Ted Hughes, Marlowe & Shakespeare

I promise that this blog will not develop into a forum for refutation of the “anti-Stratfordians” but, as with my post earlier today about early pilgrims to Shakespeare’s Stratford monument between 1618 and the early 1630s, I must correct a false aspersion cast at last night’s lively How To: Academy Authorship Debate. Someone said “Ted Hughes didn’t believe the man from Stratford wrote the plays – funny that you didn’t mention that in your biography of him.” Well, unless I missed something in the thousands of pages of letters and critical prose which I spent five archival years examining, I didn’t mention it because it isn’t true. Indeed, in Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, a book that, for all its excesses and eccentricities, I admire far more now than I did when it first came out in 1992, he makes much of Shakespeare’s rural origins, butcher’s son etc. etc.

So where has the idea come from? A single remark in an early letter to his Cambridge friend Lucas Myers: “The way to really develope as a writer is to make yourself a political outcast, so that you have to live in secret. This is how Marlowe developed into Shakespeare.” (Letters, ed. Reid, p. 120). Quoted out of context, this might appear to make Ted Hughes a subscriber to the fantasy that Marlowe didn’t die in Deptford, but escaped to Italy from where he sent his plays back to be performed and published with Shakespeare as the front man. But look at the context:

The way to really develope as a writer is to make yourself a political outcast, so that you have to live in secret. This is how Marlowe developed into Shakespeare. Think what a precise detachment this would give to all your observations – at the same time making all your life, and the only possible life, inward. This is how Dante developed into Dante, & Joyce into Joyce. The other way is to go deaf.

What Hughes meant was that Marlowe’s problem was that his political engagement (spying, professed atheism) led to his premature demise, and that Shakespeare learned from this an art of detachment – of what Joyce would have called silence, cunning and exile. By learning from the negative example of Marlowe, Shakespeare protected himself and devoted himself to his art, always hiding in the shadows. Unlike nearly all his fellow-dramatists, he was never imprisoned or censured or had a play banned after a couple of performances. No Isle of Dogs, Tragedy of Gowrie or Game at Chess for him. At the same time, Hughes is arguing – and he would develop the thought further in Goddess – that “Marlowe developed into Shakespeare” in the sense that Richard II was a response to Edward II, Merchant of Venice to Jew of Malta, The Tempest to Faustus. His gnomic remark is in fact a crystallized anticipation, 35 years early, of the argument of “Marlowe’s Ghost”, the essay that won the Calvin Hoffman Prize and was then developed into Chapter 4 of my The Genius of Shakespeare. Hughes and I both believe that Marlowe’s ghost stalks the plays of Shakespeare – but metaphorically, as literary and theatrical influence, not literally.

The combination of quoting out of context and reading against the grain of the text is, of course, typical of anti-Stratfordian method.

But of course if someone has another source revealing that Hughes really did believe the Marlowe-was-Shakespeare theory, I’d be glad to hear of it. Old Ted did sometimes go for unusual theories …

And it’s so endearing that, despite his Cambridge degree, he couldn’t spell “develop”.

12 thoughts on “Ted Hughes, Marlowe & Shakespeare

  1. Is it at all significant that in ‘Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being’, Ted Hughes described in considerable detail as Id-like, “The Boar”, i.e., the overwhelming brute-animal-being tormenting Shakespearean characters’ inner struggles, which also was the charge animal of the Vere lineage? Verres being boar in Latin? Or that the sow-like, all consuming force featured in “Venus and Adonis” indeed was Venus herself, and also the epithet for Queen Elizabeth? I fear Hughes’s insights are a consummation his peers devoutly do not wish. Best minimize them in smug overfamiliarity perhaps.


  2. Jonathan Bates writes; But of course if someone has another source revealing that Hughes did have a right to believe the Marlowe-was-Shakespeare theory, I’d be glad to hear of it. Old Ted did sometimes go for unusual theories …


  3. I would be very curious to see your refutation of the Henry Neville hypothesis. It is easy to lampoon Marlowe or Oxford or Bacon. But it’s not so easy to explain away the evidence for Neville, even though research into Neville has just begun.

    Especially I’d like to see an explanation:

    1. Sonnet 121, the repetition of “vile” in the first line and the rhyming of bevel and level
    2. An explanation of the French and diplomatic vocabulary introduced into the Shakespeare canon in Henry V and As You Like It as well as the motivation and timing of the French dialog in Henry V
    3. The references to cannons, furnaces, tempering, etc. from the earliest plays and poems showing a familiarity with the casting of ordinance and blast furnaces and related terminology
    4. Why Shakespeare chose to make two long-form poems his first published works, how that fits with the narrative that he was an actor-turned-playwright (and why he dedicated the poems to someone with whom he has no documented contact whatsoever)
    5. What caused the change in tone from Henry V to Hamlet,
    6. How you account for so many Shakespeare plays being set in Italy
    7. How you account for “ne’er so vile” change in Henry V and why it also appears in a play by Ben Jonson lampooning Shakespeare and a poem by John Davies praising poets
    8. Who was Francis Bacon referring to as the “concealed poet” in his letter 4 days after the death of Queen Elizabeth
    9, How Shakespeare had access to the Old Arcadia in manuscript as well as the recently discovered George North manuscript
    10. How Shakespeare knew the word “purlieu” as found in As You Like It
    11. Why the Merry Wives of Windsor was set in Windsor,
    12. Why does Shakespeare generally show such a deep knowledge of forestry and forestry laws
    13. Why was As You Like it set in France
    14. Why does the wrestling in As You Like It track so closely to a scene described by Winwood in a diplomatic letter from 1600
    15. Why does Shakespeare use the word “provost” in a French sense only in Measure for Measure even though it is set in Vienna
    16. what is a bellows mender
    17. why does Shakespeare play off John Owen epigrams that were only available in manuscript
    18. why are there no extant letters from Shakespeare
    19. where Shakespeare came up with the Dover scene in King Lear and why no Dover scenes appear previous to 1599
    20. Why Shakespeare uses the French word “serviteur” in both Henry V and Twelfth Night
    21. Why doesn’t the diplomatic word “credence” appear before 1599, why do the rare-at-the-time french loanwords disaster and delinquent and cicatrice not appear before 1599,
    22. Why do the words clause and copulative only appear after 1599
    23. Why does Shakespeare stop writing recent English history plays after 1601
    24. Why is there a gap in the registration of plays from 12 July 1598 and 11 August 1600 and why do they start up again in August 1600
    25. Why does Ben Jonson write an epigram to Henry Neville with “muse” in the first line
    26. Why does Shakespeare show such a deep knowledge of deer hunting from the earliest plays
    27. Where did Shakespeare acquire his knowledge of Latin, French, and Italian. Is there any actual evidence for that acquisition?
    28. Why do Stratfordians accuse non-Stratfordians of being “classist” when Marlowe’s father was a shoemaker and Jonson wasn’t much higher status?
    29. Why were Shakespeare’s daughters illiterate even though the women in his plays were highly literate?
    30. Why was there no literary talent in Shakespeare’s family before or after him?



      • Yes, your written works which smear Delia Bacon and suggest that Shakespeare authorship research is some Freudian desire by Americans to kill Shakespeare’s name (their literary father) — and replace him with another Englishman. And that is all related to Hamlet… I lampoon you here.

        As far as William Camden goes, he was close friends with all three Savile brothers. He was also connected to Richard Carew and Henry Cuffe.

        As you write books suggesting ridiculously that William Shakespeare of Stratford learned about Roman history by acting in Sejanus, or that he became a philosopher by reading Florio’s translation of Montaigne, I will continue with serious research into the actual authorship of the works of Shakespeare.


  4. Dear Mr. Bate, I should be much interested in your comments on SHAKESPEARE’S LOST KINGDOM by Charles Beauclerk. Thank you.


      • Here are three sentences from the beginning of your book “The Genius of Shakespeare”. They are complete and total fabrications. There is no factual evidence for any of them.

        “Some time in the late 1580s he became a player in London…of his early career, this is all we know for sure.” [there is no evidence he was a player in London in the late 1580s]
        “He may well have given most of his energies in rehearsal to ‘directing’ the company, showing them how to translate his words into stage actions” [this is pure fiction there is absolutely zero evidence for this]
        “With his future of the London theaters uncertain, Shakespeare had two choices: to continue as an actor and follow his company on a provincial tour, or to try to make his way through his writing” [this is completely fiction and absolutely ridiculous; he was involved in many business ventures and writing V&A couldn’t possibly have been lucrative]

        We could go through the whole book like this. You are a fabulist. You write fictional stories about a character, “William Shakespeare the author” who never existed. William Shakespeare of Stratford existed. That fellow was an actor and an excellent businessman, but he could barely sign his own name. He did not write 38+ plays and three books of poetry. Neither did the Earl of Oxford or Marlowe, who were dead. But just because most Shakespeare authorship research is junk, that doesn’t justify junk apologetics and fabulist “biography”.


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