THE RECKONING by Charles Nicholl


The Murder of Christopher Marlowe
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 First published in Great Britain in 1992, The Reckoning brilliantly re-creates the dark underworld of Elizabethan spies and conspiracies that enmeshed the 29-year-old poet/playwright Christopher Marlowe, who was stabbed through the eye allegedly as a result of in a brawl over his bill at Widow Bull's house in Deptford. Charles Nicholl is less interested in the poet's texts than in ``the reports of snoops and spies, in Privy Council papers and criminal charge-sheets.... This all happened a long time ago, but I believe it was a case of murder.... We can dig away some of the lies, and perhaps find beneath them a faint preserved outline where the truth once lay.'' Marlowe (1564-93) was killed after spending a day at Bull's with three nasty gents: Ingram Frizer, a crafty loan shark who did the actual stabbing and was acquitted for it; Frizer's dupe, Nicholas Skeres, who seems to have been a government intelligence agent in the pay of the Earl of Essex; and Robert Poley, a sinister, complex double-dealer, informer, agent provocateur and rumored poisoner, called by some ``the very genius of the Elizabethan underworld.'' Nicholl takes as a red herring an imputation by informer Richard Baines that Marlowe was gay, adding that we ``do not know what it meant to be gay in Elizabethan England.'' Baines also accused Marlowe of counterfeiting, of spreading heresies, atheism, and the slander that Christ was a sodomite with St. John, adding that Marlowe--a danger to Christianity--should have his mouth stopped. And Marlowe's dying of plague--another red herring? After carrying us through factions, fictions, and knaveries, Nicholl gives his vision of the murder. The vision is swathed in gauze and sultry with wine, but it sounds plausible and addresses the dark political context leading back to Her Majesty's Privy Council. A fine job of research that could quash forever the myth that Marlowe died in a ``tavern brawl.''

Pub Date: March 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-15-175981-2
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1994


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