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The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe Hardcover – Import, 1 March 1994
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- Publisher : Harcourt (1 March 1994)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 0151759812
- ISBN-13 : 978-0151759811
- Item Weight : 816 g
- Dimensions : 15.88 x 3.81 x 23.5 cm
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A good deal of the book is concerned to explain the espionage situation – difficult to unravel, since many of the spies seemed to be working for both sides. References appear in the poem he was writing at the time: Hero and Leander, leading to veiled allusions to his death. Nothing is straightforward, however. The author was Shakespeare, and the play, As You Like It. In the middle of the play – the line delivered by Touchstone, leaves an echo of Marlowe’s death: “It strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.” Shakespeare had used lines before from Marlowe’s works: notably this:
Dead shepherd, now I find your saw of might:
Whoever loved, who loved not at first sight.
But there was no ill will between them – that came later as Marlowe was drawn into the world of spies – never a prime actor in that world, nevertheless of it, and drawn into it. In the account the witnesses gave they wrote themselves out of the story. It was all about Marlowe and Ingram Frizer. The true story will never be told.
But Nicholls gives us more than we have had before, unravelling connections and peopling the action. It is heavy going in places but secondary contributors include many famous names: Mary Queen of Scots, Essex, Walter Ralegh, Sir Robert Cecil, and the whole panoply of Elizabethan espionage under Walsingham.
"The Reckoning" is a fascinating book which takes readers deep into the world of the Elizabethan theatre, Tudor life and, perhaps a surprise for some, the Elizabethan secret service under Francis Walsingham. Known by many for his plays - "The Jew of Malta", "The Massacre at Paris", "Tambourlane", "Dr Faustus" and "Edward the Second" - Christopher Marlowe was also a secret agent, recruited, like many over the years, during his time at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1584 and, eventually, his MA in 1587. During his time there, he had protracted periods of absence, far in excess of regulations and he also began to spend lavishly, more than he would have been able to afford on his scholarship income.
"The Reckoning" is a very clever play on words; his alleged death is said to have been over the bill but those who say he was murdered suggest other, less obvious reasons (and, of course, there are those who suggest he did not die at all. It was all an act). Christopher Marlowe seemed to enjoy living life to the full, was a superstar of Elizabethan theatre but also an atheist (and homosexual?) unafraid to express his views on both and a Tudor spy, an agent of Francis Walsingham, who courted danger - a world created in minute and well-researched detail by Nichols.
I have a shelf full of the genre and, for reasons difficult to explain in the daylight, I continue to look for more. So the plot continues; Nichols paints such a picture of the back streets of Tudor London, it is almost possible to smell them. He has always been a detailed, pain-staking researcher and an excellent writer able to blend all the facts and information into a readable whole. This is no exception. Another recent book in the genre presents the idea that the 30th May 1593 in that public house in Deptford may well have been the scene of a great conspiracy after which Kit Marlowe was spirited away by some of Thomas Walsingham's agents or fellow conspirators, to live out the rest of his life in Italy. Nichols depicts, not a public house but a large and wealthy private home, not a publican or landlady but a well-connected lady of influence and creates the scene in a much more detailed way with comprehensive biographies of those involved and a more in-depth examination of the tragic incident, the subsequent events, the coroner's report and reactions at the time.
I enjoyed Christopher Nicholl's well-written, detailed and scholarly text. What a fascinating period it was with such mysterious figures and these spies, playwrights, rogues and criminals and still the fascination drives writers and historians to research five hundred years later.