Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys through the Elizabethan Underground

By Roy Kendall | Go to book overview

1

"Enter the English Agent”

THE BAINES NOTE IS THE "MASTER KEY TO THE MIND OF MARLOWE.” Thus Paul Kocher, in his learned study of Christopher Marlowe's thought, learning, and character, 1 defined the importance of the well-known Baines memorandum that was delivered to the authorities immediately prior to the playwright's death in May 1593, and was endorsed by an official as "A note Containing the opinion of one Christopher Marly Concerning his damnable Judgment of Religion, and scorn of Gods word.” 2 (For easy reference, see appendix A below for complete text of this memorandum.) As it happened, the note contained rather more than that, including the ominous injunction: "J think all men in Cristianity ought to indevor that the mouth of so dangerous a member may be stopped.” If the note did not actually precipitate Marlowe's death, it certainly did not help lengthen his life. Kocher concludes his chapter devoted to the note by saying: "Of whom among the Elizabethans have we such another record? Not Raleigh, not the scientists, nor any of Marlowe's fellow dramatists, nor any other literary Englishman whose work we know. For revolutionary impact and scope it stands alone, an extraordinary document in the history of free thought.” 3

It is not the aim of this chapter or this study as a whole to dissent from the generality of this view. The intention is, nevertheless, to demonstrate that great caution must be used when turning this "master key, both because it was fashioned to fit a lock made by Thomas Drury (see part IV, chapters 15 and 17), of whose involvement Kocher was not aware, and because Richard Baines, the molder of the key, was not the man Kocher took him to be, as will become plain in this and the succeeding chapters. Fourteen years prior to writing his note, Baines had entered the English College in Rheims. His activities at the seminary have only been scantily investigated by Marlowe scholars. The strategy of part 1 of this study, therefore, is to chart Baines's movements there and to show, with the use of previously neglected and untranslated documents,

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