The only writer with the proven ability
to write poetry and dramatic verse at a
"Shakespearean" level. For two
centuries, scholars have proclaimed
that Shakespeare learned how to write
by studying Marlowe's style.
Speculation that they were friends and
shared manuscripts is prompted by
the striking similarity of Marlowe's
later works to Shakespeare's early
The Great Puzzle:
Christopher Marlowe, 1564-1593?
In 2002, Christopher Marlowe––the greatest playwright of his day––was finally given some
recognition in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, with a memorial window. Much to most
people's surprise, however, a question mark was included against the date of his death, 1593.
Let's explore why the date of Marlowe's death might be in question.
The report of Christopher Marlowe's inquest says he spent the day privately with three
people––Ingram Frizer, Robert Poley and Nicholas Skeres––in a house near the Thames at
Deptford. After dinner that evening a row erupted over who was to pay the "sum of pence"
owing. Marlowe attacked Frizer from behind with Frizer's own dagger, and Frizer killed him in
Pick any eight or nine of the scholarly books or articles written in the last twenty years about
Marlowe's apparent death, however, and you'll find eight or nine different accounts of what
really happened. It's one of those intriguing mysteries about which scholars find it almost
impossible to agree. So why is this?
We claim that it is because they are all trying to answer the wrong question. Instead of asking
why Marlowe was killed, which yields this host of possible answers, they should be asking
what the most logical explanation would be for those particular people to have been there that
day. We say that by asking the wrong question they have missed what would be one of the
most extraordinary, thrilling and mind-boggling stories in literary history.
The point is that at that time Marlowe was in desperate trouble, accused within only the past
few days of crimes which would lead possibly to his torture, and certainly his trial and
execution. That the Queen's right hand man Lord Burghley had apparently been an employer
and protector of his over the years would count for little, and his good friend Thomas
Walsingham had even less chance of doing anything legal to save him.
On the other hand, Robert Poley was one of the most experienced intelligence agents working
within Lord Burghley's patch. Although en route from the Netherlands with urgent and
important letters for the Privy Council, he was neverthless "on her Majesty's service" during
his stopover at Deptford. Ingram Frizer was a loan shark and confidence trickster, but also in
the employ of Marlowe's friend Walsingham, with whom he would be closely associated for
the rest of his life. And Nicholas Skeres, another con-man and therefore professional liar, was
working with Frizer on their latest scam (from which Walsingham himself stood to benefit).
There are also good reasons for being very suspicious about how genuine the inquest was. The
Queen's coroner William Danby, a colleague of Burghley and former class-mate of
Walsingham's father, had no legal right to be running it on his own, and it seems quite likely
that the foreman of the jury was specially picked for the job. There is no evidence that there
was anyone at the inquest––other than Frizer, Poley and Skeres––who could have identified the
Given this situation, we claim that their attendance for any sort of social or business meeting
can be rejected quite easily, and that any suggestion of all three of them being there to murder
him simply cannot be logically supported. The only logical explanation must be that they were
there to fake his death, and the fact that there was indeed a corpse lying there at the end of the
day would have been an essential part of this scenario.
Full supporting evidence for the "faked death" claim can be found on Peter Farey's website
in his essays "Marlowe's Sudden and Fearful End", "Was Marlowe's Inquest Void?", "Was
Marlowe's Inquest Void? (2)", and "The Deptford Jury".
BBC NEWS WORLD EDITION
JULY 12, 2002
Marlowe given Poets'
Elizabethan playwright Christopher
Marlowe has been honoured with a
memorial glass panel in Westminster
Abbey's Poets' Corner, which places
him among the greatest names in English
literature. (Full Story . . . )
JULY 11, 2002
Marlowe tribute puts
question mark over
By NIGEL REYNOLDS
The project was a little controversial from
the start: a memorial window at Poet's
Corner in Westminster Abbey to
Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan
playwright, poet, heretic, blasphemer, spy,
homosexual and rascal. But a provocative
detail etched on to the window, being
unveiled this evening, has turned what
promised to be a happy, historic occasion
into one fraught with academic
disagreement. (Full Story . . . )
Who was Christopher
Click here to read about Marlowe's life
Why do we think that
Marlowe did not die in 1593?
Click here to learn about what we call
"The Great Puzzle" of Marlowe's death.
Think the idea of faking
one's own death is unusual?
Click here to find out how common it
What do Shakespeare
scholars say about Marlowe?
Click here to read opinions about
Marlowe's influence in the Shakespeare
Is there a problem with
Click here to learn why we at the
IMSS are skeptical that Shakespeare
was a writer.