Feb 262019
 

Christopher Marlowe, also known as Kit Marlowe, Elizabethan playwright, was baptized on this date. Like Shakespeare, we do not know his date of birth. Marlowe was born in Canterbury to shoemaker John Marlowe and his wife Catherine. He was baptized on 26th February 1564, so it is likely that he was born just a few days before. Thus, he was just two months older than his contemporary Shakespeare, who was baptized on 26th April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Marlowe attended King’s School in Canterbury (where a house is now named after him) and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he studied on a scholarship and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1584. In 1587, the university hesitated to award him his Master of Arts degree because of a rumor that he intended to go to the English college at Rheims, presumably to prepare for ordination as a Roman Catholic priest. However, his degree was awarded on schedule when the Privy Council intervened on his behalf, commending him for his “faithful dealing” and “good service” to the Queen. The nature of Marlowe’s service was not specified by the Council, but its letter to the Cambridge authorities has provoked much speculation, notably the theory that Marlowe was operating as a secret agent working for Sir Francis Walsingham’s intelligence service. No direct evidence supports this theory, although the Council’s letter is evidence that Marlowe had served the government in some secret capacity.

Of the dramas attributed to Marlowe, Dido, Queen of Carthage is believed to have been his first. It was performed by the Children of the Chapel, a company of boy actors, between 1587 and 1593. The play was first published in 1594 and the title page attributes the play to Marlowe and Thomas Nashe. Marlowe’s first play performed on the regular stage in London, in 1587, was Tamburlaine the Great, about the conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), who rises from shepherd to warlord. It is among the first English plays in blank verse, and, with Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, is generally considered the beginning of the mature phase of the Elizabethan theatre. Tamburlaine was a success, and was followed with Tamburlaine the Great, Part II. The two parts of Tamburlaine were published in 1590; all Marlowe’s other works were published posthumously. The sequence of the writing of his other four plays is unknown; all deal with controversial themes.

The Jew of Malta (first published as The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta), about the Jew Barabas’ barbarous revenge against the city authorities, has a prologue delivered by a character representing Machiavelli. It was probably written in 1589 or 1590, and was first performed in 1592. It was a success, and remained popular for the next 50 years. The play was entered in the Stationers’ Register on 17th May 1594, but the earliest surviving printed edition is from 1633. Edward the Second is an English history play about the deposition of king Edward II by his barons and the queen, who resented the undue influence that the king’s favorites had in court and state affairs. The play was entered into the Stationers’ Register on 6 July 1593, five weeks after Marlowe’s death. The full title of the earliest extant edition, of 1594, is The troublesome reigne and lamentable death of Edward the second, King of England, with the tragicall fall of proud Mortimer.

The Massacre at Paris is a short and luridly written work, the only surviving text of which was probably a reconstruction from memory of the original performance text, portraying the events of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, which English Protestants invoked as the blackest example of Catholic treachery. It features the silent “English Agent”, whom subsequent tradition has identified with Marlowe himself and his connections to the secret service. The Massacre at Paris is considered his most dangerous play, as agitators in London seized on its theme to advocate the murders of refugees from the low countries and, indeed, it warns Elizabeth I of this possibility in its last scene. Its full title is The Massacre at Paris: With the Death of the Duke of Guise.

Doctor Faustus (or The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus), based on the German Faustbuch, was the first dramatized version of the Faust legend of a scholar’s dealing with the devil. While versions of “The Devil’s Pact” can be traced back to the 4th century, Marlowe deviates significantly by having his hero unable to “burn his books” or repent to a merciful God in order to have his contract annulled at the end of the play. Marlowe’s protagonist is instead carried off by demons, and in the 1616 quarto his mangled corpse is found by several scholars. Doctor Faustus is a textual problem for scholars as two versions of the play exist: the 1604 quarto, also known as the A text, and the 1616 quarto or B text. Both were published after Marlowe’s death. Scholars have disagreed which text is more representative of Marlowe’s original, and some editions are based on a combination of the two. The latest scholarly consensus (fwiw) holds that the A text is more representative because it contains irregular character names and idiosyncratic spelling, which are believed to reflect a text based on the author’s handwritten manuscript, or “foul papers.” The B text, in comparison, was highly edited, censored because of shifting theater laws regarding religious words onstage, and contains several additional scenes which scholars believe to be the additions of other playwrights, particularly Samuel Rowley and William Bird (alias Borne).

Marlowe’s plays were enormously successful, thanks in part, no doubt, to the imposing stage presence of Edward Alleyn. Alleyn was unusually tall for the time, and the haughty roles of Tamburlaine, Faustus, and Barabas were probably written especially for him. Marlowe’s plays were the foundation of the repertoire of Alleyn’s company, the Admiral’s Men, throughout the 1590s.

Marlowe also wrote the poem Hero and Leander (published in 1598, and with a continuation by George Chapman the same year), the popular lyric The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, and translations of Ovid’s Amores and the first book of Lucan’s Pharsalia. In 1599, his translation of Ovid was banned and copies publicly burned as part of Archbishop Whitgift’s crackdown on offensive material.

As with other writers of the period, little is known about Marlowe. What evidence there is can be found in legal records and other official documents. This has not stopped writers of both fiction and non-fiction from speculating about his activities and character. Marlowe has often been described as a spy, a brawler, and a heretic, as well as a “magician”, “duelist”, “tobacco-user”, “counterfeiter”, and “rakehell”. It has sometimes been theorized that Marlowe was the “Morley” who was tutor to Arbella Stuart in 1589. If Marlowe was Arbella’s tutor it might indicate that he was there as a spy, since Arbella, niece of Mary, Queen of Scots, and cousin of James VI of Scotland, later James I of England, was at the time a strong candidate for the succession to Elizabeth’s throne. Marlowe had been party to a fatal quarrel involving his neighbors and the poet Thomas Watson in Norton Folgate and was held in Newgate Prison for a fortnight. In fact, the quarrel and his arrest were on 18th September, he was released on bail on 1st October, and he had to attend court – where he was cleared of any wrongdoing – on 3rd December, but there is no record of where he was for the intervening two months.

In 1592 Marlowe was arrested in the town of Flushing (Vlissingen) (then an English garrison town) in the Netherlands for his alleged involvement in the counterfeiting of coins, presumably related to the activities of seditious Catholics. He was sent to be dealt with by the Lord Treasurer (Burghley) but no charge or imprisonment resulted. This arrest may have disrupted another of Marlowe’s spying missions, perhaps by giving the resulting coinage to the Catholic cause. He was to infiltrate the followers of the active Catholic plotter William Stanley and report back to Burghley.

In early May 1593 several bills were posted about London threatening Protestant refugees from France and the Netherlands who had settled in the city. One of these, the “Dutch church libel”, written in rhymed iambic pentameter, contained allusions to several of Marlowe’s plays and was signed, “Tamburlaine”. On 11th May the Privy Council ordered the arrest of those responsible for the libels. The next day, Marlowe’s colleague Thomas Kyd was arrested. Kyd’s lodgings were searched and a 3-page fragment of a heretical tract was found. In a letter to Sir John Puckering, Kyd asserted that it had belonged to Marlowe, with whom he had been writing “in one chamber” two years earlier. In a second letter, Kyd described Marlowe as blasphemous, disorderly, holding treasonous opinions, being an irreligious reprobate, and ‘intemperate & of a cruel hart’. At that time they had both been working for an aristocratic patron, probably Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange. A warrant for Marlowe’s arrest was issued on 18th May, when the Privy Council apparently knew that he might be found staying with Thomas Walsingham, whose father was a first cousin of the late Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s principal secretary in the 1580s and a man more deeply involved in state espionage than any other member of the Privy Council. Marlowe duly presented himself on 20th May but, there apparently being no Privy Council meeting on that day, was instructed to “give his daily attendance on their Lordships, until he shall be licensed to the contrary”. On Wednesday, 30th May, Marlowe was killed.

Various accounts of Marlowe’s death were current over the next few years. In his Palladis Tamia, published in 1598, Francis Meres says Marlowe was “stabbed to death by a bawdy serving-man, a rival of his in his lewd love” as punishment for his “epicurism and atheism.” In 1917, in the Dictionary of National Biography, Sir Sidney Lee wrote that Marlowe was killed in a drunken fight, and this is still often stated as fact today. The official account came to light only in 1925 when the scholar Leslie Hotson discovered the coroner’s report of the inquest on Marlowe’s death, held two days later on Friday 1st June 1593, by the coroner of the Queen’s Household, William Danby. Marlowe had spent all day in a house in Deptford, owned by the widow Eleanor Bull, with three men: Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley. All three had been employed by one or other of the Walsinghams. Skeres and Poley had helped snare the conspirators in the Babington plot and Frizer would later describe Thomas Walsingham as his “master” at that time, although his role was probably more that of a financial or business agent as he was for Walsingham’s wife Audrey a few years later. These witnesses testified that Frizer and Marlowe had argued over payment of the bill (now famously known as the ‘Reckoning’) exchanging “divers malicious words” while Frizer was sitting at a table between the other two and Marlowe was lying behind him on a couch. Marlowe snatched Frizer’s dagger and wounded him on the head. In the ensuing struggle, according to the coroner’s report, Marlowe was stabbed above the right eye, killing him instantly. The jury concluded that Frizer acted in self-defense, and within a month he was pardoned.

Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Deptford immediately after the inquest, on 1st June 1593.

The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened was first published in 1669, so its recipe are slightly later than Elizabethan times, but it is chock full of recipes for making mead, ale, wine, cider, metheglin, posset . . . you name it. The recipes for alcoholic drinks outnumber those for main dishes, and almost certainly represent a variety of beverages that Marlowe drank freely of. His drinking habits are not speculation as are so many other things about his life. This recipe for metheglin, a variety of spiced mead, is the first recipe in the book (and the first of many for mead and metheglin).

A RECEIPT TO MAKE METHEGLIN AS IT IS MADE AT LIEGE, COMMUNICATED BY MR. MASILLON

Take one Measure of Honey, and three Measures of Water, and let it boil till one measure be boiled away, so that there be left three measures in all; as for Example, take to one Pot of Honey, three Pots of Water, and let it boil so long, till it come to three Pots. During which time you must Skim it very well as soon as any scum riseth; which you are to continue till there rise no scum more. You may, if you please, put to it some spice, to wit, Cloves and Ginger; the quantity of which is to be proportioned according as you will have your Meath, strong or weak. But this you do before it begin to boil. There are some that put either Yeast of Beer, or Leaven of bread into it, to make it work. But this is not necessary at all; and much less to set it into the Sun. Mr. Masillon doth neither the one nor the other. Afterwards for to Tun it, you must let it grow Luke-warm, for to advance it. And if you do intend to keep your Meathe a long time, you may put into it some hopps on this fashion. Take to every Barrel of Meathe a Pound of Hops without leaves, that is, of Ordinary Hops used for Beer, but well cleansed, taking only the Flowers, without the Green-leaves and stalks. Boil this pound of Hops in a Pot and half of fair water, till it come to one Pot, and this quantity isPage 6 sufficient for a Barrel of Meathe. A Barrel at Liege holdeth ninety Pots, and a Pot is as much as a Wine quart in England. (I have since been informed from Liege, that a Pot of that Countrey holdeth 48 Ounces of Apothecary’s measure; which I judge to be a Pottle according to London measure, or two Wine-quarts.) When you Tun your Meath, you must not fill your Barrel by half a foot, that so it may have room to work. Then let it stand six weeks slightly stopped; which being expired, if the Meath do not work, stop it up very close. Yet must you not fill up the Barrel to the very brim. After six Months you draw off the clear into another Barrel, or strong Bottles, leaving the dregs, and filling up your new Barrel, or Bottels, and stopping it or them very close.

The Meath that is made this way, (Viz. In the Spring, in the Month of April or May, which is the proper time for making of it,) will keep many a year.

Oct 032017
 

Today is the birthday (1900) of Thomas Clayton Wolfe renowned US novelist of the early 20th century. His contemporary, William Faulkner, said that Wolfe may have been the greatest talent of their generation for aiming higher than any other writer. Wolfe has a wide legacy, with influence on the likes of Jack Kerouac, He is certainly North Carolina’s most famous writer. Ernest Hemingway, on the other hand, whose succinct writing style and manly voice were in many ways the opposite of Wolfe’s lumbering and ruminating style, dismissed Wolfe as “the over bloated Li’l Abner of American letters.”

The above quote epitomizes why I don’t care for Wolfe nor the plaudits of “those who know.” Sure, the prose is entertaining, but the sentiment is not anywhere near as universal as Wolfe or others would have it. “All things on earth”? Seriously??? Late October in North Carolina is certainly homecoming time for churches, schools, and families. Homecoming at the local Baptist church in the town in the Tidewater where I lived for a year doing field research was a huge event with a massive Brunswick stew that took 3 days to make and was the talk of the region. But that’s North Carolina, not the whole world.  Wolfe’s works are all autobiographical fiction and have a few generalizable themes and rich prose. But, as with Faulkner, you’re going to miss a lot if you don’t know the Old South. I’m not a huge fan of the Old South (which for some reason won’t die), so I don’t relate to Wolfe’s insufferably endless books. He is, of course, revered at UNC Chapel Hill where he was an undergraduate, and a major part of the library is a repository for his papers. I’m pretty sure he would have been both proud and derisive of the reverence.

The one thing I do admire unequivocally about Wolfe is his passion for and devotion to writing. He was a thinker, talker, and writer all rolled into one.  That’s because the three go together (often – not always). I don’t have the disease to the same extent as Wolfe but I know the feeling. I shape my thoughts (about everything) by talking and writing.

Wolfe was born in Asheville, North Carolina, the youngest of eight children of William Oliver Wolfe (1851–1922) and Julia Elizabeth Westall (1860–1945). The Wolfes lived at 92 Woodfin Street, where Tom was born. His father, a successful stone carver, ran a gravestone business. His mother took in boarders and was active in acquiring real estate. In 1904, she opened a boarding house in St. Louis, for the World’s Fair. In 1906 Julia Wolfe bought a boarding house named “Old Kentucky Home” at nearby 48 Spruce Street in Asheville, taking up residence there with her youngest son while the rest of the family remained at the Woodfin Street residence. Wolfe lived in the boarding house on Spruce Street until he went to college in 1916. It is now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. Wolfe was closest to his brother Ben, whose early death at age 26 is chronicled in Look Homeward, Angel. Julia Wolfe bought and sold many properties, eventually becoming a successful real estate speculator.

Wolfe began study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) when he was 15 years old. He predicted that his portrait would one day hang in New West near that of celebrated North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance, which it does today. In 1919 Wolfe enrolled in a playwriting course. His one-act play, The Return of Buck Gavin, was performed by the newly formed Carolina Playmakers, then composed of classmates in Frederick Koch’s playwriting class, with Wolfe acting the title role. He edited UNC’s student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel  (still going strong as a daily), and won the Worth Prize for Philosophy for an essay titled “The Crisis in Industry.” Another of his plays, The Third Night, was performed by the Playmakers in December 1919. Wolfe graduated from UNC with a B.A. in June 1920. In September of that year, he entered the Graduate School for Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, where he studied playwriting under George Pierce Baker. Two versions of his play The Mountains were performed by Baker’s 47 Workshop in 1921.

In 1922, Wolfe received his master’s degree from Harvard. His father died in Asheville in June of that year, an event that would strongly influence his writing. Wolfe continued to study for another year with Baker in the 47 Workshop, which produced his ten-scene play Welcome to Our City in May 1923.

Wolfe visited New York City again in November 1923 and solicited funds for UNC, while trying to sell his plays to Broadway. In February 1924, he began teaching English as an instructor at New York University (NYU), a position he occupied periodically for almost seven years. Wolfe was unable to sell any of his plays after three years because of their great length. The Theatre Guild came close to producing Welcome to Our City before ultimately rejecting it, and Wolfe found his writing style more suited to fiction than the stage. He sailed to Europe in October 1924 to continue writing. From England he traveled to France, Italy and Switzerland.

On his return voyage in 1925, he met Aline Bernstein (1882–1955), a scene designer for the Theatre Guild. She was 18 years his senior and married to a successful stockbroker with whom she had two children. Their affair was turbulent and sometimes combative, but she exerted a powerful influence, encouraging and funding his writing. Wolfe returned to Europe in the summer of 1926 and began writing the first version of an autobiographical novel titled O Lost. The narrative, which evolved into Look Homeward, Angel, fictionalized his early experiences in Asheville, and chronicled family, friends, and the boarders at his mother’s establishment on Spruce Street. In the book, he renamed the town Altamont and called the boarding house “Dixieland.” His family’s surname became Gant, and Wolfe called himself Eugene, his father Oliver, and his mother Eliza. The original manuscript of O Lost was over 1100 pages (333,000 words) long, and considerably more experimental in style than the final version of Look Homeward, Angel. After numerous rejections it was accepted by Scribner’s, where the editing was done by Maxwell Perkins, the most prominent book editor of the time, who also worked with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

He cut the book to focus more on the character of Eugene, a stand-in for Wolfe. Wolfe initially expressed gratitude to Perkins for his disciplined editing, but he had misgivings later. It has been said that Wolfe found a father figure in Perkins, and that Perkins, who had five daughters, found in Wolfe a sort of foster son. The movie, Genius, is a fair stab at analyzing the relationship, but I find the film as unwatchable as I find Wolfe’s books unreadable. That is, I watched the first 30 minutes, but couldn’t go on.  Same with Gone With The Wind. What is it about Southern writers and me? I’m reminded of my wife’s dismissive parody line from Faulkner – “Ma could never forgive what Pa done to Sis the night the hogs ate Willie.” My wife was from Kentucky.

The novel, which had been dedicated to Bernstein, was published 11 days before the stock market crash of 1929. Soon afterward, Wolfe returned to Europe and ended his affair with her. The novel caused a stir in Asheville, with its over 200 thinly disguised local characters. Wolfe chose to stay away from Asheville for eight years due to the uproar; he traveled to Europe for a year on a Guggenheim fellowship. Look Homeward, Angel was a bestseller in the United Kingdom and Germany. After four more years writing in Brooklyn, the second novel Wolfe submitted to Scribner’s was The October Fair, a multi-volume epic roughly the length of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. After considering the commercial possibilities of publishing the book in full, Perkins opted to cut it significantly and create a single volume titled Of Time and the River. It was more commercially successful than Look Homeward, Angel. In an ironic twist, the citizens of Asheville were more upset this time because they hadn’t been included.

Wolfe was persuaded by his agent to leave Scribner’s and sign with Harper & Brothers. By some accounts, Perkins’ severe editing of Wolfe’s work is what prompted him to leave. Others describe his growing resentment that some people attributed his success to Perkins’ work as editor. In 1936, Bernard DeVoto, reviewing The Story of a Novel for Saturday Review, wrote that Look Homeward, Angel was “hacked and shaped and compressed into something resembling a novel by Mr. Perkins and the assembly-line at Scribners.”

In 1938, after submitting over one million words of manuscript to his new editor, Edward Aswell, Wolfe left New York for a tour of the West. On the way, he stopped at Purdue University and gave a lecture, “Writing and Living,” and then spent two weeks traveling through 11 national parks in the West, the only part of the country he had never visited. Wolfe wrote to Aswell that while he had focused on his family in his previous writing, he would now take a more global perspective. In July, Wolfe became ill with pneumonia while visiting Seattle, spending three weeks in the hospital there. His sister Mabel closed her boarding house in Washington, D.C. and went to Seattle to care for him. Complications arose, and Wolfe was eventually diagnosed with miliary tuberculosis. On September 6, he was sent to Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment by the most famous neurosurgeon in the country, Dr. Walter Dandy, but an operation revealed that the disease had overrun the entire right side of his brain. Without regaining consciousness, he died 18 days before his 38th birthday. His last writings, a journal of his two-week trip through the national parks, was found among his belongings hours after his death. A great deal of his work was published posthumously, including, in recent years, reconstructions of the originals of his much-edited novels.

I’ve given a fair raft of down home Southern cooking in these pages, so you can take your pick. North Carolina boarding houses were and are rightly famous for their cooking, and I am sure Wolfe’s mother and sister were strong practitioners. My taste for (some) Southern dishes comes from my year living in a boarding house in the Tidewater. Here’s an old favorite, strawberry sonker, which is reminiscent of cobbler.  You can make it with just about any fruit you like, but strawberry is the classic.  My landlady made this in the spring, rolling out the pastry and breaking it into irregular shapes for the top.  You can make a lattice crust of the pastry, spread it evenly, or do as my landlady did. Like Wolfe’s writing, this dessert is too much for me to take in anything but the smallest quantities.

North Carolina Strawberry Sonker

Ingredients

Pastry

3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 large egg
2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
2 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp sugar

Filling

1 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup water
½ cup butter, melted
8 cup fresh strawberries, halved

Dip

½ cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
salt
3 cups whole milk
½ tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

For the pastry: Mix together the flour and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Work in the shortening with a pastry blender or your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Turn out on to a wooden surface.

Whisk together the egg and vinegar in a small bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, pour in the egg mixture, and stir with a fork, pulling in the dry ingredients from the sides, to form a soft dough making sure that all the dry ingredients are completely incorporated. Divide into 2 uneven balls of ⅓ and ⅔ of the dough.

Flatten the balls to disks about 1 inch thick, wrap well, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to overnight.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F. Lightly grease a 9×13” baking pan.

For the filling: Whisk together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Whisk in the water and butter until smooth. Gently stir in the strawberries.

To assemble: Using lightly floured fingertips, press the larger disk of dough evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan. Bake until the pastry is dry to the touch, but not browned, about 10 minutes. Pour in the strawberry mixture.

Roll out the remaining dough and prepare the top in the way you wish: lattice top, regular pie crust, or irregular scraps scattered over the top. Brush the pastry with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until the pastry is deep golden brown and the filling bubbles, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, make the dip.

For the dip: Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the milk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a heatproof spatula until the mixture thickens enough to coat the spatula, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

To serve, scoop warm sonker into serving bowls. Ladle a little warm dip over the top and serve at once.