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The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber

The Marlowe Papers

by Ros Barber

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A masterpiece and my current favorite to win the Women's Prize for Fiction! ( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
This remarkable book grew from Ros Barber's PhD research on the life and works of Christopher Marlowe, which she has transformed into an ambitious and dazzling 400-page piece of fiction written entirely in blank verse. Rarely do form and subject coalesce so happily. I don't necessarily agree with her academic proposition, but I can thoroughly appreciate the sensitive, subtle and beautifully-crafted way she presents it. She invites us to follow Kit Marlowe from his schooldays in Canterbury to university at Cambridge, where he comes into the orbit of Tom Watson, one of the Queen's spies. Kit is lured into the trade of espionage and, when he moves to London, he pursues two lives: one as a creative, daring playwright; the other as an intelligencer, under the spidery command of Sir Francis Walsingham. But the problem is that Kit is too much a free-thinker - in his plays as well as his religion. People begin to take notice, to point fingers: rumours of atheism start to circulate. And Kit's enemies are only too happy to stir up the discontented crowds. Eventually something must be done. His protectors decide that, to keep him safe, he must be seen to 'die'; and so, after a staged brawl in Deptford, Kit is sent off into European exile. Unable to live without writing, he arranges to pass his plays back to his friends in London for them to be staged under a pseudonym (can you see where this is going?).

It's all very well done, and Barber's interpretation of Kit is very attractive: gentle, sad and haunted. Although the writing is all in verse, you don't need to worry about the language, which is simple and easy to read and - trust me - after a few pages you'll find yourself almost thinking in iambic pentameter. If you are remotely interested in Marlowe or Shakespeare I urge you to read and savour it. It is without doubt one of my books of the year: novel, ambitious and delightful.

Please visit my blog for a full review, with quotes and even more superlatives:
http://theidlewoman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/the-marlowe-papers-ros-barber.html ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Oct 30, 2013 |
A novel in verse, Barber weaves a tale of spies, deception, and identity in the The Marlowe Papers. Written from Christopher Marlowe's perspective, we follow Marlowe through fame, death, and undeath as he travels the continent and England to avoid execution. He is a man with no name and very few friends, yet whose works are celebrated under the name William Shakespeare.

It's a great read and you don't have to know anything about Marlow or Shakespeare to enjoy the tragedy of a man who couldn't claim his own work. ( )
  Bodagirl | May 1, 2013 |
I wish I’d read the notes as I went. If I had, I’m sure, I wouldn’t have begun to feel underwhelmed in the latter half. She says the notes are ‘not in any way essential to the understanding or enjoyment’. But, although I like the works of Shakespeare and Marlowe, I don’t know their biographies, never mind the arguments for authorship, and I had no idea what amount of detail in here was real-life. While I thought the story was wandering aimlessly, in fact she was stitching together pieces of real-world evidence. So, as a story, the second half did lapse, for me – but I’d still have been impressed had I known what she was doing. If you, like me, don’t know who William Peter is, or never imagined Ide du Vault might be a real woman – maybe you want to consider those notes.

First: the verse. The verse is easy-read, you can read it as fast as prose; I’ve never read a 400-page novel half as fast as I’ve read this. It’s because of the verse I read, though; it turned out to be a great way to write a novel. The short, titled poems – at a rough tot-up there’s 120 – make unfrightening ‘chapters’. And let the voice of Marlowe be impressionistic in telling his tale. Not that the narrative lines aren’t clear and strong. But I liked moody little inset poems such as this:

The Banishment of Kent

Gallows festoon the road with rotting men,
left as a warning to the vagabond;
their eyes pecked out, the flesh dried into strips,
their bodies gently twisting in the wind.

I am stuck dumb. Expelled into the air
like the nation’s cough, because there is no cure
for the liberty of thought it won’t endure,
for certain uncertainties it cannot bear.

The truth is silent and the lie believed;
all through man’s history, this gaping gulf.
The lamb is slaughtered to preserve the wolf.
The son of God is drying on a tree.

The first half in particular is full of London plague and tortured playwrights. There’s Kyd’s Tragedy (I did know about him) – Kyd who wrote the Spanish Tragedy, who once roomed with Marlowe, racked to get the dirty on him: they only have to crank his fingers out... he scribbles – starving, from a cell – /of his innocence, and of my crimes as well/ as he tries to hold his index finger in. With this, the intelligence operations – that do get convoluted, as a spy novel ought to.

Around the Dark Lady mark I lost my suspension of disbelief for a while, in an annoyance of my own: can’t she ever be as the Sonnets describe her? Must we have her romanticised, glamorised? But later, strong verse and heavy, clever use of the plays pulled me back in again. So in the spirit of suspension of disbelief was I, that I almost felt myself seduced into doubts on authorship. For me, Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, though I’m happy to read fiction that speculates otherwise. Ah but this makes sense of those public shame and blame sonnets that I always wondered about... no, no, don’t lead me down that path.

I can’t say I heard the Marlowe that I myself have in mind. But then I wouldn’t, would I? If this theory is right, he’d be a different Marlowe than the one I have in mind, and his traits here might be entailed in the new facts of his life. In the end, though, I had to agree with the barmaid: ‘If they enjoy the play, /what does it matter?’ ‘That I wrote the play?’ / ‘That they know you wrote the play. What does it matter?’ If he did write Hamlet, can’t he be happy with that? ( )
1 vote Jakujin | Apr 16, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
It's an implausible theory yet it's also a huge credit to Barber's substantial powers that it convinces us, as she explores the connection between life and art, making links between the most famous of Shakespeare's plays and aspects of Marlowe's suggested life. And why write it all in verse? The man himself tells us: "A poem, the only code I know that tells the truth."
This rich and charmingly playful work avoids the potential for whimsy inherent in such an undertaking. The thrill at reimagining the events and era comes through wave after wave in Barber’s blank verse.
This unsettling mix of poetry and fictional biography is either commendably ambitious or pointlessly elaborate.. But in choosing to write it as a verse novel, Barber has produced something in which the constituent parts work against one another more often than they work together. In the end, while respecting the scale of the endeavour, it's difficult not to feel that for long periods they threaten to cancel one another out.
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What can a dead man say that you will hear?
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Book description
On May 30th, 1593, a celebrated young playwright was killed in a tavern brawl in London. That, at least, was the official version. Now Christopher Marlowe reveals the truth: that his 'death' was an elaborate ruse to avoid being convicted of heresy; that he was spirited across the Channel to live on in lonely exile; that he continued to write plays and poetry, hiding behind the name of a colourless man from Stratford - one William Shakespeare. With the grip of a thriller and the emotional force of a sonnet, this remarkable novel in verse gives voice to a man who was brilliant, passionate and mercurial. A cobbler's son who counted nobles among his friends, a spy in the Queen's service, a fickle lover and a declared religious sceptic, he was always courting trouble. Memoir, love letter, confession, settling of accounts and a cry for recognition as the creator of some of the most sublime works in the English language, The Marlowe Papers brings Christopher Marlowe and his era to vivid life. Written by a poet and scholar, it is a work of exceptional art, erudition and imagination.
Haiku summary
Marlowe was killed in
A tavern brawl. - That's what they
Wanted you to think.
Christopher Marlowe
Claims: I wrote all the works of
William Shakespeare.

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"On May 30, 1593, a celebrated young playwright was killed in a tavern brawl in London. That, at least, was the official version. Now Christopher Marlowe reveals the truth: that his "death" was an elaborate ruse to avoid a conviction of heresy; that he was spirited across the English Channel to live on in lonely exile; that he continued to write plays and poetry, hiding behind the name of a colorless man from Stratford--one William Shakespeare."--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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