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The Marlowe Papers Hardcover – 24 May 2012
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The best book I've read for a long time. Truly innovative, truly original, and a powerful poetic journey to another truth. Ros Barber has told a great story, in a fascinating way, so fascinating that she had someone like me gripped to the very end. This really is a joy to read and a true work of art. (Benjamin Zephaniah)
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. (Adam O'Riordan, Sunday Telegraph)
This is effortlessly better stuff than many far more trumpeted poets can produce, even on a good day...The Marlowe Papers is the best read, so far, this year. (Martin Newell, Sunday Express)
This terrifically accomplished and enjoyable novel/play/poem, call it what you like, restores one's faith in English fiction. (Fay Weldon)
Barber ingeniously weaves the action of the plays and sonnets into her story...The verse is subtle and varied enough never to disturb the ear, and in fact you forget that you're reading poetry at all. This is no bawdy cod-Shakespearean romp. (Suzi Feay, Financial Times)
Lush, inspired and provocative, this spellbinding dossier conjures up a bewitching Marlowe. (Kirkus)
'A rare find indeed - searing poetry meets compelling narrative in a historical tour de force that had me ripping through the pages.' (Robyn Young)
now that I've reached the end I want to go back and read it all again...Written in Marlowe's voice the reader doesn't need to know his work or that of Shakespeare to enjoy the book and relish the accomplishment of the author...The proof copy I read is already battered with rereading. I will be buying myself a hardback copy when it comes out. Don't buy it on an e-reader, buy a proper copy and hold it lovingly as you read. (Newbooksmag.com)
The Marlowe Papers grips. (John Sutherland, The Times)
The Marlowe Papersis a bravura performance: a noir thriller in doublet and hose, illuminated by images as startling as lightning. (Simon Worrall, author of The Poet and the Murderer)
this highly ambitious debut makes for an engrossing read...brought to life by smatterings of exquisitely poetic descriptions and turns of phrase worthy of the Bard himself, whoever he was. (David Clack, Time Out)
Themes of identity and self-esteem, of truth and loyalty, give substance to Barber's enthralling plot in a work that combines historical erudition with a sharply satisfying read. Marlowe's passion infects the page; Barber's skill draws the fever. (James Urquhart, Independent)
A magnificently original novel...this is a marvellous reconstruction of a life, told beautifully...A truly superb achievement. (Lesley McDowell, Glasgow Herald)
An outstanding verse novel, which recreates the dramatic story of Christopher Marlowe's life and shows how he could have written the works attributed to Shakespeare - a provocative, persuasive and enthralling tour de force.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
Then I read that Ros Barber the author and notable poet in her own right had won the Hoffman Prize for an essay based around this idea. Now I was becoming intrigued
She was inpired by Jonathan Bate's idea in Much Ado about something that the Marlowe story would make a good novel. Barber is a Marlovian, a group who believe that not only did Marlowe not die in a knife fight in a tavern or was it a boarding house in Deptford as supposed but went on to write the works of Shakespeare. Unlike other authorship candidates Marlowe's influence on Shakespeare is widely acknowledged particularly among early Shakespearean scholarship.
Ten days before Marlowe had been arrested in connection with the 'Dutch Church' libel, (an inflammatory poem signed in the name of Marlowe's most famous character Tamburlaine) and summoned to appear before the Privy Council. He was released. His writing partner Thomas Kyd, apparently innocent in the matter, was also arrested and tortured.
Around the same time the Bane complaint appeared, charging Marlowe with atheism, reading an atheist lecture, proselytising atheism, and making numerous gibes against the Bible, and particularly claiming he had as much right to coin as the Queen of England.
A year earlier Marlowe and Bane, both spies, were arrested in Flushing Holland on charges of counterfeiting. Bane initiated the charge against Marlowe. Marlowe was deported with Bane to England to Lord Burghley and Marlowe was released without charge. Now Bane reappears with a vengeance. Is he a spy with a personal grudge, or is someone pulling his strings?
One of the three people present at Marlowe's demise was Robert Poley, a noted spy and on Her Majesty's payroll. The other two Skeres and Frizer both worked for Marlowe's patron Thomas Walsingham. The Queens own coroner Danby handled Marlowe's inquest, and Frizer was pardoned by the Queen for his role in the murder a month later. While few commentators trust the testimony of these professional dissemblers most still still consider Marlowe's death to be true.
Frizer continued to work for Marlowe's patron for many years as if nothing had happened, and Hero and Leander five years later was dedicated to Lady Audrey Walsingham, the patron's wife. Thomas Walsingham was a cousin of Francis Walsingham the head of the intelligence service.
The poem Venus and Adonis was registered anonymously at the Stationers Office on April 18, 1593.
Within days of Marlowe's reported death on May 30,1593 the name William Shakespeare appears in print for the first time as the author of Venus and Adonis. The first recorded sale was entered in William Stoney's diary on June 12, 1593. A dedication to the Earl of Southampton promises a graver labour. The poem contains many eerie similarities to Hero and Leander as yet unpublished, and there is apparent cross referencing between these two works. What is the precise relationship between Shakespeare and Marlowe?
How can a first time poem refer to a poem that would not appear for five years? How can a poem five years later by a dead poet have the exact same allusions for example to Narcissus drowning in a brook, when that story is unrelated to either of the two source stories. The manner of Narcissus death is a mistake/embellishment consistent only to both these poems, but to no other English source at the time. Both poems refer to Adonis as rose-cheek'd. Why does the latin dedication lead to Marlowe's Elegies which not appear for six years? And the elegy to which it refers talks of envy biters pulling down great poets who get their due fame after death.
In the Marlowe Papers Barber pursues an alternative history, from the one received.
Did Marlowe shuffle off this mortal coil, go to discover countries yet unknown or stay to haunt the works of Shakespeare? Did highly placed friends once again protect him from scandal, serious charges and possibly execution?
The Marlowe Papers offers a highly skilled,enjoyable, even moving account as when Marlowe meets several of the characters that would inform his life. I found it enjoyable not only for the story but for the skill with which it was told. It is a novel, and therefore not to be taken as true. Still as not true stories go it may be closer to the truth than you imagine.
I think you will enjoy it and I hope this was helpful.
Once you sort out the chronology of what is going on, the story is quite gripping. It seems entirely plausible that Marlowe fell foul of various pressures. He was a much more serious thinker and writer than Jonson, but too revolutionary. And getting mixed up in spying is always going to be a dangerous move.
Having just read the Jonson biography by Donaldson, the contrast between the two men is fascinating, both came from relatively "humble" backgrounds. Although, back then a proper trade like shoemaking (Marlowe) or bricklaying (Jonson), if you were successful, is not at all what we today might think of them.
The book will lead me to read a leading source or two for the idea that Marlowe really did write the Shakespeare canon, even if like for the man from Stratford himself, the Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon and Mary Sidney there is still zero contemporary and relevant personal evidence that any of them wrote the works (see the almost unarguable work of Diana Price, "Shakespeare: The Unorthodox Biography").
While waiting for real, hard evidence to turn up on the authorship question, we will just have to sit back and enjoy the best of the speculative works, of which Ros Barber's book is definitely up there among them.
Before I use too many exclamation marks, I'll calm down.
Have you ever tried a book that wasn't written in prose? It's a nervy prospect - will there by rhymes? Do you need to sing it? Will it make sense?
Just a page or two into The Marlowe Papers and you end up feeling that the style is quite natural while still being a little different. It suits the subject.
And the subject is Christopher Marlowe. Not being a historian I knew only a little about Marlowe - that he was a contemporary of Shakespeare, was quite well-travelled as a spy (allegedly), and died in a tavern brawl. (And none of this from Shakespeare in Love, but A-Level English and Edward II). This book fills in the story, and embellishes it by asking - what if his death was faked, and it was MARLOWE who wrote Shakespeare's plays?...
It is as compelling a read as any thriller. The period detail is brilliant, I could picture the scenes, the man, Tudor London.
And I must confess, it does make you wonder - what if it were true?!
It's very well done, a lovely blank verse style that is by no means hard to read. Made me research Marlowe's history a little more after I'd finished.
Really quite beautiful at times, and a superb book for a group, plenty of material to get your teeth into. I hope being on the Women's Prize longlist brings it a larger readership.
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