The Marlowe Papers: A Novel

( 3 )

Overview

Winner of the 2013 Desmond Elliott Prize
Longlisted for the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction

You’re the author of the greatest plays of all time.
But nobody knows.
And if it gets out, you’re dead.
 
On May 30, 1593, a celebrated young playwright was killed in a tavern brawl in London. That, at least, was...

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Overview

Winner of the 2013 Desmond Elliott Prize
Longlisted for the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction

You’re the author of the greatest plays of all time.
But nobody knows.
And if it gets out, you’re dead.
 
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.

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 skeptic, Christopher Marlowe always courted trouble. In this memoir, love letter, confession, and settling of accounts, Ros Barber brings Christopher Marlowe and his era to vivid life in The Marlowe Papers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A remarkable book. It is also a brave one…Barber conjures up some beautifully realized scenes.”
--New York Times Book Review

"With the screw-tightening verve of a great thriller and the romantic pull of Renaissance poetry, the novel — which purports that Marlowe is the true author of William Shakespeare’s legendary oeuvre — is a gripping, lyrical, most unlikely page-turner.” --American Way

“Lush, inspired and provocative, this spellbinding dossier conjures up a bewitching Marlowe.” --Kirkus

“Marlowe meets fascinating characters, sneaky spies and counterfeiters, gifted poets and playwrights, self-serving noblemen and vicious gutter-snipes. Barber’s vivid portrayal of filthy, stinking London, the horror of the plague, the rampant and bloody religious intolerance, and the squalid daily life of 16th-century Europe are accurate and convincing.” –Publishers Weekly

"A must-read for anyone interested in Marlowe, William Shakespeare or 16th-century English history . . . The writing is superb, the plot moves quickly and Marlowe's story is compelling. An award-winning, highly original novel in verse about the life of Christopher Marlowe--even after the world believed him dead.”--Shelf Awareness

"A damn fine book . . . Barber’s focus is to tell a story through gorgeous verse."–The Common

"Terrifically accomplished and enjoyable . . . restores one's faith in English fiction." --Fay Weldon
"Searing poetry meets compelling narrative in a historical tour de force that had me ripping through the pages. My only complaint is that everything else I read for a while now will, I fear, suffer by comparison." --Robyn Young, author of The Fall of the Templars and Brethren

"For me personally, this is the most complete Marlowe I've ever encountered." - Will Self, author of Umbrella
 
"A story of ambition, infamy, beer, cunning, facepaint, red herrings, knives, and pen and paper, [The Marlowe Papers] is not only an homage to Marlowe but a celebration of poetry - and of its power to allow the dead to speak." --Blake Morrison, author of And When Did You Last See Your Father?
 
“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, author of Gangsta Boy and Face

“The Marlowe Papers is a bravura performance: a noir thriller in doublet and hose. The life of Kit Marlowe, the baddest boy of English Literature, is great fare for any writer. There’s espionage and sex; murder and treachery; and, this being England, a healthy dose of cross-dressing. And Barber serves it, steaming hot.” --Simon Worrall, author of The Poet and The Murderer

“Combines historical erudition with a sharply satisfying read. Marlowe's passion infects the page; Barber's skill draws the fever.” --The Independent (UK)

The Marlowe Papers is the best read, so far, this year.” –The Sunday Express (UK)

The New York Times Book Review - Charles Nicholl
…there is a great deal to enjoy in The Marlowe Papers. Barber conjures up some beautifully realized scenes. The chapters, which are really poems, are brief…and briskly move the story along. The language is convincing, and free of the gadzookery of Elizabethan pastiche…[Barber] is also very good at the mood of lethal gamesmanship among those denizens of the political underworld with whom Marlowe mixed.
Publishers Weekly
Award-winning poet Barber’s debut historical novel perpetuates the oft-told myth that Shakespeare’s plays were really written by the dramatist Christopher Marlowe. Barber’s fictionalized biography of Marlowe (1564–1593) cleverly reveals his adventurous life as a popular playwright and poet, love affairs with men and women, sordid spy missions for Queen Elizabeth, and a faked death to escape being hanged for heresy. Despite the book’s being too long and written in tedious Elizabethan verse, Barber’s skillful plotting makes the work’s premise almost believable. Marlowe’s friends concoct a wild scheme to fake his death in a fight in 1593, and Marlowe flees to Europe, forever exiled as a dead man. However, he has influential friends and continues to write plays as Shakespeare and spy on England’s enemies, most notably Catholic conspirators plotting against the Protestants. Throughout this lengthy tale of plot and counterplot, Marlowe meets fascinating characters, sneaky spies and counterfeiters, gifted poets and playwrights, self-serving noblemen and vicious gutter-snipes. Barber’s vivid portrayal of filthy, stinking London, the horror of the plague, the rampant and bloody religious intolerance, and the squalid daily life of 16th-century Europe are accurate and convincing. Agent: Rupert Heath, the Rupert Heath Literary Agency. (Jan.)
Library Journal
History reports that Christopher Marlowe was killed in a London tavern brawl in 1593. But Barber imagines that he staged his death to avoid a conviction of heresy, then fled across the Channel, continuing to write behind the mask of one William Shakespeare. Poet Barber has a Ph.D. in Marlowe studies to her name and won the Marlowe Society's Hoffman Prize for this work. In-house enthusiasm.
Kirkus Reviews
What if Kit Marlowe wasn't really killed in a tavern brawl? What if he escaped and became the secret scribe of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets? Ros Barber (Material, 2008, etc.) cunningly uses her own poetic skills to craft this startling chronicle of Marlowe's life in verse--mostly blank verse. Winner of the 2011 Hoffman Prize, this debut novel adds a rich new voice to the conversation about Christopher Marlowe's life and work, including the possibility that some or all of Shakespeare's works belong instead to Marlowe. Barber's Marlowe is a smart, witty, struggling, bisexual playwright. Through his friendship with Tom Watson, he is drawn into service, becoming an intelligencer, a spy for the queen. The dangers of espionage vie with the jealousies of the other playwrights, and Marlowe must deftly avoid not only detection, but also giving offense. Although Marlowe learns that the most dangerous secrets are hidden in plain sight, he resists seeing that his own professed atheism may be more hazardous than the queen's secrets or his own talents. To save his life, his death must be faked. Worse, he must erase his own name from history, giving his plays and sonnets to a dull man named Shakespeare. With the force of fate, his dual lives as deceiver and dramatist entwine to deprive him of true self and true story. At points, the poetry gets in the way of the story, becoming cumbersome rather than nimble. Yet, telling the tale in verse is a clever choice, and Barber's poetry is often rich with imagery, evoking the beauty of Marlowe's own artistry as well as the mysterious, often ominous, world of shadowy political machinations. A spy's code, the poetry allows Marlowe to tell his true story, reclaiming his own name. Lush, inspired and provocative, this spellbinding dossier conjures up a bewitching Marlowe.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250044808
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/21/2014
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 1,361,599
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.50 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

ROS BARBER was born in Washington, DC and raised in England. She is the author of three poetry collections and her poetry has appeared in Poetry Review, London Magazine, The Guardian among many other publications. Ros has a PhD in Marlowe studies and has taught writing at The University of Sussex for more than a decade. In 2011, she was awarded the prestigious Hoffman Prize for The Marlowe Papers. She lives in Brighton, England.

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Read an Excerpt

Marlowe Papers, The

THE MARLOWE PAPERSDEATH S A GREAT DISGUISERChurch-dead. And not a headstone in my name. No brassy plaque, no monument, no tomb, no whittled initials on a makeshift cross, no pile of stones upon a mountain top. The plague is the excuse; the age's curse that swells to life as spring gives way to summer, to sun, unconscious kisser of a warmth that wakens canker as it wakens bloom. 

Now fear infects the wind, and every breath that neighbour breathes on neighbour in the street brings death so close you smell it on the stairs. Rats multiply, as God would have them do. And fear infects like mould; like fungus, spreads -folk catch it from the chopped-off ears and thumbs, the burning heretics and eyeless heads that slow-revolve the poles on London Bridge. 

The child of casual violence grows inured, an audience too used to real blood; they've watched a preacher butchered, still awake, and handed his beating heart like it was love. And now the sanctioned butchery of State breeds sadists who delight to man the rack, reduce men from divine belief and brain to begging, and the rubble of their spines. 

From all this, I am dead. Reduced to ink that magicks up my spirit from the page: a voice who knows what mortals cannot think of; a ghost, whose words ring deeper from the grave. 

Corpse-dead. A gory stab-hole for an eye; and that's what they must think. No, must believe, those thug-head pursers bent on gagging speech, if I'm to slip their noose and stay alive. Now I'm as dead as any to the world, the foulest rain of blackened corpses on the body that is entered in my name: the plague pit where Kit Marlowe now belongs. For who could afford for that infected earth to be dug up to check identities? And so, I leave my former name behind. Gone on the Deptford tide, the whole world blind. 

Friend, I'm no one. If I write to you, in fading light that distances the threat, it's as a breeze that strokes the Channel's waves, the spray that blesses some small vessel's deck.THE MARLOWE PAPERS. Copyright © 2012 by Ros Barber. All rights reserved. . For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2013

    This is a singularly beautiful book. I've never read anything qu

    This is a singularly beautiful book. I've never read anything quite like it...

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    Posted April 21, 2013

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