On her Majesty's Secret Service: Marlowe and Turkey*
Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Letters, Hacettepe
Keywords: Majesty's Secret Service, Marlowe and Turkey, Ottoman, Christopher Marlowe, History
Since the early 1990s, there has been a great deal of serious in-depth research on the Elizabethan dramatist Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), whereby his historically admitted career and connection with Shakespeare have been revisited, and consequently a comprehensive controversy among Marlowe students has risen with regards to a wide range of issues including his involvement in Elizabeth's secret service. Historically, it is true that, while he was a student at Cambridge from 1580 to 1587, he was secretly recruited to become an agent and, thus, from 1583 onwards, was sent abroad on secret missions; hence, his frequent and prolonged absences from his studies at the university. His espionage activities and their geographies have always been a mystery except his visits to France and, perhaps, to other Catholic countries. In this context, if one recalls that the first diplomatic relations between the Ottoman Empire and Elizabeth's England were officially established in 1583 when William Harborne was appointed the first English ambassador to the Ottoman court, it was also of vital importance for Elizabeth's government to secure the Ottoman support and alliance against the growing Spanish and Catholic threat. Therefore, Harborne's appointment was a timely political and diplomatic manoeuvre, and evidently a close watch on Ottoman politics and international relations came to the fore as a serious and vitally important exigency. Indeed, besides the regular staff of Harborne's embassy, three "gentlemen," who may have been assigned special missions, also accompanied him. Could one of them be Marlowe? It is hard to be specific and certain in the absence of documented evidence. However, given the Turkish contents and references of Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great and The Jew of Malta, one can argue that he was fully familiar with Turkey and Turkish history and that some of the names and material in these plays seem to indicate his first-hand knowledge in this respect. So, through reference to some historical facts and a close textual study of the Turkish material in these two plays, this article is an attempt to demonstrate Marlowe's direct connection with Turkey and, thus, to argue that he must have visited this country in his capacity as Elizabeth's secret agent.