Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys through the Elizabethan Underground

By Roy Kendall | Go to book overview

10

"Mistress of the Muses”

AT FIRST GLANCE, IT WOULD APPEAR THAT SIR ROBERT SIDNEY, THE nephew of the late earl of Leicester, had little or no knowledge of the men with whom he was dealing. He wrote to Lord Burghley of "one named Christofer Marly, by his profession a scholer” and of "one Ri: Banes” of whom he appeared to know less than nothing, not even his profession. Can he have been so ignorant of current affairs, especially in relation to Marlowe's career up to this point and to Baines's activities on behalf of the English government, not least while he was at Rheims—which William Allen had done his level best to trumpet throughout the English- and Latin-speaking worlds?


1

Baines's journey from being a counterfeit priest in Rheims to being a counterfeiter of Her Majesty's coin in Flushing has been, I feel, amply chronicled in parts I and II of this book. But what, briefly, had Marlowe's career amounted to between his receiving his M.A. at Cambridge in the summer of 1587 (and as a result automatically becoming part of the gentry and being permitted, unfortunately for William Bradley in the autumn of 1589, to carry a sword) and his arrest in the Low Countries in the winter of 1591/92?

Marlowe's initial and primary achievement is that, with part 1 of Tamburlaine the Great, he blazed a trail that many great names of the English literary Renaissance were to follow. His use of un- rhymed iambic pentameter was not new, but he was the first to make blank verse work for its living on stage. At the same time he made it carry more meaning than previously. He thereby handed his fellow dramatists, and in particular William Shakespeare, a tool with which to transform English theater. The paradox is that at a time when many or most viewed theater work as a disreputable way

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