Introduction: The Traffic in Ideas

This project examined how ‘political ideas’ circulated in England in Marlowe’s time, usually from abroad, and used this as a framing context for his plays.

Obviously, ideas don’t just get around by themselves: they rely on oral or textual communication. The project’s research has partly involved recovering the historical mechanisms behind such communication, and especially their physical residues, for example

  • Annotations in printed books
  • Manuscript translations, extracts, commonplace books
  • (Re-)publication of original texts in England
  • Controversial discussion of particular ideas in the wider culture.

For convenience this material can be divided into four ‘themes’, each of which has its own dedicated section of the website. They are: 1. royalist political thought, or ideas of kingship and sovereignty; 2. Ideas of the political community, especially those antagonistic to royal authority (so-called resistance or tyrannicide theories); 3. attitudes to the use of force and fraud in politics, often in connection with the works and reputation of the Italian writer Niccolò Machiavelli; 4. Ideas of personal retreat or escape from the political arena.

These themes also formed the basis for the project’s drama workshops.

The project concentrates mostly on materials dateable to the period 1572-1593 – that is, from the year of the massacre of Huguenots in France (which changed the direction of European politics and of political thought) to the year in which Marlowe died. But these boundaries aren’t absolute and have often been transgressed, particularly looking backwards (Machiavelli’s works being a prime example).

The really hard part is linking these contexts to Marlowe’s plays! You’ll find some preliminary thoughts , addressing each theme, in the introductory videos on this website. An overall introduction to the project’s research can also be found here: an extended interview, and subsequent lecture, on ‘Marlowe and the world of European ideas’ which I gave while visiting the University of Blaise Pascale, Clermont-Ferrand, in November 2015. I remain extremely grateful to Professor Sophie Chiari of UBP for her hospitality and industry during my visit, and for the faculty of the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme at the University for welcoming me at a difficult time for France, following the massacres in Paris a few days before.