Death in Deptford
7. Conspiracy Theories
A Marlowe/ Shakespeare Debate Page
The two main conspiracy theories are either that Marlowe's killing was a government sponsored assassination, or that his death was faked.
A Faked Murder?
This idea has been gaining in popularity in recent years. It stems directly from the same circumstances that give rise to the idea of the assassination plot, namely secret service involvement, probably acting under orders from a higher authority. Once again there may have been persons of rank who had much to lose by revelations that Marlowe might make under torture, but with this theory they may have resolved to save him rather than kill him.
Once again the secret service were accustomed to operations of this nature; substitute heads such as Ragozine's for Claudio's in Measure for Measure speedily come to mind. It is even possible that Marlowe was a valued spy with particular experience that was badly needed in 1593. Sadly it is much more unlikely that anyone would have gone to such trouble to save England's leading dramatist.
As stated previously Thomas Walsingham had all the necessary skills and contacts to make such a plot successful, and Poley, in particular, the expertise to carry it out. But again it has to be asked whether they would have done it in a manner so likely to bring trouble on themselves, if they had not had the backing of some of the leading figures of the land.
Only two such figures seem likely to have had the authority both to give such orders and to brazen it out afterwards. These are Queen Elizabeth herself and Lord Burghley. Either or both could have had direct access to the Secret Service, probably through Walsingham. To rescue Marlowe at the eleventh hour from the grip of the Court of Star Chamber would look highly suspicious, under whatever guise the rescue was effected.
The ecclesiastic group on the Privy Council headed by Archbishop Whitgift were no doubt anxious to make Marlowe an example, as an atheist, heretic and dissolute playwright. They would not be easily shaken off the scent. Whether Elizabeth and/or Burghley were prepared to risk such divisions and accusations among members of the Privy Council may be seriously open to question. Almost certainly this is precisely what happened when news was brought to the Privy Council of the highly convenient death of Marlowe in Dame Eleanor Bull's house on 30 May 1593.
If Marlowe's death was faked, then it follows that he most likely must have been smuggled out of the country to live abroad in exile. Research into this hypothesis has been undertaken, most notably by A.D.Wraight who has examined possible clues in Shakespeare's Sonnets.