okay, brief thesis statement: as you like it is the play where you most directly see shakespeare trying to cope with marlowe’s death.
i’ll explain that in more depth, but first, a little bit about marlowe!
christopher (kit) marlowe was not only another playwright in the period—he began writing before shakespeare, and he basically created elizabethan theater as we know it. he was lower class (the son of a shoemaker), and had by some miracle managed to get scholarships to posh schools, starting with the king’s school in canterbury and continuing up through cambridge, where he studied classics. and by “studied classics” i mean “became the first person to translate ovid’s deeply filthy sex poems into english,” because that’s the sort of person marlowe was. he subsequently quit academia to go into theater, which was, as my prof put it, basically the equivalent of announcing today that you want to put aside your ivy league education for a career in porn.
let me give you a sense of the kind of person kit was
- we know a lot about his life from his arrest record
- he might have been a spy???
- by which i mean he ~mysteriously came into money~ while at cambridge (we know because we have records of the moment when he started buying drinks for everyone. kit.)
- he might have been an atheist???
- whether or not he was, he definitely was fond of telling people (in 16th century england!!!) that jesus was gay
- i’m not kidding
- he’d walk up to people and be like: “so, jesus christ was totally fucking his apostles. thoughts?”
- IN SIXTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND
- so it is probably not surprising that he died violently at a young age (*quiet sobs*)
- he got stabbed in the eye in a bar fight at age 29
- but wait! even his death is mysterious!!!
- twelve days before his murder, a warrant was issued for his arrest on vague charges of blasphemy. ten days before, he was called up in front of the privy council, but they didn’t meet for some reason. there were rumors that he was going to implicate some pretty high-up nobles in a SECRET RING OF ATHEISTS.
- there’s more, but basically, there was SHADY SHIT going on, and in the coroner’s report, it says refers to the fight as being over “the reckoning,” which could either be SUPER OMINOUS or be about who would pay the check.
which brings me to as you like it! given the coroner’s report, the lines quoted in that post i reblogged read a little differently:
When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a
man’s good wit seconded with the forward child
Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a
great reckoning in a little room. (III.iii.9-12)
(and this comes in a scene where the characters discuss poets/poetry and whether to be “poetical” is to be honest, and how truth can be communicated through fiction aaaaAAAAAAAAAAHHH)
see, shakespeare and marlowe were really, really close. they had a friendly rivalry
and were having all the sex. their plays constantly reference/one-up each other. marlowe wrote the jew of malta, so shakespeare wrote the merchant of venice. marlowe wrote edward ii, so shakespeare wrote richard ii. and so on and so forth. in each other they each found an intellectual equal, someone who could not only keep up, but challenge them—something pretty rare for both of them.
and then, out of the blue, marlowe dies.
a lot happens out of the blue in as you like it. the plot moves forward with these lightning-strike revelations (suddenly, they’re in love! suddenly, a lion! suddenly, the duke goes to live in a monastery!). it’s comic, but also disorienting, and the characters struggle to keep their balance as their world shifts around them.
the through-line of love at first sight, which constitutes several of those sudden, shocking events, isn’t subtle, and is most clearly pointed out by phoebe when she says:
Dead Shepherd, now I find thy saw of might,
‘Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?’ (III.v.82-83)
want to know why that bolded line is in quotes? because it is a quote.
specifically, from marlowe’s poem hero and leander.
so, shakespeare bases the main plot conceit of ayli on a quote taken directly from marlowe (ABOUT LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT I’M GOING TO DIE) and then proceeds in the same play to reference the “great reckoning” and to write, in a speech by jacques: “the scholar’s melancholy, which is / emulation” (IV.i.10-11).
THE SCHOLAR’S MELANCHOLY, WHICH IS EMULATION
THE SCHOLAR’S MELANCHOLY, WHICH IS EMULATION
*lies down on the ground*
*tries not to cry*
*cries a lot*
okay i’m losing the ability to talk about this coherently but basically shakespeare was devastated by marlowe’s death and as you like it is his tribute to kit and it destroys me
To be fair, I wouldn’t characterize Marlowe as randomly informing random people that Jesus was gay, because that was a really stupid thing to do in Elizabethan England, and while I would not exactly compliment Marlowe on his keen sense of self-preservation, I do want to point out that the only concrete evidence of Marlowe’s atheism/Thoughts on Gay Jesus comes from two sources: one is a statement by Richard Baines, who accused him of heresy in the first place (for complicated reasons), and the other is a statement by Marlowe’s former roommate Thomas Kyd, taken while under torture. None of which means that Marlowe wasn’t an atheist or at least heterodox and didn’t say these things, just that there’s no non-dubious evidence that he did.
But whatever else you may say about Marlowe, he was a great playwright and certainly an influential one to Shakespeare. The description of his and Shakespeare’s working relationship is a little misleading — The Merchant of Venice and Richard II weren’t direct responses to The Jew of Malta and Edward II; both were written quite a bit later although it’s certainly true that they were strongly influenced by Marlowe’s plays (it’s just not Shakespeare going “look, Kit, I can write plays about Jews and gay kings too!), and Edward II in turn probably takes some of its inspiration from the huge success of Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays, so the influence doesn’t go exclusively one way.