The Passionate Pilgrim 1.5: Touchstone and “Le Recknynge”

There is one other very curious correspondence between As You Like It and Every Man Out of His Humor. In As You Like It, Touchstone remarks to Audrey: “When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.” III. 3. 10-13.

Under the best of circumstances, this would have to be considered an odd line. Academics generally try to relate it to Christopher Marlowe’s Barabas in The Jew of Malta who desires “Infinite riches in a little room.” I. 1. 37.

Christopher Marlowe Portrait
Putative portrait of Christopher Marlowe (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge)

What is not often reported is that the “reckoning” mentioned in As You Like It appears to be responding to Jonson’s character Macilente’s prior reference in Every Man Out of His Humor to “signior Fungoso, being at supper tonight at a tavern, there happened some division amongst them, and he is left in pawn for the reckoning.” V. 3. 53-6.

Most scholars have turned away from this odd puzzle and have considered it insignificant. In doing so, however, they have ignored what was reported just prior to these passages.

Specifically, in 1597, Thomas Beard in Theater of God’s Judgement claimed that “in the London streets [Marlowe] purposed to stab one whom he ought a grudge . . . , the other party perceiving so . . . stabbed his own dagger into [Marlowe’s] head. . . .” Then, in 1598, Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia asserted that “Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death by a bawdy serving man.”

Neither of these accounts make any mention of a “reckoning” being the predicate of the action that resulted in Marlowe’s death (in fact Beard’s account bears more resemblance to Marlowe’s altercation with William Bradley almost eight years before, which was settled by his friend Thomas Watson who killed Bradley in the exchange).

The odd thing about this is that the Queen’s Cororner, William Danby, who personally conducted the inquest into Marlowe’s death, concluded that it resulted from a dispute over “le recknynge” of the account due for the afternoon and evening’s entertainment that Marlowe and three other men spent at Mistress Bull’s establishment in Deptford. What is even more odd about this is that Danby’s report was immediately sealed and was not open to the public until it was discovered by Leslie Hotson in 1926, three hundred thirty-three years after the fact.

Tavern Scene by Flemish artist David Teniers c. 1658
Tavern Scene by Flemish artist David Teniers c. 1658 via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, the actual witnesses at the inquest could not have known the conclusions drawn by the Queen’s Coroner, so they would not have been able, by themselves, to advertize them. As a result, the reports that circulated were largely rumors that all lacked this crucial detail. Except for those provided by As You Like It and Jonson.

For some reason, both As You Like It and Jonson appear to have Marlowe on the brain. Their twin references to the “Reckoning” suggest nothing so much as inside knowledge of a police report that had not been released to the public. The implications of these references, on their own, are difficult to assess as both writers immediately moved on.

In the midst of all of this, it is important to note that all of the most significant Shakespearean scholars freely declare that Marlowe and his plays and poetry are the absolute foundation upon which all of the English theatre is based. That includes all of the most significant Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights and poets, not the least of which is Shakespeare. There is really no discussion on that point. Without Marlowe, there is no modern English theatre.

In my mind, this makes the curious correspondence between As You Like It and Ben Jonson’s Humors that much more remarkable.

Next: Rosalind.

PeteHeadshotDr. Peter Hodges holds a BFA in Acting from the University of Washington (class of ‘75), an M.A. in Directing and a Ph. D. in Literature from The City Graduate Center of The City University of New York City, New York (1986 and 1992).  Dr. Pete (as he is sometimes known among his friends) is a 30 year veteran of the Wall Street wars, author and producer of more than a dozen plays, a novel, and a critical study of Sadakichi Hartmann’s plays.

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