Marlowe's Reckoning

How did Shakespeare come by privileged information on Marlowe's murky end?

The inquest notes on Christopher Marlowe's death were discovered by Leslie Hotson in 1925. They describe an accidental killing of the poet during an argument witnessed only by the killer and two acquaintances connected with the State's spy network. The implausibility of some of the circumstances, the absence of any record of suspicion and the rapid pardoning of the killer suggest official connivance at a cover-up.

Some analysts suggest that Marlowe was murdered by the State for his religious heresy and, perhaps, to prevent leakage of information gained by him in his alternate profession of spy. Such theories, however, explain neither the regime's decision to forego its normal, well-tested process for heretics nor the curious lack of interest by the Queen's Privy Council (which had naturally argumentative, dissenting factions and which had been scheduled to interview Marlowe on other potentially incriminating matters).

Marlovians theorize that Marlowe's death was faked, enabling him to continue as a spy for the government under other identities. They suggest that, as a side-line, he resumed his professional writing under the nom-de-plume of Shakespeare. Many of the assumptions and inconsistencies associated with this theory are addressed in Appendix D of Shakespeare: a Hidden Life Sung in a Hidden Song.

Some Authorship Sceptics also point to Shakespeare's strange inside knowledge of the inquest. Its verdict of death arising from an argument over the "Reckoning" (or bill) was not common knowledge. There were several contemporaneous and inaccurate rumours as to the cause of the homicide (none of which mentioned a reckoning, or, for that matter, doubted that Marlowe had died). Yet, in
As You Like It, Shakepeare demonstrates familiarity with both the term and its association with Marlowe's death.

However, all the strange circumstances are reconciled by the biography which emerges from Shakespeare's Sonnets. This points strongly to Marlowe as Shakespeare's successful rival for the favours of Henry Wriothesley - then Earl of Southampton and ward of the Queen's chief advisor, William Cecil. The sequence of events leading to Marlowe's end was triggered probably by accident and quite probably by Shakespeare. He was also in a natural position to gain inside knowledge of the Inquest's findings through his involved patron. Read the evidence for the remarkable chain of events at Biography in Shakespeare's Sonnets.