Rich Erlich, Drama
<Baines Libel 2000> 1991, 1995, 2000
Richard Baines Said Christopher Marlowe Said
Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death on 30 May 1593, ten days after he testified before the Privy Council on serious matters involving his roommate, Thomas Kyd, who had been arrested on suspicion of atheism and tortured on the rack. Kyd wrote at least two letters while under arrest and implicated Marlowe, connecting Marlowe with the circle around Sir Walter Ralegh, a mover and shaker in the kingdom. The Privy Council left Marlowe free before they had disposed of his case, which was an unusual action for the Council.
In his youth, Marlowe had been a spy "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," and he was killed at a dinner with other secret service types. The Coroner's Jury in the case found self-defense; later students of the case have been less sure.
Anyway, Marlowe was possibly murdered and the murder covered up in some sort of high-power scheme on—something. Whatever was going on, part of it involved a statement by one Richard Baines, a professional informer. On such evidence we can not say that Marlowe said this or that. We can say that Baines said Marlowe said it, and that either Marlowe did say something like this and/or that Baines thought this is what the authorities wanted to hear. Either way, we can know that the "Baines Libel" gives us a really good idea what Baines thought—on good grounds—would qualify as "atheism."
A note containing the opinion of on[e] Christopher Marly Concerning his damnable Judgment of Religion, and scorn of Gods word.
That the Indians and many Authors of antiquity haue assuredly writen of aboue 16 thousand yeares agone wheras Adam is proued to haue lived within 6 thowsand yeares.
He affirmeth that Moyses was but a Jugler [=magician, trickster] & that one Heriots [a mathematician] being Sir W Raleighs man Can do more then he.
That Moyses made the Jewes to travell xl [= 40] yeares in the wildernes . . . to thintent [the intent] that those who were privy to most of his subtitlies [=tricks] might perish and so an everlasting superstition Remain in the hartes of the people.
That the first beginning of Religioun was only to keep men in awe. [After a Latin "sentence" that the gods were invented first to keep the strong in awe.]
* * *
That Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest [= unchaste].
That he [Christ] was the sonne of a Carpenter, and that if the Jewes among whome he was borne did Crucify him theie best knew him and whence he Came.
That Crist deserved better to dy then Barrabas and that the Jewes made a good Choise [in choosing Barabas over Jesus to be released for the Passover], though Barrabas was both a thief and a murtherer.
That if there be any god or any good Religion, then it is the papistes [= Roman Catholics] because the service of god is performed with more Cerimonies [. . . ]. That all protestantes are Hypocritical asses.
* * *
That the woman of Samaria & her sisters were whores & that Crist knew them dishonestly [i.e., had sexual intercourse with them].
That St John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ [= they shared beds (perhaps period), as was the custom into the 19th c.] and leaned alwaies in his bosome [as he's pictured in iconography], that he [Jesus] vsed him as the sinners of Sodoma [i.e., for homosexual intercourse].
That all they that loue not Tobacco & Boies [= boys] were fooles.
That all the apostles were fishermen and base fellowes neyther of wit [= high intelligence] or worth, that Paull only had wit but he was a timerous fellow in bidding men [in his Letter to the Romans] to be subject to magistrates against his conscience.
That he had as good right to Coine as the Queen of England [. . . ].
That if Christ would haue instituted the sacrament with more Ceremoniall Reverence it would haue bin had in more admiration, that it would haue bin much better being administred in a Tobacco pipe.
That the Angell Gabriell was baud [= bawd (pimp)] to the holy ghost, because he brought the salutation to Mary.
That on[e] Ric[hard] Cholmley hath Confessed that he was perswaded by Marloe's Reasons to become an Atheist.
These thinges, with many other shall by good & honest witnes be aproved to be his opinions and Comon Speeches and that this Marlow doth not only hould them himself, but almost into every Company he Cometh he perswades men to Atheism willing them not to be afeard of bugbeares and hobgoblins, and vtterly scorning both god and his ministers as I Richard Baines will Justify & approue both by min o[a]th and the testimony of many honest men [. . .] to indevor that the mouth of so dangerous a member may be stopped[. He saith likewise that he hath quoted a number of Contrarieties oute of the Scripture [= contradictions in the Bible] which he hath giuen to some great men who in Convenient time shalbe named. When these thinges shalbe Called in question the witnes shalbe produced.
(1) "Atheist" was a term of abuse much thrown about during the Elizabethan period. Here it means something like, "heretic, blasphemer, and free-thinker." Like, you can't be a literal atheist if you really believe in, say, the Holy Ghost.
(2) Coining carried the death penalty in Elizabethan England, as did homosexual activity (a burning offense). Part of the legend of Christopher Marlowe was that he was gay; you have above most of the evidence for that legend. King Edward II in Marlowe's Edward II is bisexual but "mostly" gay, but that's part of the story of Edward II. Marlowe went from school to the secret service, back to school, then into theatre, so he spent a lot of time in socially marginal spaces: he might have humped anything that moved; he might have been gay or a militant heterosexual—or he might've died a virgin. All we can be sure of is the legend of a philosophical radical "daring God out of heaven with that atheist Tamburlan or blaspheming with the mad priest of the sun" (Robert Greene, 1588).
(3) Allow for the possibility that Marlowe did say some such things, possibly while drunk and showing off. Blasphemy is a common game for youths in cultures where blasphemy would be both shocking and still fairly safe. (Safe for the culture, that is.)