Thomas Kyd

Thomas Kyd (* ~ 6 November 1558; buried 25 August 1594) was the son of a scrivener. He received a good education at Merchant Taylors' School but did not attend university. Today hardly anything is known about him, but he was probably a well-known and respected author in the theatre scene. In 1587 he entered the service of a nobleman whose identity is now unknown. After the so-called Dutch Church Libel caused the Privy Council to crack down, Kyd’s arrest and possibly torture were among the results, but since Rebekah Owen’s article there has been reasonable doubt about this. 1 Perhaps he had come to attention because he worked intermittently as a scrivener and not because he wrote dramas.2 Kyd was later released. However, he lost the patronage of his noble sponsor, failed to find new employment and died in the summer of 1594. He is now considered the author of The Spanish Tragedy. While most of his works are thought to have been lost, the attribution of some is disputed.

As far as can be reconstructed, Kyd’s difficulties seem to have begun with the discovery of a three-sheet manuscript3 in his possession. On the back of the third sheet there are two notes. The first dates from 22 May 1593: "vile hereticall conceiptes denyinge the deity of Jhesus Christe our Saviour found emgst the papers of Thomas Kydd prisoner".4 The second reads: "which he affirms that he had from Marlowe "5, is written in a different ink, probably by a different hand, but certainly at a later date.6

The manuscript is largely a copy of The Fall of the Late Arrian by John Proctor from 1549.7 He wanted to refute the Arian-influenced views of a John Assheton, who then also revoked them before Archbishop Cranmer. The work was neither forbidden nor considered subversive literature.8 Arianism itself was clearly at odds with the state religion. Without knowledge of the source and taken out of context, the content could be considered heretical and therefore dangerous at the time. Whether this manuscript and Kyd’s information led to Marlowe having to appear before the Privy Council on 28 May 1593 can be assumed, due to the proximity in time, but not proven.

In addition, there are two letters that Kyd presumably wrote to Sir John Puckering, the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, after his arrest. From the text it can be concluded with a considerable degree of certainty that Marlowe was already dead at this point.9 According to Kyd, when he met Marlowe, he had a habit of blaspheming the Bible, making fun of prayers and refuting the statements of prophets and saints in argument with him and, so Kyd heard, with other people as well. For example, Marlowe would have accused Jesus of an immoral relationship with the apostle John, called St Paul a fraud and claimed that any miracle could have been performed by a man. Kyd had distanced himself from Marlowe because of this condemnable attitude, but does not forget to mention that Marlowe had confided in him that he wanted to go to Scotland, where Roydon was also staying.10
In the second letter, Kyd defends himself against the accusation of atheism and explains that the incriminating documents found in his possession belonged to Marlowe and had been mixed with his manuscripts when the two had shared a workroom two years ago. But Marlowe had never been his friend, for he was ill-tempered, cruel and dishonest. Moreover, this unreligious person socialised with the people like Roydon, Harriot and Warner.11
Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe – obviously not friends for life and certainly not beyond death.

Kyd mentions some people whose actual identification is no longer quite simple. Two of those named are likely to be Mathew Roydon and Thomas Harriot. Warner could be William Warner, Walter Warner or any Warner – it was a common name. Apart from the fact that Roydon was not in Scotland during the period in question, but in London,12 it is not understandable why Kyd thought that these persons had such a bad reputation that dealing with them could serve as proof of Marlowe’s wickedness.

Kyd’s statements have striking parallels to the Baines note, not only in terms of content. Some of the remarks Marlowe is said to have made would seem silly and distasteful at worst today, but in late 16th century England they were almost the equivalent of a death sentence. Nevertheless, according to Kyd, Marlowe shared his views with everyone he met. Kyd, though horrified, waited even longer than Richard Baines before reporting this dangerous and damnable Marlowe to the authorities. Thanks above all to the lack of dating, the documentary situation offers sufficient room for speculation. One theory put forward by several critics is that Kyd, who was originally suspected of being involved with the Dutch Church Libel, suddenly found himself facing the much more serious charge of atheism, which is why he incriminated the already dead Christopher Marlowe.13

Owens, Rebekah. 2006. “Thomas Kyd and the Letters to Puckering.” Notes and Queries 53 (4): 458–61.
———. 2007. “A Possible Candidate for ’Shore’ in the Matter of the Dutch Church Libels.” Notes and Queries 53 (3): 253–55.

  1. Owens (2006)↩︎
  2. Kuriyama (2002); Owens (2007)↩︎
  3. BL Harley MS.6848 f.187r-189v↩︎
  4. BL Harley MS.6848 f.189v↩︎
  5. BL Harley MS.6848 f.189v↩︎
  6. Freeman (1973)↩︎
  7. Briggs (1923)↩︎
  8. Buckley (1934)↩︎
  9. Freeman (1973)↩︎
  10. BL Harley MS.6848 f.154r↩︎
  11. BL Harley MS.6849 f.218r-219r↩︎
  12. Nicholl (2002)↩︎
  13. Seaton (1929); Freeman (1973)↩︎

Aktualisiert am 23.05.2024

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