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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars


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VINE VOICEon 13 May 2017
Written on the quartercentenary of Marlowe’s death in 1993, having written Nothing Like the Sun on the quartercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth 1964. Burgess had done his university thesis on Marlowe. Marlowe’s stabbing during a Deptford tavern brawl of 1593 produced the most infamous murder in English literary history. Less than 2 weeks before his death, a warrant for his arrest on charges of blasphemy and atheism had been issued by the Privy Council. Burgess is haunted by the ghost of Marlowe as was Shakespeare in 1593, when his work began to take off. Shakespeare was to emerge from the shadow of Marlowe’s ‘mighty line’. Burgess was to write the novel he’d been meaning to write on Marlowe (his last), prior to his own death. The two grammar school boys met in this daring project. Writing like thought is the dagger to the frontal lobes and scream, staying accurately close to the facts. Written with extraordinary richness, and depth, pushing data into fictional form. We get the spies and
Spy master, Sir Thomas Walsingham, the thugs Skeres, Fritzer and Poley; Raleigh; there are vital sketches of actors and playwrights like Nashe, Kyd, Shakespeare, Hemming,Condell and Alleyn.

Marlowe’s protagonists had been an infidel: an Atheist or a pagan, a Mohammedan or a Jew. Catholics in the 16th century were seen as Atheists who professed to believe in Christ for reasons of policy-what John Donne would call ‘perfidiousness or dissembling of Religion.’ This was an anti-Machiavellian presumption. Burgess himself, a lapsed Catholic, was empathetic to the Atheist point of view. He seemed at ease in the world inhabited by Marlowe, he equates the assassinated Marlowe with the murdered Christ. He gives full reign to the poet’s non-belief, showing the condemnation and distrust it incurred. That Marlowe is the dead man is a foregone conclusion contained in the title. Another dead man at the feast is Anthony Burgess, who is soon to die, this his last book. He seems to prefigure this in the writing. The narrator is a player of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. He later reveals: 'Enter Prince, Leonato, Claudio, and Jacke Wilson', used as an epigraph to MF and several times mentioned by Burgess as a notable co-incidence, which indeed it is. So there are two separate versions of this ghostly presence. In Part 3 Burgess speaks in his own voice: “I that die these deaths that feed this flame. put off this disguise”.

Plays are a metaphor for social life, and the roles we play, personas of religious, sexual orthodoxy, observance, politeness, when behind the scenes we deceive, blaspheme, are rude or homosexual. We follow closely Marlowe’s peregrinations abroad, to Scotland, Canterbury, London and Deptford. He is completing slowly his education at Cambridge, whilst also being initiated, involved as a government spy with several unsavoury characters. He is also shagging, shacking up with lovers along the way. Early on he helps his Father out in shoe-making and repairs, prior to Cambridge, and we meet his siblings. He is trying to uncover Catholic plots vs. Queen Elizabeth. He is also writing his plays. You could say another man’s life (Shakespeare’s) begins where another man’s (Marlowe’s) ends. Marlowe’s life was as dangerous as his thought and ,as much as he dared, he used drama as a vehicle for his revolutionary conceptions, though conclusions of his plays were necessarily orthodox. The poet of extremes preoccupied with fire, the stars, the heavens, the flight of birds, and all things clear, brilliant, swiftly moving and aspiring. This book gets even more into the Elizabethan idioms and rhythms than Nothing Like The Sun does.

Marlowe was the source of iambic pentameter, which changed English drama. Burgess was drawn to Marlowe because Burgess” was a renegade Catholic who mocked at hell but was still secretly scared of it”, especially during the war years when bombs were dropping. He felt secretly Marlowe to be such a man, “his blasphemies and beery jags the true voice of imperfect emancipation. I regarded him as a sort of proto- Joyce.” “Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.” Burgess sees Marlowe as a young Renaissance intellectual, unable totally to free himself from the grip of medieval superstition. Hell, Christ’s blood streaming, vats of boiling oil, the damned soul pushing off midnight with bare hands. The narrative very often follows Marlowe into closed rooms, relates secret conversations with spymasters or lovers, or even travels inside the main character's head. That Burgess was able to write a great historical novel and a great gay novel, was a feat only he could pull off. He wallows in the grime, shit, piss, dead dogs, and the dirtiness of Marlowe’s sexuality, and the guilt of his association with Raleigh, another Atheist. Any man could say or do the wrong thing and end up, hung, drawn and quartered. Indeed we get a graphic description of such. It is this look at the dark side of life, the bleak dark energy, that draws you in. Burgess has fulfilled the promise he made in 1968 to write a true Marlovian book.
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on 21 April 2017
Wonderfully filthy and reflecting the age, together with Burgesses wordsmithery.
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on 27 May 2004
This is a fascinating book, probably the best historical(-ish!) novel I've read. It's full of the feel of the period, thanks to the style and imagination with which Burgess conjures up all manner of settings and situations from the squalid to the opulent. This is a fascinating story of Marlowe's rise and demise, taking in espionage, homosexuality, poetry and finally murder. Two particular episodes stick in my mind - a gruesome execution scene which really conveys the horror of drawing and quartering; and an hilarious sex scene written in pidgin Latin. Buy this book - it's a real gem.
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on 12 February 2000
Once one becomes accustomed to the language, which whether reading james elroy or shakespeare always takes getting used to, Anthony Burgess takes one spiraling down into the chaotic, paranoid, hopeless elizabethan world where once denounced one was always guilty, always tortured, always drawn and quartered. I felt for the first time what it must be like to live within a framework of absolute fear, of saying, of doing, of thinking,and yet we are still able to enjoy the plays of Marlowe today. It is astounding that a man could create under those circumstances and that what he created has remained for us to enjoy these last 400 or so years. An amazing book.
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on 21 February 2009
Despite the frivolity of my title, Anthony Burgess's swan song novel is no light read. However, if the allure of an escape from the mundane realities of the present financial crisis is to your liking then this comes as a highly rated alternative.

Kit Marlowe, in part an often underrated dramatist having lived in the shadow of the "Great Bard", is a subject worthy of research, investigation and focus. Burgess invites the reader into an Elizabethan world which oozes reality, discomfort, brutality, poverty and unrequited love.Graphic imagery is to the fore, dialogue truly atmospheric, love of the word and the theatre take centre stage.

In this 400 year old time capsule, it is easy to forget that the novel's main plots lie in the politics of religion; the seizure of monarchical power; and the alleged spying activities of Marlowe. Intrigue combined with a hefty smattering of homosexual interludes; guarantee the reader's inclusion in a world far beyond our modern day comprehension.

Burgess' love affair with the English written word resonates within the book's covers, and for me overshadows any qualms about the possible poetic license taken by Burgess in his portrayal his protagonist.

As the book's title suggests, that Marlowe died is undisputed, but the circumstances surrounding his life invite further scrutiny.
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on 2 June 2010
My not being an "intellectual" but having a great interest in history made this book a bit of a dichotomy for me. On the one hand it is written in Elizabethan style language which isn't always easy to interpret, and on the other it contains all the historical facts of the events (in gory detail)

I very nearly gave up a few times, but the book is so obviously lovingly written by Mr Burgess and I thought it would be a disservice to his great knowlegde and effort to give up on it .Ultimately I'm glad i didn't.

It seems a shame that we learn so much about Shakespeare and not so much about Kit Marlowe . Perhaps that is a legacy of his lifestyle, which according to this book was rather naughty !
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on 7 July 2011
The way Burgess conjures the late Elizabethan period is just amazing. This is a master at work. This is one of the best books I have ever read and has really stayed with me. This is the only review I've written on Amazon.
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on 25 August 2010
Historical novels all too easily lapse into archaic pastiche, but the masterful Burgess manages to make the book feel both escapist and relevant.

It surprises me that no one has mentioned two of the most intriguing themes of this book, firstly the rise of the professional author and secondly, God and atheism. Many novels treat Renaissance faith in a stale and demeaning fashion, and it is refreshing to encounter a book where even an accused atheist and blasphemer thinks seriously about life's bigger questions. Marlowe cuts a rare but believable figure, the rogue or reprobate who is nonetheless tortured by the question of the existence of God, sin, and the afterlife. I also loved the interaction between the coterie of playwrights and authors, their jealous barbs and support of each other in times of need. Here was a time where writers were provocative, but also arrested for being so; where to make your name, you relied as much on your fists and your sword as you did your pen. A world where writers had to be brawny and politically informed, where their expressions could land them amongst an appreciative nobility as easily as in the torture chamber.

I have always been fascinated with Marlowe as a personage and have been greatly touched by his 'Tamburlaine' and 'Faustus' - but I didn't think anyone could convince me that he was actually a likeable and even heroic character. Whether or not he really was like this will always remain a mystery, but Burgess has taught me to believe the best after wandering blissfully in Marlowe's shoes.
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on 22 February 2015
Narrated by one of the players who acted Christopher Marlowe's plays the novel uses an approximation of the language spoken at the time. This takes a little getting used to, but once you are tuned into the 16thC modes of speech you are swept along by the narrative and the panache with which Burgess describes this sinister and colourful world. Burgess' explanation of Marlowe's death seems as likely as any I've read and the last 20 pages or so carry a feeling of inevitable doom, of which the reader is aware, but Marlowe is not.
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on 15 January 2014
First time in my reading life I've felt that a book is bigger than my reading ability. Halfway through this book helped me to raise my level and left me with huge joy.
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