Christopher Marlowe

Please post your comments and suggestions for this article.

Comment by Mike Thomas on October 3rd, 2009 at 11:14 pm


I entirely endorse the view expressed in your article on Marlowe, in relation to his alleged homosexuality. The commonly expressed view that Marlowe was a homosexual is not based on any evidence. Proponents of that view usually cite Baines’s note, in which Marlowe is accused of saying that anyone who did not like tobacco and boys were fools. Those that have read Baines’s infamous note will know that the comments that Marlowe is quoted as making (and I’m inclined to think that he did make them) are clearly intended to shock, and to display his wit to his peers, rather than to be taken literally. Does anyone seriously think that Marlowe actually believed that one has to like sodomy and inhaling tobacco smoke in order not to be a fool? Further, according to Baines’s note Marlowe also stated that the Host (at Eucharist) would be better if smoked in a pipe; that the angel Gabriel was a pimp; and that Jesus was queer for John the Evangelist. Was Marlowe serious about these “facts” as well?

The play “Edward II”, in which the eponymous King Edward is clearly depicted as a homosexual, is also cited as evidence that this was the playwright’s proclivity. However, Marlowe spent over three years at the Scottish royal court, where he would have had ample opportunity to watch James VI (the First of England), who was blatantly homosexual, and thus to acquire material on which to base his character Edward. For Edward II read James VI, for Gaveston read Lennox, and the playwright was simply drawing from scenes he had witnessed (James made no attempt to disguise his inclinations). By the same token, when Robert Bloch wrote “Psycho” (later the Hitchcock film), did the author base the character of Norman Bates on himself?

As for the works where Marlowe was drawing from Greek mythology, in these he was simply following the original. In “Hero and Leander” for instance, is it suggested that Marlowe must have been a homosexual, because had he been heterosexual he would have substituted a female character for Ganymede. An “Agatha” perhaps?

Your article comes as something of a relief.

Mike Thomas

Comment by Mike Thomas on October 8th, 2009 at 4:46 am

Further to the feedback of October 3rd, re Marlowe’s sexuality. Kit Marlowe was continually at odds with the Church authorities, and the comment reported in Baines’s accusatory Note (Baines was himself a church rector), about “tobacco and boys” should be seen in the light of this friction. The translation of Ovid’s “Amores” that had been one of Marlowe’s achievements whilst still a student had been publicly burned by the Church, presumably because the Bible proscribes homosexuality, and the “Amores” is a celebration of homoeroticism. The comment about boys – or more specifically the reference to “fools” – therefore had the Church as its intended target.

Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love” is addressed to a girl, because in the poem the shepherd speaks of a “gown” and “kirtle” (girl’s petticoat) and the response, by Sir Walter Raleigh, is that of a “Nymph”, so Raleigh was evidently in no doubt that the context of the exchange was heterosexual love. Nevertheless, no firm conclusions may be drawn from this either. Marlowe’s sexual inclinations are not known.

Raleigh was the founder of “The School of Night”, one of whose main tenets was atheism, and since he also introduced tobacco to Britain, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that the Church was also hostile to the smoking of tobacco. Marlowe too was a member of “The School of Night”, so the reference to tobacco is another likely manifestation of the animosity between the poet and the clerics. On one occasion Marlowe described the cleric Gabriel Harvey as fit to preach only of the Bronze Age.

Mike Thomas

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