Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe / Edition 1

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In 1593 the brilliant but controversial young playwright Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death in a Deptford lodging house. The circumstances were shady, the official account—a violent quarrel over the bill, or "recknynge"—has been long regarded as dubious.

Here, in a tour de force of scholarship and ingenuity, Charles Nicholl penetrates four centuries of obscurity to reveal not only a complex and unsettling story of entrapment and betrayal, chimerical plot and sordid felonies, but also a fascinating vision of the underside of the Elizabethan world.

"Provides the sheer enjoyment of fiction, and might just be true."—Michael Kenney, Boston Globe

"Mr. Nicholl's glittering reconstruction of Marlowe's murder is only one of the many fascinating aspects of this book. Indeed, The Reckoning is equally compelling for its masterly evocation of a vanished world, a world of Elizabethan scholars, poets, con men, alchemists and spies, a world of Machiavellian malice, intrigue and dissent."—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"The rich substance of the book is his detail, the thick texture of betrayal and evasion which was Marlowe's life."—Thomas Flanagan, Washington Post Book World

Winner of the Crime Writer's Gold Dagger Award for Nonfiction Thriller

In 1593 the brilliant but controversial young playwright Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death in a Deptford lodging house. The circumstances were shady. Nicholls penetrates four centuries of obscurity to reveal a complex story of entrapment and betrayal. Winner of the Crime Writer's Gold Dagger Award for a nonfiction thriller.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226580241
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 7/28/1995
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 413
  • Sales rank: 1,033,065
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Torch Turning Downward 1
Pt. 1 The Killing
1 Deptford, 1593 13
2 The Official Story 17
3 The Witnesses 22
4 Widow Bull 35
5 Libels and Heresies 38
Pt. 2 Reactions
6 The First Epitaphs 51
7 The 'Goggle-eyed Sonnet' 60
8 Independent Accounts 65
9 Touchstone's Riddle 72
10 Vaughan and the Perrots 77
11 The Questions 82
Pt. 3 The Intelligence Connection
12 Faithful Dealing 91
13 The Elizabethan Secret Service 102
14 Thomas Walsingham 115
15 Shaking the Foundation 121
16 Robert Poley 133
17 The Babington Plot 147
Pt. 4 Poets and Spies
18 'Our Best for Plotting' 169
19 Thomas Watson 177
20 Fictions and Knaveries 185
21 The Wizard Earl 191
22 The 'Priest of the Sun' 202
Pt. 5 The Low Countries
23 New Masters 219
24 Lord Strange 225
25 The Dutch Shilling 234
26 Marlowe and Poole 240
27 Poley's Network 250
28 Roydon and the King of Scots 257
Pt. 6 The Frame
29 'This Cursed Cholmeley' 265
30 The Damnable Crew 277
31 The Dutch Church Libeller 284
32 Ralegh and Essex 290
33 The Drury Letter 302
34 Marlowe's Liberty 314
35 The Reckoning 324
Epilogue 331
Appendix: 'False Trails' 339
Notes 345
Sources 393
Index 401
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2000

    A Disappearance into the Tudor Mists

    I have a theory which I inherited from reading of the investigation and conclusions of the scholar, Calvin Hoffman, some years ago. Tudor times were savage if you happened to dissent from the religious or political regime of the descendants of Henry VIII. Under Elizabeth, the Tudor secret service was as vicious and all-pervasive an organisation as any seen until the Soviet Union. After the disastrous reign of her sister, Mary Tudor and that of her sickly brother, Edward VI, the hold of this Welsh clan over the English throne was shaky and as a consequence, deeply suspicious. Elizabeth was quite a different human being from the one phantasised in story and play. She was determined to stamp out any dissent and had around her a web of spies, informers and murderers that would do as she bade them because they were in her service and feared for their own lives if they did not perform. This is the Queen who rejoiced in her very own torturer, Mr Topcliffe, who brought agony and death to many, many people at that time. Marlowe was a highly skilled, deeply read and widely travelled playwright who was at the peak of his capacity. He was also a spy for Elizabeth, travelling to Belgium and France to report on English Catholic refugees who had been forced off their land and out of their homes by the Tudor regime. They were seen as a possible threat because the Catholic faith was still widely supported despite the punishments of eviction, torture and death which were so much a feature of Queen Elizabeth's reign. Marlowe was in fact a Catholic and had played a double game. Now he was under suspicion himself. On that day in 1593 he took a long lunch with close friends, one of whom, at least, was also a paid spy. In a manner utterly out of keeping with his wealth, character and friendshp with the others, he is supposed to have been stabbed to death over the bill for lunch! Amazingly, in that same year of 1593, an obscure grain dealer and debt dodger, who had skipped his wife and home in Stratford and was known as an amateur actor in London, suddenly produced fully-fledged plays for the publishers. Never having published a thing before that year! To those of us who have read as much as we can about Shakespeare's life, there is no evidence of any wide travel, good education or previous literary ability. But he was able to have these works of lasting majesty and beauty published under his name and ever since, has been raised to the level of an English language icon. Marlowe did not die, he escaped, probably to Douai in Belgium, into a community where he was protected but still able to transmit his plays and poems to Will Shakespeare. That could only have happened in the Tudor period if Elizabeth knew about it and permitted to to happen, perhaps through an admiration of his work. My theory points to her as the 'dark lady' of the sonnets. As for 'The Reckoning', read it and enjoy a well researched and entertaining account of those terrible times but have at the back of your mind the possibility of the escape of the double agent from the service of his Queen to a refuge where she allowed him to continue to produce the greatest literature in our language.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2000

    Nice scholarship, but ....

    A marvelous example of that most interesting of human dialectics: how a man can be so smart and so stupid at the exact same time. Here, a ton or two of really brilliant research into the world of the Elizabethan secret service and its spy systems crumbles under the most preposterous hypothesis about the who, the why, and the how of Christopher Marlowe's Deptford murder.

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