By Charles Matthews

Saturday, July 24, 2010

10. The World of Christopher Marlowe, by David Riggs, pp. 250-274

The World of Christopher 
MarloweChapter Twelve: Double Agents
In September 1589, Marlowe was involved in a fight in which Thomas Watson killed an innkeeper named William Bradley. Earlier, Bradley had defaulted on a debt he owed to John Alleyn, the brother of the player Edward Alleyn, and had then charged that Alleyn, Watson and an attorney named Hugo Swift, Watson's brother-in-law, were plotting to kill him. Marlowe's quarrel with Bradley gave Watson an opportunity to end the feud.

Watson and Marlowe were arrested for murder and sent to Newgate, which was where Marlowe encountered John Poole, a counterfeiter and a member of the Catholic underground. Poole was related by marriage to Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, who was an object of surveillance by the government. Strange was also patron of a theater company, Strange's Men. "In gathering information about Poole's associates, Marlowe stood to gain in two ways: he could sell his discoveries to Watson's friend Thomas Walsingham, or he could pursue relations with the rebel faction."

Marlowe was exonerated by the coroner's jury and released on bail pending a hearing in criminal court, which took place in December, when he was freed. Watson, a spy employed by Thomas Walsingham, was returned to prison until he received a pardon from the queen in February 1590. His "connection with the Walsinghams offered Marlowe an entrée into up-market Kentish patronage and the secret service." By the winter of 1591-92, Marlowe was roommate and perhaps bedmate of the spy Richard Baines.

Strange's Men included Thomas Kyd, Thomas Heminges, "who later prepared Shakespeare's first folio," Thomas Pope, George Bryan and the comedian Will Kempe. Both Strange's Men and the Admiral's Men performed at the Theatre, owned and managed by Richard Burbage, until Strange's Men moved to the Rose, Philip Henslowe's playhouse. John and Edward Alleyn joined the company after a quarrel with Richard Burbage and his brother John. The Alleyns probably drew Marlowe into the company. He shared quarters with Kyd.

Marlowe wrote The Jew of Malta for the company, probably in 1591, though perhaps a year earlier. "Where the dominant trope of Tamburlaine is hyperbole, The Jew abounds in irony." It is "a war between vice and virtue" modeled on the morality play.
Jewish exiles from Spain and Portugal were usually required to profess Christianity in their new countries; the converts were called Marranos.... In common parlance the word Marrano signified "one descended of Jews or infidels, and whose parents were never christened, but for to save their goods will say they are Christians"; or more simply, "a Jew, an infidel, a renegado, a nickname for a Spaniard." Doubly displaced by exile and forced conversion, the Marrano became a displaced image of the duplicity inherent in espionage and intelligence work. 
Barabas is the embodiment of this duplicity, bragging about his role as double agent.  The biblical Barabbas, chosen by the Jews over Jesus to be spared from crucifixion, "personified the so-called 'Jewish choice' of materialism over spirituality" for Elizabethan Christians, who would have recognized the reference by Marlowe's Barabas to his hoard of gems and gold, "Infinite riches in a little room," as an echo "of the allegory, which was available from a wide range of devotional works, of the infant Christ enclosed in the Virgin Mary's womb."

But Marlowe's Christians are hypocrites who, like Dr. Faustus, "are deaf to spiritual meanings but alert to literal ones" and adhere to the letter but not the spirit. "Although The Jew of Malta abounds in Scriptural allusions, no one grasps their religious meaning."
Barabas defends the ironist's stance in the course of explaining why a Jew who falsely converts to Christianity is better off than a Christian, like Governor Ferneze, who confuses religion with avarice: "A counterfeit profession is better / Than unseen hypocrisy.
Marlowe even parodies his "live with me and be my love" by putting it into the mouth of Ithamore. 

In Barabas's end, he is hoist with his own petard, plunging into the boiling oil he thinks is being prepared for the Turks. Marlowe here plays on the "lurid fascination" of public executions, which were supposed to represent "the operations of divine justice" and whose gruesome punishments "(burning, mutilation, disembowelling and even, as here, boiling alive) foreshadowed the endless pain that awaited the criminal in Hell." But he "withholds any sense of moral resolution" from the depiction of  Barabas's death.

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