Friday, 24 May 2013

Review: The Marlowe Papers

The Marlowe Papers
Ros Barber

                         'Oh this thorn, regret.

I catch my eye on it every time.'

On May 30th 1593 a celebrated and talented playwright was stabbed through the eye in a bar brawl. The playwright was Christopher Marlowe. Or so the official version goes. The Marlowe Papers tells the 'true' story through the eyes of Christopher himself who was not actually killed but faked his death to avoid persecution for heresy and promptly scuttled off to Europe in exile.

The Marlowe Papers fits in to a whole scholarly debate over the true author of Shakespeare's plays and this novel was actually the result of Barber's PhD. Whenever I think of the whole subject -  who was Shakespeare, was he real or just a cover - it makes me think of Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair and the Marvolians and Baconians who go around trying to convince the world that Shakespeare was a sham. Considering all that it was most interesting to read a more serious novel (in verse) that addresses the same question.

'Will I am. Will. I'm Will. And Will is me.'

Not to inflate her ego or anything but Ros Barber is hella brainy. She wrote a novel in verse. I mean, how many people could do that?  And there are constant allusions to the plays of Willy Shakes which is just amazing for someone like me (a Willy Shakes nerd). I thought the verse form was entertaining and I think Barber captured the Elizabethan spirit (although she did modernise terms which doesn't bother me in the slightest). 

One thing this novel is full of is love. Marlowe did not limit himself to a particular gender and he seemed to fall in and out of love pretty quick. I'm not even kidding, this dude was frisky. Most of the novel is addressed to 'You' who I assume to mean his main love, Thomas Walsingham*. I think it was his friskiness that gets in the way of me and him having a good textual relationship. He's just a tad to loose with the term love. But maybe that's a sign of the times. I just don't know. Still, I found him a bit moany at times. Nonetheless, his character didn't get in the way of my enjoyment of the novel as a whole at all. The plot, which is full of intrigue, comedy, lyricism and violence, kept me engaged throughout and I was not bored for a second. 

'...How should words

presume themselves as bandages or slings
when the world limps onward, and you've darkened it.
And words be damned, for if we're 'gentle men'
then what hope does the world have? Words are lost.'

This book was a challenge but one I'm glad I conquered. I adore Shakespeare, I always have and hopefully always will. For me, it was the allusions and subtle links to the plays that really made the novel an exciting one to read. And for that reason I would definitely recommend it to lovers of the famous Shakey-P. I got really excited at this allusion to Titus Andronicus:

'I take my driest paper, mix the ink,
and open where the daughter stumbles in
with bleeding stumps for hands, a bloody chin,
and blood ballooning  as she tries to speak;
each word a victim of her absent tongue
translated to an empty sphere of air;
anguished to tell some caring heart who wreaked
this violent silence over their guilty deed.
But speechlessness has rendered her a worm:
no hands to write, no tongue to speak until
she spies the book that spells another's tale - 
the silenced woman turned to nightingale
who sings, and in her singing, is avenged.'

Isn't that just awesome?! Mind-blowingly so?!

*there were a lot of characters and I did get lost at points (thank goodness for the dramatis personae at the beginning) so forgive me if it was a different Thomas that he was in love with or not a Thomas at all. If it's not a Thomas at all then I'd best just admit defeat and re-read it because I clearly took nothing in...



  1. Totally fascinated by this one. And I didn't realize until now that it's in verse. Holy cannoli!!! Can't even imagine trying to write it.

    1. I was definitely surprised by how much I actually liked it. And yes, she wrote the whole thing in verse! Actual verse! That's what I mean, she is like a whole other level of smart.

  2. Ok that last verse is like... maybe I'll try to read it after all!

    1. I think it may be even be one I'll re-read in the future just for the writing :)

  3. I'm so glad you loved it! I went so far as to get this one out from the library, but I chickened out of reading it...

    1. It is definitely intimidating. Long, dense subject matter and, obviously, written in verse but it is worth it if you're ever feeling brave.

  4. After reading The Bookman's Tale, I am quite intrigued by this one. This does seem a bit more intimidating, but I think I would definitely enjoy it.

    1. I think with the background from The Bookman's Tale it would perhaps be a bit easier once you face the intimidation head on!


© Lit Nerd. All rights reserved.
Blogger Templates by pipdig