The Marlowe Society

Death in Deptford

Death in Deptford

4. Why Didn't They Ask Eleanor?

A Marlowe/ Shakespeare Debate Page

One does not need a first-class degree in law to recognise the inadequacy of this inquest as a means of establishing the whole truth about Christopher Marlowe's death, for the report leaves many questions unasked, presumably because they were not asked at the inquest.

  • Did anyone not present at the death identify the corpse?
  • Was any medical evidence given about the time and cause of death?
  • Was Eleanor Bull called? Or her servants?
  • Did anyone at all give evidence about the purpose of the meeting of the four men that day?
  • Who booked the room? Who was to pay for it?
  • And what was actually discussed during all those hours in house and garden?

The inquest report implies a firm No! to the first four questions, and that the other questions were not asked. This suggests that the inquest was carefully controlled, and guided to its probable purpose of establishing that Marlowe was dead, and that Frizer had killed him blamelessly, in self defence.

Like sixteenth century inquest reports generally, this report records only the Coroner's summary of what had been established by the evidence heard. But who gave the evidence, and what they said, is not recorded, and we are left with the impression that the evidence was that of Poley, Frizer, and Skeres alone, the three men said to have been present at the death. Their secret service connection does not seem to have been recognised at the inquest, where they were simply 'gentlemen'.

As for them - in his invaluable mine of information, The Reckoning, Charles Nicholl describes those three men as a "profoundly slippery trio,"1 and a "dodgy delusive trio."2 "The only evidence for [Marlowe's attack on Frizer] is the testimony of a pair of professional deceivers, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley"3. Elsewhere Nicholl quotes Poley's "own assertion that if he had to, he would willingly perjure himself, rather than say anything that would do him 'harm'."4

Thus does Nicholl completely demolish the credibility of the only witnesses that must have been heard at the inquest. And yet he still confirms the assumptions with which he began his book, "that those four men met at the house at Deptford and that Marlowe died in their company."5 He lamely concludes that Marlowe's death was "meaningless,"6 a word surely appropriate for Nicholl's verdict, which is more consistent with Stratfordian orthodoxy than with common sense. Apparently no evidence was heard, except that of the "profoundly slippery trio," that Marlowe was even present with them that day, or that the corpse was Marlowe's.

The most credible "meaning" in the inadequate inquest, and the hasty burial of the corpse in an unmarked grave, is that it was to establish officially that Christopher Marlowe was dead, when he wasn't. And as to the ludicrous pantomime described as having led to Marlowe's death, well, if this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction, as Fabian said about another carefully planned charade.7