On May 30th, 1593, Christopher Marlowe – celebrated young playwright, spy, fickle lover and declared atheist – was killed in a tavern brawl. Or was he? In this mesmerising novel, he reveals that in truth, he was smuggled across the Channel into lonely exile where he continued to write. And the pseudonym he chose to hide behind was 'William Shakespeare'...
The idea that Shakespeare was, in fact, a front for another (or a group of) author is not new; the first manifestations of the concept dates back to the 19th century. However, this belief has recently been made popular by movies such as Anonymous – in which the playwright is the Earl of Oxford. In her first full-length novel, Ros Barber brings a new contender in the game: controversial poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe. You might be tempted to think that this is just a new way to tell the same-old story, but you would be wrong. There is one element that puts this book in a league of its own:
it's entirely written in verse.
Yup, you've read correctly. The Marlowe Papers is entirely written in iambic pentameter. The whole 407 pages of it. I didn't notice when I purchased the book ( I was in London, reading all things English, so the book just caught my eye) and was a bit deterred at first by it. However, it's so well written that it reads easily. In a matter of pages, I was accustomed to the rhythm, and my eyes flew across the page. Aside from being a feat, this ingenious way of telling the story gives it a feel of authenticity that regular prose couldn't have. Furthermore, poetry being more flexible in sentence structure (if not in format,) it allows Marlowe to express himself in sentence fragments, thus conveying his emotional states more vividly. It is impossible not to fall in love with the man for through his verses, the reader rejoices, suffers and lives.
The story itself, although completely fictitious, feels true. The exile, the cover up, everything is plausible and makes sense in the context of the novel. Barber is great at depicting the Elizabethan society, showing the dirty reality of the so-called "Golden Age."
I strongly recommend that you read The Marlowe Papers. Do not let the format deter you; this is a read you will not regret. I truly hope Barber will write other novels in verse.
To learn more about the Shakespeare authorship question, I suggest you read this very informative article on Wikipedia.