Stages of Power: Marlowe and Shakespeare, 1592

Reacting Consortium Press| Now Available | ISBN 978-1-4696-3144-8

It is October, 1592, in London. Christopher Marlowe, the most accomplished playwright in the city, has written a new play, The Massacre at Paris, which his company, the Lord Admiral's Men, is understandably eager to read and rehearse. That's because the usually lucrative theater season has been postponed since June. The bubonic plague has been spied in outlying parishes, and the Privy Council has recently enforced the statute stipulating that the theaters must close when plague deaths in the city reach 30 per week. Theaters have been shut from the end of June to the beginning of Michaelmas term (Sept. 29); the actors and theater employees are anxious about their finances, and they had better come up with a good play to perform. The acting companies are nervous about the upcoming season; repertory rehearsals have not gone well, as several actors fled the diseased city to tour the provinces, but spent most of their time drinking; they are out of practice, have forgotten their parts, and are only now returning to London.

Philip Henslowe, the manager of the Rose Theatre where the Admiral's Men always perform, would ordinarily be happy to debut Marlowe's new script, but the subject—the St. Bartholomew Day's Massacre—is neither pleasant nor neutral, and the play's strongly anti-Catholic stance might inflame hostilities against suspected Catholics and recusant sympathizers, such as some foreign merchants on whom so much of London's trade depends. Should he simply return to the most popular play from last year—Marlowe's The Jew of Malta? Perhaps. But rumors of Marlowe's atheism have begun to make waves among those same London city authorities. A relatively new but accomplished company, the Lord Strange's Men, boasts a young, somewhat successful writer named William Shakespeare, who is said to have several barnburners in the queue. Strange's Men are a good group, and have performed many times, and well, at the Rose before. While Henslowe waffles, the Queen’s Privy Council has agreed to oversee a competition between Lord Strange’s Men and the Lord Admiral’s Men to decide which theater troupe ought to reopen the playhouses. Which troupe is better? Who will most effectively represent the nation's ideals and energies, humor and grandeur? By the end of the game, one troupe will gain supremacy, for primarily literary, but also cultural, religious, and political reasons.

About the Author:

Eric S. Mallin is Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. A specialist in Shakespeare and sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English drama, his theoretical interests include new historicism and queer theory. He is also interested in Shakespearean/early modern themes as they transmogrify and metastasize in contemporary cinema.

Paul V. Sullivan is a Lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches Shakespeare, freshman literature, and literary theory for teachers-in-training. His research looks at the use of drama—and play—in early modern English schools