What if Kit Marlowe wasn’t really killed in a tavern brawl? What if he escaped and became the secret scribe of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets?
Ros Barber (Material, 2008, etc.) cunningly uses her own poetic skills to craft this startling chronicle of Marlowe’s life in verse—mostly blank verse. Winner of the 2011 Hoffman Prize, this debut novel adds a rich new voice to the conversation about Christopher Marlowe’s life and work, including the possibility that some or all of Shakespeare’s works belong instead to Marlowe. Barber’s Marlowe is a smart, witty, struggling, bisexual playwright. Through his friendship with Tom Watson, he is drawn into service, becoming an intelligencer, a spy for the queen. The dangers of espionage vie with the jealousies of the other playwrights, and Marlowe must deftly avoid not only detection, but also giving offense. Although Marlowe learns that the most dangerous secrets are hidden in plain sight, he resists seeing that his own professed atheism may be more hazardous than the queen’s secrets or his own talents. To save his life, his death must be faked. Worse, he must erase his own name from history, giving his plays and sonnets to a dull man named Shakespeare. With the force of fate, his dual lives as deceiver and dramatist entwine to deprive him of true self and true story. At points, the poetry gets in the way of the story, becoming cumbersome rather than nimble. Yet, telling the tale in verse is a clever choice, and Barber’s poetry is often rich with imagery, evoking the beauty of Marlowe’s own artistry as well as the mysterious, often ominous, world of shadowy political machinations. A spy’s code, the poetry allows Marlowe to tell his true story, reclaiming his own name.
Lush, inspired and provocative, this spellbinding dossier conjures up a bewitching Marlowe.