LETTER TO MARLOWE SOCIETY

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Dear Michael McEvoy / Marlowe Society

Firstly, thanks for publishing my essay on Anti-Stratfordianism in issue 43 of the Marlowe Society Newsletter, which was submitted by my friend, the actor Chris Tranchell.

The outraged comments on it in the subsequent issue 44 have actually occasioned me to invent the philosophical categories of accidental truth and substantial truth. I’m sure Ros Barber is correct to point out that she received £50, 000 of public money for a PHD and £75,000 of private money for a literary advance on a work of fiction, but it’s hardly a rebuttal. These accidental truths only serve to confirm the substantial truth of my assertion that Anti-Stratfordism is a lucrative profession, as is historical fiction generally. Another eye-watering figure is invidiously dangled before the eyes of the jury. I do not wish for enmity with Dr Barber but the Blakean ‘true friendship’ of ‘opposition’. I have purchased a copy of The Marlowe Papers – from a charity shop – and will review it presently. But I reserve the right to uphold the veracity of the historic records of Marlowe’s death and Shakespeare’s authorship.

Another commentator, ‘Yorick’, in his essay ‘Mr Cantankerous Goes Ranting’, accuses me of exhibiting the very snobbery I was criticising but misses the point that I am merely ventriloquising the snobbery of the Anti-Stratfordians by imagining them having to listen to their own elitist theories in the mouths of the masses. Alas poor Yorick, an empty skull.

Peter Daley calls my essay ‘disturbing right-wing fundamentalist rant’ but didn’t notice my accusation of ‘class war’ against proponents of Baconian/Oxfordian (et al) claims, and that I am arguing against ‘patrician appropriation of a plebeian genius’. I have nothing against the masses; I am defending their opinion that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Anyone who knows me as poet and commentator knows I’m healthily, if unacademically, left-wing.

My essay makes it clear I’m aware of the difference between Marlowe’s commoner background and the titled would-be Shakespeares. There is no need for anyone to correct me on that score. As the Baconian claim is unkosher, the Marlovian claim is cobblers.

The commentators unanimously berated my style but, of course, this is the very same style that was the trademark of their beloved Marlowe. Marlowe was always ranting. He was a professional provocateur in the fullest sense. It got him so into trouble with the authorities that his life was taken by a gang of known government lackeys. Marlowe liked to outrage with his inflammatory writing, so I don’t see why Marlovians should protest against a provocative literary manner per se. Above all, Marlowe detested the gentrified.

The commentators carped and quibbled but did nothing to counteract my more serious statements. They beat about the bush of accidental truths and untruths while ignoring the substantial truths. No one responded to the ‘Jonson problem’, for instance. Why would a notoriously loose cannon such as Ben Jonson write a poem celebrating the literary genius of his friend, fellow poet and fellow man of theatre, William Shakespeare, if Shakespeare wasn’t in fact the real thing? Jonson was no flatterer. He would have laughed in the face of any attempted conspiracy and probably written a ferocious satirical play about it. Another later poet who was nonetheless alive in the time of Shakespeare, John Milton, also wrote a poem in Shakespeare’s honour. The combined heavyweight genius of Jonson and Milton should be incontrovertible, or at least more persuasive than the combined charlatanry of the Delia Bacons and Charles Beauclerks of this world.

No one responded to my central assertion about ‘the devaluation of poetry’ and ‘the devaluation of poets’ that such a conspiracy would entail. Marlowe himself would have gladly spat on the claim that he wrote Shakespeare because he does not need to have written Shakespeare to be the proud, full-sailed Christopher Marlowe he is. The Marlowe Society needs to work out whether it’s a society that exists to honour the legacy of Christopher Marlowe or one which is lobbying for the Marlowe claim to the Shakespeare Authorship. The ‘Society Policy’ is charmingly ambivalent. I forsee a schism because the two factions should be incompatible. One is both an insult and an embarrassment to the other. How seriously would we take a Chatterton Society that became hijacked by people who believe Chatterton faked his own death and wrote all of Blake? A Marlowe Society whose members believe Marlowe wrote Shakespeare is underestimating their own man. It fails to take into account that Marlowe was the quintessence of the poet as rebel, unlike the politic Shakespeare. The former propagandised against the Tudor regime, the latter for it. The world doesn’t need Marlowe to go into a telephone booth and change into Supermarlowe. Poets, Barber apart, don’t either. Poets hate lies, and that’s why so many Elizabethan/Jacobean dramas warn against the glibness and mendacity of the human tongue.

As Shakespeare himself said: ‘Truth’s a dog that must to kennel. He must be whipped out, when Lady Brach may stand by th’ fire and stink.’

Yours sincerely,

Niall McDevitt

Photo: Max Reeves

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About Niall McDevitt

Niall McDevitt > poet > author of b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010) and Porterloo (International Times, 2012) > urban explorer > radical pedestrian who leads Shakespeare/Blake/Rimbaud /Yeats walks, among others.
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