The Marlowe Society

Marlowe in Exile?

Marlowe in Exile?

2. The Story That The Sonnets Tell

A Marlowe/ Shakespeare Debate Page

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.

  • Note 1: A.D.Wraight, The Story That The Sonnets Tell (Adam Hart Publishing, 1995). Back to Text
  • Note 2: Leslie Hotson, The First Night of Twelfth Night (Hart-Davis Publishers, 1954). Back to Text