Kit Marlowe is a Naughty Nellie and Probably a Witch

I just caught this from two years ago on The Guardian‘s website. Two years behind, that’s about my speed. But it is a fascinating document of Elizabethan paranoia and skulduggery.

“A controversial document in which the playwright Christopher Marlowe reportedly declared that Christ was gay, that the only purpose of religion was to intimidate people, and that “all they that love not tobacco and boys were fools” is to go on show online for the first time [in 2017. Like I said, I’m two years behind].

“The so-called ‘Baines note,’ a star item in the British Library’s Renaissance manuscript collection, offers tantalising evidence about the private life of Marlowe, one of the most scandalous and magnetic figures of the Elizabeth period.

‘Baines added a personal note, apparently aimed at watching government officials: ‘All men in Christianity ought to endeavour that the mouth of so dangerous a member may be stopped.’ A few days later, Marlowe was stabbed to death in Deptford, south London, in circumstances still regarded as suspicious.

The Guardian

Yeah, that’s the way to stop some member’s mouth: stab him to death. And lest we think this is anything new, remember, Italian police just found a body of a man who was killed by the Mafia and sealed up in concrete in the column of a building under construction. He had been there for awhile. Fun side note: The Mafia sometimes puts a rock in the mouths of stoolies after they’ve been offed.

But back to Elizabethan England: Christopher “Kit” Marlowe was quite a character. Just practically begged for offing.

“In the centuries since his violent death, Marlowe has been celebrated as gay icon whose works explored the realities of homosexual desire while it was still deeply dangerous to do so. Alongside the Baines note, the British Library has uploaded scans of the director Derek Jarman’s notebooks for his avant-garde film of Marlowe’s Edward II (1991). The play focuses on Edward’s love for his favourite male companion, Piers Gaveston; Jarman’s take on the story is nakedly political, featuring references to contemporary battles over gay rights.”

The Guardian

The Jarman film, which badly needs the Criterion treatment, is a rather confused mess, just like the decade in which it was made: the 1960s. But if someone would, while this manic mania for remakes in Hollywood goes on, shoot Edward II as written (mostly), you’d really have something. Mr. Marlowe is pretty incredible for doing what he did at the time he did it. I’m surprised he lasted to the ripe old age of 29. The Guardian has lots of writing about him and his works and the performances thereof; some good reads in those articles.

Here’s the Baines spy document text, with notes from The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Because, in case, you know, you don’t know what Sodomy, papists and pimps are:

“Richard Baines to the Privy Council

“Shortly before Marlowe’s death, the informer Richard Baines made the following accusations against the playwright in a note to the Privy Council, the group of advisors who worked closely with Queen Elizabeth.

“[One Christopher Marly]

“A note containing the opinion of one Christopher Marly concerning his damnable judgment of religion, and scorn of God’s word:

“That the Indians, and many authors of antiquity, have assuredly written of above 16 thousand years agone, whereas Adam [Note: Adam; other copies have ‘Moses.’] is proved to have lived within six thousand years.

“He affirmeth that Moses was but a juggler, [Note: Juggler: cheater, deceiver.] and that one Hariot [Note: Hariot: Thomas Hariot, mathematician and author of A Brief and True Report of the Newfound Land of Virginia.] being Sir Walter Raleigh’s man can do more than he.

“That Moses made the Jews to travel 40 years in the wilderness (which journey might have been done in less than one year) ere they came to the promised land, to the intent that those who were privy to many of his subtleties might perish, and so an everlasting superstition reign in the hearts of the people.

“That the beginning of religion was only to keep men in awe.

“That it was an easy matter for Moses being brought up in all the arts of the Egyptians to abuse the Jews, being a rude and gross people.

“That Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest. [Note: Dishonest: unchaste.]

“That he was the son of a carpenter, and that if the Jews among whom he was born did crucify him, they best knew him and whence he came.

“That Christ deserved better to die than Barabas, [Note: Barabas: Matthew 27:16; Mark 15:7; Luke 23:18-19; John 18:40.] and that the Jews made a good choice, though Barabas were both a thief and a murderer.

“That if there be any God or any good religion, then it is in the Papists, [Note: Papists: Catholics.] because the service of God is performed with more ceremonies, as elevation of the mass, organs, singing men, shaven crowns, etc. That all Protestants are hypocritical asses.

“That if he were put to write a new religion, he would undertake both a more excellent and admirable method, and that all the New Testament is filthily written.

“That the woman of Samaria [Note: Woman of Samaria: John 4.] and her sister were whores and that Christ knew them dishonestly.

“That Saint John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned always in his bosom; that he used him as the sinners of Sodoma. [Note: Sinners of Sodoma: See Genesis 19. In Tudor England, the term ‘sodomy’ applied to a wide range of proscribed sexual practices, including homosexual activity.]

“That all they that love not tobacco and boys are fools.

“That all the apostles were fishermen and base fellows, neither of wit nor worth; that Paul [Note: Paul: cf. Epistle to Romans (King James Version) 13:1-2. ‘1. Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” Note, however, that Paul continues, “Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’s sake.’ (verse 5).] only had wit, but he was a timorous fellow in bidding men to be subject to magistrates against his conscience.

“That he had as good a right to coin [Coin: mint money.] as the Queen of England, and that he was acquainted with one Poole, a prisoner in Newgate, who hath great skill in mixture of metals, and having learned some things of him, he meant through help of a cunning stamp-maker to coin French crowns, pistolets, and English shillings.

“That if Christ would have instituted the sacrament with more ceremonial reverence, it would have been in more admiration; that it would have been better much better being administered in a tobacco pipe.

“That the angel Gabriel was bawd [Bawd: Pimp.] to the Holy Ghost, because he brought the salutation to Mary.

“That one Richard Cholmley hath confessed that he was persuaded by Marlowe’s reasons to become an atheist.”

The British Library; Notes from The Norton Anthology of English Literature

Fascinating. And very highly effective. It’s a laundry list that ticks off every box in the “How to get yourself killed by Christians” guidebook. Baines must have had great fun with this. He got to offend everyone from Indians to the Holy Ghost, have another man killed for it, and probably pocketed some nice change for his trouble. Fabulous.

11:00 | 11-November-1918

100 years ago today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns along the 440-mile line stretching from Switzerland to the North Sea fell silent. The war started 1 August 1914 just as German Chancellor Otto von Bismark once famously predicted around 1884, by “some damned fool thing in the Balkans;” in this case, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, a city of agony in the 20th century). But on 11 November 1918, it was finally “all quiet on the Western Front.”

A preface: I became interested in World War One history about 40 years ago, reading Elleston Trevor’s “Bury Him Among Kings,” a novel (undoubtedly my favorite of all time) with a title which referenced an epitaph mentioned below. From around high school on, I’ve read and studied and absorbed (and suffered through college courses) all I could about German history from 1815 to 1945. It’s endlessly fascinating (and disturbingly prophetic) study.

But it’s never really packed a personal punch. While many in our extended families fought in the Civil War, most were too young or too old for the world wars. One exception was our Uncle Louie Webb, who served in World War Two (and how I wish I could ask him about it!) and our Grandpa Pollock’s oldest brother Mearon Edgar, who was born in 1894 and is our father’s namesake. Edgar (as Dad called him) was a World War One veteran and he placed a small ad in the American Legion Magazine of August, 1937: “800th Aero Repair Squadron—Proposed reunion, Los Angeles, Calif., late summer or fall. Mearon E. Pollock, 306 N. Maple dr., Beverly Hills, Calif.” He was apparently the principal organizer of such squadron reunions up until World War Two. After the first war, he and his wife moved to Beverly Hills from Oklahoma. He was a barber with a shop on Wilshire Boulevard; she was a Beverly Hills public school teacher. They later farmed in Oregon and California, where he died around 1977. Interesting stuff, albeit a bit dry. The history of war should never be dry and dusty and divorced from our emotions. It should be as war itself: visceral, devastating, obscene to sight, offensive to smell, deafening to hearing. Hence the following post.

100 years ago today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns along the 440-mile line stretching from Switzerland to the North Sea fell silent. The war started 1 August 1914 just as German Chancellor Otto von Bismark once famously predicted around 1884, by “some damned fool thing in the Balkans;” in this case, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, a city of agony in the 20th century). But on 11 November 1918, it was finally “all quiet on the Western Front.”

We remember all this today because as Polish poet Czesław Miłosz wrote, “The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.”

But sometimes, the living forget those who can no longer speak and instead harness them in service of the political or the feel-good, using their severed limbs to pat ourselves on our collective backs. This rather florid inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, London, is an example of how remembrance can often be lofty, nebulous, nameless and faceless and sanitized and ultimately divorced from the nightmare reality of the war and how it was experienced by the men and women caught in it:

“Beneath this stone rests the body of a British warrior, unknown by name or rank, brought from France to lie among the most illustrious of the land and buried here on Armistice Day, 11 Nov: 1920, in the presence of His Majesty King George V, his Ministers of State, the Chiefs of his forces and a vast concourse of the nation. Thus are commemorated the many multitudes who during the Great War of 1914 – 1918 gave the most that Man can give, life itself; for God, for King and country, for loved ones, home and empire, for the sacred cause of justice and the freedom of the world. They buried him among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house.”

That was the official, sanitized, God-and-Country pablum version of the war. It’s fine as it goes, but the soldiers of the line saw things quite differently, and epitaphs like these tend to mute them, hide them from sight, rob them of existence.

So what’s a better way to remember then? How about starting with accounts left to us such as the prose and poetry of two British officers and a German soldier. It is their raw experiences which we should remember today, not “George V and his Ministers of State and the Chiefs of his forces” (who botched the entire affair so badly that it became an unprecedented slaughter), nor leaders gathered today at Compiegne, site of the signing of Armistice, nor the American leader shamefully cowering in his hotel in Paris, apparently afraid of rain.

Wrote British Captain Siegfried Sassoon in one of his best, sharpest, brightest harpooning poems of the “Chiefs of His Majesty’s forces”:

The General

“‘Good-morning, good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

“But he did for them both by his plan of attack.”

Siegfried Sassoon

British Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen, who was killed in action just one week before the Armistice was signed, summed up his generation’s experience and wondered who would mourn them in extremely powerful poems:

Anthem for Doomed Youth

“What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

“What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.”

Wilfrid Owen

The German Erich Maria Remarque, in “All Quiet on the Western Front,” a book which was later burned by Hitler, added his own voice in prose:

“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”

“A man cannot realize that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces in which life goes its daily round. And this is only one hospital, a single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany, hundreds of thousands in France, hundreds of thousands in Russia. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.”

Erich Maria Remarque

Finally, it’s worth reading what is probably Owens’ finest poem:

Dulce et Decorum Est

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

“Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

“In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

“If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: ‘Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.'”

Wilfrid Owen

The old lie: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” roughly translates to “It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country.” As Owen wrote, dying like cattle in warfare conducted in the cause of nationalism or patriotism is never sweet. It is an obscenity. Just see the attached photos. You should not be squeamish; stare at them and memorize them. If you vote for war, support its waging or cheer for capital punishment, you should be able to look unflinchingly at the black and white images of the consequences of bloodthirst.)

As violent forces of chauvinistic nationalism rise around us, we would do well to remember not Kings and generals, but the experience and judgement of the many Owens, Sassoons and Remarques as the central lesson of this eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 2018.

[Photo: First World War infantrymen whose faces had been mutilated in trench warfare. They were known as the “gueules cassées”.]