The School of Night

The School of Night

The School of Night is a modern name for a cabal of men centered on Sir Walter Raleigh that was once referred to in 1592 as the "School of Atheism." The cabal supposedly included poets and scientists such as Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, Thomas Harriot, Richard Baines (who testified against Marlowe in his trial for atheism), and one of Marlowe's killers, Ingram Frizer. There is no firm evidence that all of these men were all known to each other, but speculation about their connections features prominently in some writing about the Elizabethan era.


"The School of Night" is a modern name. It derives from a passage in Act IV, scene III of William Shakespeare's play "Love's Labours Lost", in which the King of Navarre says "Black is the badge of hell / The hue of dungeons and the school of night." There are however at least two alternate renderings of the line, one reading "suit of night" [ [ SCENE III. The same. ] at] and the other [ [ Love's Labour's Lost at Absolute Shakespeare ] at] (also here [ [ Act IV. Scene III. Loves Labours Lost. Craig, W.J., ed. 1914. The Oxford Shakespeare ] at] ) reading "scowl of night." It should be noted that the context of the lines has nothing to do with cabals: the King is simply sneering at the black hair of his friend Berowne's lover. However, some writers have seen the line as an allusion to Raleigh's 'school of atheism', and have used "The School of Night" as a name for the group. The group was controversially said to be satanists and pagans who worshipped pagan gods at night. They were also said to perform illegal operations and rituals in the 1600s. Although not known for sure, the School Of Night has been traced back to DaVinci and Michaelangelo, as they were considered great "outside thinkers" of their times.


It is alleged that each of these men studied science, philosophy, and religion, and all were suspected of atheism. Atheism at that time was a charge nearly the equivalent of treason, since the monarch was the head of the church and to be against the church was, "ipso facto," to be against the monarch. However, it was also a name for anarchy, and was a charge frequently brought against the politically troublesome. Richard Chomley, an anti-Catholic spy for her Majesty's Privy Council, charged in an affidavit Marlowe had "read the Atheist lecture to Sr. Walter Raleigh [and] others," substantiating charges of atheism against The School of Night. [cite book | last = Tannenbaum | first = Samuel | title = The Assassination of Christopher Marlowe (A New View) | publisher = The Shoe String Press | origyear = 1928 | pages = 49-50 | id = LCC|PR2673.T3]


*Muriel C. Bradbrook, "The School of Night: A Study in the Literary Relationships of Raleigh" (1936)

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