Wednesday 26 August 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 17 - A Spy

LAST TIME : 48) Keith Tomlinson (b.1980) climbed Mount Elbrus in Russia, one of the 7 highest continental mountains (the Seven Summits), a mountaineering challenge completed by 49) Cason Crane (b.1992). A parallel challenge of running a marathon on each continent has been completed by 50) Todd J. Henry, an astronomer who searched for extra-terrestrial intelligence, a subject speculated upon in the 16th century by 51) Giordano Bruno (1548-1600).
51) Giordano Bruno was one of the leading mathematicians of his age, though his controversial views on the multiple existence of Christ on alien worlds put him in the black books of scientists and the Church alike and led to his execution for heresy.

In 1591 he applied for the vacant professorship of mathematics at Padua University. He was unsuccessful. Instead the position went to an up-and-coming mathematician by the name of Galileo. But then Galileo had influential patrons who campaigned on his behalf him to the university, though they denied it. These patrons were the Del Monte brothers, one of whom was 52) Cardinal Francesco del Monte (1549-1627).

Cardinal del Monte was also an amateur mathematician like his brothers, and it was his eldest brother, the Marchese del Monte, who influenced Galileo’s work on trajectories. The Cardinal is most famous (apart from being the first recorded owner of the Portland vase) as the patron of another rising young star of the Renaissance, the artist Caravaggio, under his patronage he painted “The Cardsharps”.

After failing to get the professorship at Padua Giordano Bruno found himself increasingly at odds with both the Church and the authorities over his views. Very shortly afterwards he became the subject of the heresy trial that led to his execution.

It is Bruno’s two-year stay in England that leads us on to the most intriguing (in more ways than one) period of his life. In 1583 he arrived in London as a guest of the French ambassador to the court of Queen Elizabeth I. The ambassador had made many friends in London, a few of them from the world of the theatre as well as politics. It was probably at one of his many dinners that the ambassador introduced Giordano Bruno to 53) Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593).

I cannot bring Marlowe into the story without mentioning two things about him. The first is his role as a spy, the other we’ll come to later. The French ambassador was no stranger to espionage himself. As ambassador he was able to place French Catholic spies at Elizabeth’s Protestant court and, no doubt, knew who some of Elizabeth’s spies were. Perhaps he knew that Christopher Marlowe was a spy.

Marlowe was just one of many in the pay of Elizabeth’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. He was employed for many years to spy on Catholic sympathisers and plotters. But the French ambassador probably didn’t know there was another spy living under his very nose.

When Giordano Bruno arrived there was a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, invade England from Spain, and put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. Plans for this were rather carelessly revealed during the after-dinner chat at the French ambassador’s residence. Walsingham was informed and the plotter executed for treason. Walsingham had a double agent working in the ambassador’s house called Henry Fagot. It has been revealed in recent years that Fagot was actually 51) Giordano Bruno.

The other thing to mention about 53) Christopher Marlowe is his often alleged authorship of some (or all) of the works of Shakespeare. While this is a subject of constant discussion and speculation there is evidence that one of Marlowe’s works influenced one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays.

Another famous writer often alleged to have written Shakespeare’s plays, or at least the ones written after Marlowe’s death was Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626). He makes just a cameo appearance today because his brother, 54) Anthony Bacon (1558-1601), also worked in Walsingham’s spy ring. One intriguing theory put forward recently is that Christopher Marlowe faked his own death and that Anthony Bacon helped him to escape to France.

Back to Marlowe’s influence on Shakespeare. “Titus Andronicus” is one of the Bard’s early plays whose authorship has been questioned the most. It isn’t considered one of his best. T. S. Eliot called it “one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written”. In that respect it can be said to have inspired a genre of film that is popular purely because it is just that.

“Titus Andronicus” was partly inspired by several Elizabethan revenge tragedies, one of which was called “Tambourline”, written by Christopher Marlowe. What marks “Titus” out is its violence and gore. It was very popular with Elizabethan audiences, and it still is. A recent production by The Globe even had people fainting in the audience because of the graphic nature of the modern stage effects of rape and mutilation. It’s all very reminiscent of the reports of audience reactions when “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was first released. And that’s the next connection in the chain (pardon the pun).

Modern slasher films and splatter movies are deliberately made to highlight the gore and horror and are not known for their strength of script or depth of character. Most characters are there purely to be disposed of in the most gruesome and entertaining manner possible. T. S. Eliot could have used his above-quoted remark to describe any slasher film. However, it is a genre with a distinguished history going back to “Titus Andronicus” and beyond and remains one of the greatest contributors to modern culture.

Even though there have been many lgbt characters in horror and slasher films over the years (the most famous being Norman Bates in “Psycho”), and there have been many lgbt horror writers, the genre didn’t really get a specifically gay slasher film until 2004 when “Hellbent” was released. The writer and director of that film was 55) Paul Etheredge.

When “80 Gays” returns in a couple of weeks we’ll discover what slasher films have in common with Wimbledon.

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