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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read... but ultimately unconvincing
The death of Marlowe in 1593 is the start and end point of this dense and detailed investigation as Nicholl attempts to uncover what really happened on that day in Deptford. His archival research is exemplary but I found myself less and less convinced by his theory as the book went on. The 'evidence' is so fragmentary, fraught and fluid that it could be made to tell other...
Published on 20 Oct. 2010 by Roman Clodia

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27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Archival Work, Terrible Writing/Editing
There are only three reasons to read this prize-winning reconstruction of the events surrounding the death of Elizabethan playwright and poet Christopher Marlowe: (1) if you have some particular previous interest in Marlowe; (2) if you have a particular interest in Elizabethan politics, international relations, and espionage circa 1580-1600; (3) if you are interested in...
Published on 13 Mar. 2006 by A. Ross


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read... but ultimately unconvincing, 20 Oct. 2010
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (Paperback)
The death of Marlowe in 1593 is the start and end point of this dense and detailed investigation as Nicholl attempts to uncover what really happened on that day in Deptford. His archival research is exemplary but I found myself less and less convinced by his theory as the book went on. The 'evidence' is so fragmentary, fraught and fluid that it could be made to tell other stories than the one that Nicholl tells here, and there is nothing that privileges the one he chooses, other than his own conviction.

There are various points at which Nicholl's understanding of Elizabethan concepts is less than exact and he tends to assume that words had the same meanings in the 1590s that they have today: 'gay', for example, or 'atheism' which tended to be used for any kind of religious (and social) unorthodoxy e.g. Catholicism, rather than the modern meaning; 'magic', too, could be used for what we now recognise as science rather than the esoteric and occult practises that Nicholl assumes. All of these misunderstandings colour his theory which doesn't, then, stand up to more rigorous interrogation.

Marlowe's use of Machiavelli in his dramas (which Nicholl makes much of) needs to be contextualised against the plethora of literary mentions of Machiavelli (e.g. Shakespeare's Edmund in King Lear) and seen as a cultural marker rather than an indication, necessarily, of Marlowe's own political beliefs.

Although I enjoyed reading this, I felt that the story became more fevered and insubstantial as it drew towards the end and the final conclusion (I was reading the 1992 edition which I understand has now been revised) I personally found unbelievable. That anyone should target Marlowe as a stand-in for a more powerful rival seems unnecessary given the politics of the time and the supposed perpetrator is hardly a man known for his political subtleties... It makes the whole story ultimately extremely convoluted which I untimately found unconvincing.

So if you're interested in a clever archival search which delves deep into the Elizabethan underworld, then this is a good read. But I think there are still stories about Marlowe and others to be uncovered.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The eye of the reckoning, 12 Feb. 2012
By 
L. Power "nlp trainer" (San Francisco) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (Paperback)
Recently, I have become very interested in the subject of Christopher Marlowe, acquiring several books.

Having read several, I consider the scholarship in Marlowe books to be of a very high standard. The more you read Marlowe, the more you realise the level of his influence on the body of work known as Shakespeare. Now, if you wish to acquire the poetic works and the plays, I recommend the Delphi Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe (Illustrated), which not only includes all the work, but source materials, and includes Lucan's Farsalia, and Ovid's Elegies aka Amores. It also includes the book by Leslie Hotson, now out of print who discovered the inquest report in 1925 which identifies the murderer, Frizer, and gives the official version of what happened to Marlowe.

You can also get the Scarsbrook The The Life & Complete Works Of Christopher Marlowe. Not quite as complete on the works as Delphi, yet includes many other very interesting pieces, such as the Privy Council letter to Cambridge, the Flushing affair, the accusation by Baines, the transcript of the Dutch church libel, Thomas Kyd's arrest and torture, and so forth, which may satisfy your immediate curiosity as it did mine till you get this book.

Charles Nicholls reckoning, I consider a must own book, particularly as some of the great books such as Calvin Hoffman's book is tragically is out of print.

Here you can get the 2002 edition, in which he substantially revised his original work, and indeed his conclusions, I consider the latter version the must own version.

The reason I got this book, was because I saw Nicholl interviewed on the PBS Frontline documentary, and it was clear to me that his investigation skills were impeccable, and that he worked with primary source material. For example he develops the connections between different characters, and Marlowe, and unmasks much interesting information on people and events such as Richard Poley, witness and spy, and the Babington conspiracy.

As you read you enter the world of Elizabethan intelligence, where the wrong word to wrong people can result in torture and death, and nothing is as it appears to be, even the death of the prominent playwright of the era. I will say that I do not necessarily agree with everything Nicholl concludes, but I do understand that many people will agree with it.

I think you will enjoy it, and I hope this was helpful.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Second thoughts are enlightening, 18 Mar. 2009
This review is from: The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (Paperback)
The second edition of this work has many virtues, not least some rethinking of the grand conspiracy theory suggested in the first. It uses Nicholl's characteristic minute examination of sources and background to draw clear and (sometimes) solid conclusions, but also to develop theories based on evidence and deduction. Keeping fact and assumption apart without becoming tedious may be the author's greatest gift as a historian. He's also a cracking writer and this is a thrilling story to tell - we start with a murder, and move onwards inexorably to ask WHY?
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeping an eye on Marly, 24 July 2004
This review is from: The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (Paperback)
Part of the reason this story is so captivating is the unknown element; there are things that we don't know about and questions we will never know the answer to. Marlowe's life between his time at Corpus Christi and his death was intertwined with that of the Elizabethan secret service, distancing it even further from the truth. But that's what makes you want to read this book - you want to know what happened, where he went and with who. You want to be able to solve the mystery of why he was murdered. Short of some significant new evidence coming forward we will never really know what happened in Deptford on 30th May 1593, but this book proves that all is not as it seems with the official story. It walks down the back streets and alleyways of Elizabethan England and reports to you what it sees.
I'm in the process of reading this book for the fourth time, and I know it won't be the last. The story is fascinating, and I guarantee that once you start it you will want to follow it through every twist and turn it takes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poet and death, 13 April 2014
By 
Book Maven (Cambridge, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (Paperback)
Just finished this page-turner. What a rare pleasure!

This book is no biography of Marlowe or even a history of the times in which he lived. It is a painstaking investigation of his murder and its cover-up and it is a intense exploration of the world of Elizabethan espionage, culture and politics in which this murder took place.

Nicholl demands much of his reader. We are led up numerous convoluted alleys, introduced to minor and shady characters. Yet we have to follow the author up and down those pathways to find out what, in all probability, had happened in that ghastly room in Deptford where Marlowe died, aged only 29.

We are taken on a trip down into the torrid underworld of Elizabethan London. It is a world where spies are self-employed entrepreneurs hustling for work, as often manufacturing conspiracies as uncovering them. All are shady characters marked by that frightening Elizabethan duality: Cambridge men who are propagandists and provocateurs, 'gentlemen' who are loan sharks and occasional killers, poets who are spies and men of the Privy Council who are after-hours torturers.

For twelve years Marlowe survived and made his living among these people. Like them, he too was wearing his duality easily: his career as a playwright and poet coexisted with his career as a low-level spy. Eventually, just as he was about to become England's preeminent playwright the alternative world of the 'secret theatre' had claimed his life.

As Nicholl reconstructs the probable events that afternoon in Deptford Marlowe remains as elusive as usual. While his killers are fleshed out in all their unsavoury ignominy he remains ghostly and ambiguous. Why did he agree to be left alone with three profoundly dangerous men? Who was he protecting? What were his motives for working for the government? Why did he never progress in this career? These questions remain unanswered.

We do not have to agree with the author's final interpretation of the killing. What matters is an introduction to a world that, despite its distance from us, is in fact frighteningly modern. The first-ever police state, Elizabethan England does not strike us as alien or quaint - its themes of constant surveillance, limits on free speech, constant manufacturing of plots and enemies sound all too familiar to us. This makes Marlowe our contemporary, a secret operative who ends up dead in ridiculous circumstances, saved from oblivion by the fact of his literary prominence.

I profoundly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading more of Nicholl's work.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incredible research but leaves too much unanswered, 15 Mar. 2007
By 
S. Bailey "will work for books" (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (Paperback)
In 1593, the brilliant playwright Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death in a tavern brawl in Deptford, London. The official record stated that this row was over the bill, or "recknynge". The truth, believes Nicholl, is much darker: a murder, by the shadowy agents of the Elizabethan secret service.

Nicholl's investigation rarely concerns itself with the playwright or his texts, instead beginning with the three men present at Marlowe's death. Ingram Frizer was a swindler and a loan-shark, who admitted the stabbing but claimed self-defense, and was acquitted with unusual, probably suspicious, speed just weeks later. Nicholas Skeeres was a government intelligence agent, probably paid by the Earl of Essex or his faction. And Robert Poley seems to have been the very epitome of a contemporary spy, double-dealing, double-crossing, trusted by nobody, listened to by all. Nicholl takes these three men, questioning why Marlowe should have been dining with them, and builds an incredibly detailed picture of the lower eschelons of society, those circles seldom seen beneath the glamour of the Court.

Following the meagre clues left in government, judicial and prison records, and Cambridge kitchen bills, Nicholl painstakingly builds up a picture of what life was like for these men, collecting information for their superiors for which they might be thanked or might be imprisoned, creating treasonous plots to see who joined up, passing on scandalous libel. Though records relating to Marlowe himself are frustratingly infrequent, he plausibly supplements them with evidence about the other young and talented writers also taken into government service.

The resulting picture, of a police state where everyone watched their back and their mouth, will be a shock to those brought up on the idea of an Elizabethan golden age. What Nicholl does demonstrate very well is that the pro-Catholic, anti-Elizabeth plots we know so well were just the tip of the iceberg, and were promulgated, if not instigated, by government agents just like Poley.

Though Nicholl never promised a biography, I would have liked more about Marlowe himself. One thing I did think I knew about Marlowe before I began this, was that he was gay. Nicholl dismisses this as another meaningless slur on Marlowe's character by the informer Baines: "We do not quite know what it meant to be gay in Elizabethan England" [p. 432]. Well, no, we probably don't, but passing up the chance to try to find out isn't going to change that. Considering the quantity of dead trees expended on Shakespeare's lovely boy, I think there is at least a question to be asked about Marlowe's "Come live with me and be my love", and (the much older) Sir Walter Raleigh's response, "If all the world and love were young". As Nicholl ultimately attributes Marlowe's death to those aiming to discredit Raleigh, the relationship between the two men needs proper consideration.

Similarly, as so many of his contemporaries met their end in prison and torture, I would like to have known, or at least speculated, just what it was about Marlowe that, after eight hours' discussion, necessitated his murder. There was enough evidence on file, be it fabricated or not, to have arrested him ten times over: so why the knife? Nicholl has done an incredible job of research here, uncovering the details and the personae of the shady world in which Marlowe moved; yet central to the mystery must be the man himself, and he seems to remain in shadow. I cannot help thinking that the central question has not yet quite been answered.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 8 April 2003
By 
This review is from: The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (Paperback)
Very readable and entertaining. A good mix of history, with detective fiction and also history of literature. I found the book very convincing in its analysis of espionage in the 16th century.
It is a good story, well told, with the bonus that it might also be true.
Charles Nicholl is a very good writer who does not publish a lot, but what he does publish is very good. There are not many books of this quality around.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Book, 18 Aug. 2006
By 
wolf (East Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (Paperback)
The mysterious death of Kit Marlowe is a starting point for an investigation into a murky world of Elizabethan spies and secret agents. It's true that at the end of the book there is no clear idea of who really murdered Marlowe, other than that the offical version is clearly implausible, but the details revealed along the way are well worth the price of admission. Entertaining and informative, I found this book very interesting.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A compelling exploration of a brutal police state, 28 July 2010
By 
Aidan J. McQuade (Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (Paperback)
Taking the murder of Christopher Marlowe as its starting point this book delves into the evil world of the Elizabethan police state. For me the revelation of the book was not so much the explanation of the killing of Marlowe, convincing as that was. Rather it related to the nature of the totalitarian system that Elizabeth and her ministers sought to impose, so much so that they themselves origniated many of the plots that they claimed to have uncovered, their purpose entrapment of real, or more often imagined, enemies. The book would be a fine companion to Alice Hodge's excellent study of the Jesuit mission to England "God's Secret Agents", which explores the same mileiu from the perspective of the hunted.

Marlowe emerges from the investigation an ambiguous charachter - probably a nasty manipulator and betrayer of some close to him, but, something that the author does not seem to have considered, perhaps someone ultimately sympathetic to the Catholic cause and caught up like so many others in the brutal machinations of the nascent police slate.

Overall an exemplary demonstration of rigourous archival research and analysis to produce a highly coherent and readable account of a complex and confusing mystery.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True Detective story: who killed Marlowe and why?, 6 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (Paperback)
If Bob Dylan were a scholar of Elizabethan literature & history I think is how he'd write. This elegant book makes detailed scholarship riveting, and Nicholl's perceptive, artistic way of looking at things hard and playing an imaginative intelligence over them makes this book a rare pleasure. The confined edgy world of Elizabethan politics comes vividly alive.
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The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe
The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe by Charles Nicholl (Paperback - 3 Oct. 2002)
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