Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of William Shakespeare, could have been killed after calling Jesus Christ gay.
A victim of a mysteriously early death at 29, scholars and students of his work have wondered for centuries for why the playwright died.
But now a hugely controversial document written by a spy may shine new light on this age-old question.
The British Library have released the ‘Baines note’. The document contains quotes in which Marlowe reportedly declared Jesus was gay and the only purpose of religion was to intimidate people. He adds he could have done a better job of writing the New Testament and says ‘all they that love not tobacco and boys were fools’.
This note has gone online for the first time as part of the British Library’s Discovering Literature project.
Among the ‘monstrous opinions’ listed by the part-time spy and police informant Richard Baines in May 1593, Marlowe casts doubt on the existence of God. And he says Christian communion would be more satisfying if smoked ‘in a tobacco pipe’.
The content of the Baines document is contentious, with some arguing Baines was a fantasist and designed it to get Marlowe in trouble with the authorities.
A warrant was issued for Marlowe’s arrest for 18 May 1593. While no reason was given for it at the time, it is thought to be connected to allegations of blasphemy.
A few days later, he was stabbed to death. While the stabbing was connected to his arrest was never resolved, this document suggests it is.
Marlowe was one of the first ever writers to depict a character we would consider gay today in an empathetic light. In Edward the Second, the play shows a love story between the king and Piers Gaveston. It also contains a passage supporting same-sex relationships, saying how ‘great Alexander loved Helphaeston’ and ‘the conquering Hercules for Hylas wept’.
There are also gay themes in Hero and Leander, which the latter has ‘looks were all that men desire’ and can make even the ‘lusty god’ Neptune wish to ‘steal a kiss’.