerable group when extracted from the body of the collection. There seem to be 36 such sonnets (including Sonnet 74) and if to these we add the four that speak of the necessity for anonymity (71, 72, 81 and 125), we have by far the largest subject group. The message they seem to tell us is of enforced absence from the poet’s Patron.

For Marlowe’s life after 1593 virtually all there is to inform us are these Sonnets of Exile and the internal evidence of the Shakespeare plays.

3. Sonnet 74

Research by A.D.Wraight in her book The Story that the Sonnets Tell1 led her to conclude that Christopher Marlowe was in fact the real author of Shake-speare’s Sonnets.

One of the most intriguing of Shakespeare’s autobiographical sonnets is Sonnet 74.

The lines “…… that fell arrest, / Without all bail ……” do not refer to any known incident in the life of William Shakespeare. Yet Christopher Marlowe was killed, if the official account of his “death” at Deptford is to be taken literally, when he was struck above the right eye by a “wretch’s knife” (Line 11) i.e. by Ingram Frizer’s dagger.

“That fell arrest” and the “bail” of the first three lines of this sonnet are part of the metaphor reminding us that there is no return (bail) from death (fell arrest), YET the words “arrest” and “bail” echo known events in Marlowe’s life in the days prior to the Deptford incident. He was arrested after being named (by Thomas Kyd when under torture) and released on bail whilst further evidence against him was collected.

Sonnet 74

But be contented: when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee.
The earth can have but earth, which is his due,
My spirit is thine, the better part of me.
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead,
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered.
The worth of that, is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.

Shake-speare’s SonnetsSonnet 74

Note 1: A.D.Wraight, The Story That The Sonnets Tell (Adam Hart Publishing, 1995).

4. New Evidence

In her more recent book, Shakespeare: New Evidence1, A.D.Wraight introduces a startling discovery, the results of her most recent research into Christopher Marlowe after 1593.

Anthony Bacon, brother of the more famous Sir Francis Bacon, was a Secret Service agent for some time on the Continent but had to return to England because of ill health. He then entered the service of the Earl of Essex, an ambitious member of the Queen’s Privy Council, and introduced a Frenchman by the name of Monsieur Le Doux as an intelligence agent to Essex in 1595. This information comes from the voluminous letters of Anthony Bacon, now held in the archives of Lambeth Palace.

Wraight sets out to prove that “Le Doux” was the assumed name of Christopher Marlowe while in exile, and proposes that a letter in the Lambeth archive, signed Le Doux, is in the same handwriting of the two documents that we can safely attribute to Marlowe.2

With this letter is a list of 57 books for which payment is requested, probably from Thomas Walsingham. These books include religious texts and foreign language dictionaries, including a book on the current popular phrases and sayings in French.

Wraight asks why would a Frenchman need such a book of colloquial French phrases? That Le Doux was an Englishman is highly probable since there is no English dictionary included among the language texts in the list.

The remainder of these books are works from which the plots of most of the Shakespeare plays are taken. There are a number of history texts, several concerning Turkey and according to Wraight, Marlowe’s first plays may well have been, The True History of George Scanderbeg and Tamburlaine the Great which have connections with Turkish history.

The considerable amount of material in the Anthony Bacon files in Lambeth Palace archives has not been touched for over 400 years. A team of researchers with suitable experience in historical research and language skills (many of the documents are in the French and Italian of the period) are needed to examine these documents. Who knows what further evidence on the Marlowe story will come to light?

A.D.Wraight does not intend that this new evidence should in any way diminish William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. She believes it simply shows him in a different light. If the origin of the plays which Shakespeare brokered had been guessed, he would have been in very great danger.

She thus suggests that William Shake-speare is Christopher Marlowe’s pseudonym, and his work will always be remembered under this name.