A controversial document in which the playwright Christopher Marlowe reportedly declared that Christ was gay, that the only purpose of religion was to intimidate people, and that “all they that love not tobacco and boys were fools” is to go on show online for the first time.
The so-called “Baines note”, a star item in the British Library’s Renaissance manuscript collection, offers tantalizing evidence about the private life of Marlowe, one of the most scandalous and magnetic figures of the Elizabeth period.
|Christopher Marlowe. Photograph: Alamy|
Compiled in May 1593 by the police informant and part-time spy Richard Baines, it claims to record a conversation between the two men in which the playwright airs a long list of what Baines describes as “monstrous opinions:”
Richard Baines to the Privy Council
Shortly before Marlowe's death, the informer Richard Baines made the following accusations against the playwright in a note to the Privy Council, the group of advisors who worked closely with Queen Elizabeth.
[One Christopher Marly]
A note containing the opinion of one Christopher Marly concerning his damnable judgment of religion, and scorn of God's word:"That the Indians, and many authors of antiquity, have assuredly written of above 16 thousand years agone, whereas Adam >> note 1 is proved to have lived within six thousand years.He affirmeth that Moses was but a juggler, >> note 2 and that one Hariot>> note 3 being Sir Walter Raleigh's man can do more than he.That Moses made the Jews to travel 40 years in the wilderness (which journey might have been done in less than one year) ere they came to the promised land, to the intent that those who were privy to many of his subtleties might perish, and so an everlasting superstition reign in the hearts of the people.That the beginning of religion was only to keep men in awe.That it was an easy matter for Moses being brought up in all the arts of the Egyptians to abuse the Jews, being a rude and gross people.That Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest. >> note 4That he was the son of a carpenter, and that if the Jews among whom he was born did crucify him, they best knew him and whence he came.That Christ deserved better to die than Barabas, >> note 5 and that the Jews made a good choice, though Barabas were both a thief and a murderer.That if there be any God or any good religion, then it is in the Papists,>> note 6 because the service of God is performed with more ceremonies, as elevation of the mass, organs, singing men, shaven crowns, etc. That all Protestants are hypocritical asses.That if he were put to write a new religion, he would undertake both a more excellent and admirable method, and that all the New Testament is filthily written.That the woman of Samaria >> note 7 and her sister were whores and that Christ knew them dishonestly.That Saint John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned always in his bosom; that he used him as the sinners of Sodoma. >> note 8That all they that love not tobacco and boys are fools.That all the apostles were fishermen and base fellows, neither of wit nor worth; that Paul >> note 9 only had wit, but he was a timorous fellow in bidding men to be subject to magistrates against his conscience.That he had as good a right to coin >> note 10 as the Queen of England, and that he was acquainted with one Poole, a prisoner in Newgate, who hath great skill in mixture of metals, and having learned some things of him, he meant through help of a cunning stamp-maker to coin French crowns, pistolets, and English shillings.That if Christ would have instituted the sacrament with more ceremonial reverence, it would have been in more admiration; that it would have been better much better being administered in a tobacco pipe.That the angel Gabriel was bawd >> note 11 to the Holy Ghost, because he brought the salutation to Mary.That one Richard Cholmley hath confessed that he was persuaded by Marlowe's reasons to become an atheist."
Among them, Marlowe casts doubt on the existence of God, claims that the New Testament was so “filthily written” that he himself could do a better job, and makes the eyebrow-raising assertion that the Christian communion would be more satisfying if it were smoked “in a tobacco pipe”.
Baines added a personal note, apparently aimed at watching government officials: “All men in Christianity ought to endeavour that the mouth of so dangerous a member may be stopped.” A few days later, Marlowe was stabbed to death in Deptford, south London, in circumstances still regarded as suspicious.
The document has been in the collection at the British Library since its founding in 1753 and has often been consulted by scholars, but this is the first time the public will be able to examine it in detail.
Curator Andrea Varney told the Guardian: “There’s nothing quite like being able to look at the real thing, and this will let students and readers from all over the world get close to Baines’s original report. The manuscript itself is over 400 years old and fragile, so digitisation really helps.”
The document and accompanying transcript are being made public in the latest phase of the British Library’s Discovering Literature project, aimed at students, teachers and the general public. Some 2,000 documents are now online, accompanied by 370 background essays and other resources. Four million visitors have visited the site since its launch in 2014.
One of the biggest attractions to date has been a late 16th-century play text calling for tolerance towards refugees. It is seemingly in the handwriting of a man even more famous than Marlowe, albeit somewhat better behaved – William Shakespeare.
In the centuries since his violent death, Marlowe has been celebrated as gay icon whose works explored the realities of homosexual desire while it was still deeply dangerous to do so. Alongside the Baines note, the British Library has uploaded scans of the director Derek Jarman’s notebooks for his avant-garde film of Marlowe’s Edward II (1991). The play focuses on Edward’s love for his favourite male companion, Piers Gaveston; Jarman’s take on the story is nakedly political, featuring references to contemporary battles over gay rights.
The library is also making available resources on other contemporary writers, among them Ben Jonson and the poets John Donne and Emilia Lanier.
Varney said: “So often we focus only on Shakespeare, but there are a whole world of other people out there, many of them just as brilliant. It’s about opening a window on that.”
The Baines document itself is highly contentious, with some scholars arguing that Baines was a fantasist, and that his “note” was a put-up job designed to get Marlowe, who was arrested at almost exactly the same time, in even more trouble with the authorities.
Charles Nicholl, whose 1992 book The Reckoning examines the shady circumstances surrounding the playwright’s death, said: “The one thing you can say for certain about it is that the note was designed to incriminate Marlowe. These are pretty dangerous and wild utterances that he is making.”
Nonetheless, Nicholl added, the document has a rare power: “It does sound like Marlowe; it’s almost as if he walked into the room. After all this time, that’s still rather shocking.”
The documents are available at bl.uk/discovering-literature
The information here is from the Guardian below: