Synopses & Reviews
Christopher Marlowe's life was the most spectacular of any English dramatist. One of the great playwrights of his age, second only to Shakespeare, he was also a secret agent as well as the central figure in a murder mystery.
Now, Park Honan offers the most thoroughly researched and detailed biography of Marlowe to appear in over fifty years. Honan, the acclaimed biographer of Shakespeare, takes us from Marlowe's childhood in Canterbury to his mysterious death in Deptford, shedding much light on this shadowy individual. The book features new information on Marlowe's six-and-a-half years at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, his shocking blasphemy and his street fights, his methods of preparing himself for writing, and his alleged atheism. The book includes new facts about Marlowe's adventures on the continent, where he was caught with a counterfeit coin, a hanging offense, but talked his way out of the noose and was returned to England in irons. Honan describes his attraction to scientists such as Thomas Harriot and other hard-headed realists bent on innovation and free thought. In addition, there are new details on spies and business agents that Marlowe knew, a more exact account of the circumstances that led to his murder, and a fresh description of his evolving relationship with Shakespeare. The author of Tamberlaine the Great and Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe changed the nature of the English stage.
Researched in archives in England, Europe, and the United States, this superb biography paints an unforgettable portrait of one of the most remarkable figures in English literature.
"When it comes to the accumulation of apocryphal legend, few poets can compete with Christopher Marlowe: Scholars have long ruminated over evidence of his activities as a 'spy, unceasing blasphemer, a tough street-fighter and courageous homosexual,' not to mention his murder at age 29. In this well-crafted biography, Honan (Shakespeare: A Life) sheds light on the much-speculated (and previously erroneously reported) aspects of Marlowe's life without neglecting its more ordinary features (his stable two-parent upbringing, his diligent scholarship at Cambridge) or destroying the poet's aura of intrigue. Honan engages with the work of prior scholars, but draws his own conclusions, employing Cambridge University records, unpaid bills ('he still seems to have owed for lamb chops and beer'), and 'suddenly acquired' documents to freshly reconstruct Marlowe's activities, which included arrests, brawls, imprisonments and his involvement in a counterfeiting operation in the Netherlands. Honan writes that 'as a poet, Marlowe had interested himself in clandestine power, tricks, abasement, and immoral force,' and by infusing his account with close readings of Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta, Dr. Faustus and Hero and Leander, Honan explores the fascinating convergence of Marlowe's dual professions. Finally, revisiting the coroner's report and the facts surrounding Marlowe's final hours (he died after being stabbed in the face), Honan handles the poet's murder with the same attention to detail he brings to his life. The care and depth of this biography honor Marlowe's complexities-as Honan writes, 'Our lives do not fit into the conventional genres of the stage, as he knew.'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"To fully conjure Marlowe's personality, Honan analyzes his great plays...to reveal their heroes' psychological complexities and powerfully suggest that their creator possessed a mind as modernly sympathetic as Shakespeare's." Booklist
"Honan brings insight to his task, filling in details of Marlowe's life as a spy, his dealings on the continent, and his eventual murder, in addition to his relationship with Shakespeare and other playwrights of the day....The scholarship is solid and the writing lively and accessible." Library Journal
"Scholars steeped in the minutiae of Marlowe's life will applaud Honan's diligent labors to glean truths from documents more than four centuries old." Boston Globe
"The result is a book that frustrates, and occasionally infuriates, as often as it fascinates, because at its core the myth fits the facts of Marlowe's life and art only too well, driving Honan into an apologetic swarm of digressions, speculations, half-evasions and logic-choppings." New York Times
About the Author
Honan is Emeritus Professor at the School of English, University of Leeds.
Table of Contents
I. A Canterbury Youth
2. Petty school and the parish
3. The King's School
II. Scholar and Spy
4. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
III. With Shakespeare, Kyd, and the Ralegh Circle
6. The Tamburlaine> phenomenon
7. Doctor Faustus
8. A spy abroad
IV. Sexuality and Reckonings
9. The keen pleasures of sex
10. A little matter of murder