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Historical Fiction History People guest posts

History People: The Muses’ Darling – Christopher Marlowe

I’m very pleased to welcome fellow historical fiction author D.K. Marley to the blog today. She explains the genesis of her first novel, Blood and Ink, about that enigmatic contemporary of Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe.

On a dark night in Deptford in 1593, the astounding and controversial playwright, Christopher Marlowe, is said to have died as a result of a fight over the reckoning, or the bill. So, why after all of these years is there still intrigue about this elusive man?

I, myself, found the mystery enticing enough to delve into his history and life over twenty years ago. After spending nearly fifteen years researching almost every line of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, narrowing down the passages I found most useful to my intended novel about the man, I sat down to write Blood and Ink which I initially called A Reckoning for the Sparrow.

To be honest, I never realized what an impact this novel would have on my life, the direction my own writing would take after such a monumental feat. I always loved reading historical fiction, but never thought to write it until that day I met Kit Marlowe at the Globe Theatre in London.

In 1997, a month after Princess Diana was killed, I visited London, my very first visit ever, and I soaked in the history surrounding me. My own grandmother, an English Lit teacher, loved London and I felt a special connection to her as I did all the touristy things. On my to-see list was the famous theatre in Southwark.

It was there that I first heard about the possible authorship debate, of the possibility that some other man might be the true writer of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. Naturally, I was astounded since I had never heard of this premise. Five men stared back from their portraits in the exhibition at the Globe Theatre, the five candidates; but for me, there was only one whose eyes spoke to me to tell his story. Christopher Marlowe.

Born the son of a shoemaker from Canterbury, he was raised in a good Protestant home in the shadow of the cathedral, only two months older than William Shakespeare. I imagined these two boys, one in Canterbury, the other in Stratford-upon-Avon, and the vast differences in their lives as they grew to manhood.

The similarities appeared obvious, two boys born to working-class families, yet while Shakespeare’s father had the ambition to rise beyond his status, Marlowe’s father appeared content with his lot. And yet, to me I felt that somehow their background and what they were exposed to must have pushed them towards what kind of life they melded out for themselves.

Shakespeare’s father, John, had secrets about his Catholic leanings and his family connections to spies sent from Rome, and insisted his son leave school to help with the family business when he was eleven years old. Marlowe’s father, John, on the other hand, was content to send his son away to schooling at The King’s School on a scholarship endorsed by Archbishop Parker. But how did that happen for Marlowe? One might suspect that he was ‘ear-marked’ by Parker who was keeping a look out for intellectual boys who might fit what was needed for the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Frances Walsingham.

Walsingham was known to enlist young boys, especially those with brilliant skills he could use to protect the Queen. To me, in developing my story, it was logical. Shakespeare was relegated to leaving school and working with his father whilst Marlowe soared like a sparrow on the wind as he succumbed to the machinations of Walsingham, all with the initial innocent intent of becoming a well-renowned playwright. Shakespeare languished at home dreaming of becoming a famous actor without any prospect beyond the borders of Warwickshire.

I wanted to portray these two boys travelling on parallel roads, both with ambitions beyond their meagre upbringing, and how those within Queen Elizabeth’s realm, even she herself, used these two boys as they grew to manhood. And how one meeting betwixt them at eleven-years-old in the fields below Kenilworth Castle changed their destiny.

The history of Marlowe in our present day shows him much maligned as an atheist, homosexual, and deviant, but history is oft-times wrong since we know that it is most often told by those who wish to spread lies, especially after someone has died. How could Marlowe find his voice after all these centuries and shout to the world that he is, in fact, the writer of the plays attributed to Shakespeare?

Thankfully, we now live in a world of technology, a world where computers can quickly research data unavailable to scholars of the past. Just this past week, author and historian, Ros Barber, presented a new article about Zeta testing Shakespeare’s play to prove Marlowe’s hand in the work. The research is astounding and well-worth a read to anyone wanting to know more about the authorship debate. The article link can be found in my own blog article.

In the end, after my own research, I felt so much sympathy for Marlowe, as if his name were buried under the overpowering presence of Shakespeare; and yet, his plays set the stage for all of those plays attributed to the Bard of England. While we may never have definitive proof, the circumstantial evidence is there, thus giving us all a reason to look further into this man’s life.

Blood and Ink

Blood and Ink – a novel of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare

  • Winner of the 2018 The Coffee Pot Book Club Bronze Medal for Best Historical Fiction
  • Winner of the 2019 Golden Squirrel Book Club Awards Silver Medal for Best Historical Fiction
  • Five-star Editorial Reviews from The Historical Novel Society and The Coffee Pot Book Club

Available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and Audible from Amazon.

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Copyright © D.K.Marley, Vanessa Couchman 2020. All rights reserved.