Originally posted to my blog, Riba Rambles on January 14, 2004;
Last major modification on November 9, 2007
Definitions and Criteria:
This is a list of modern fictionalized portrayals of Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan playwright.
I've limited my list to English language works first published after 1975. For better organization, I've subdivided the list into multiple categories. Within each table, works are organized chronologically, but you can click on a column header to re-sort by that field.
Fictionalized accounts of Shakespeare's life often include Marlowe as a character. I have listed those where Marlowe's appearance seems significant (based upon reviews and promotional materials). Such works amy be listed inconsistently. Please comment if you know of other such works which should be listed.
Prose and Poetry (professionally-published)
|TOTAL:||54||Have read 61%|
| To be a king || Robert DeMaria || 1976 || novel || || || Yes |
| Will Shakespeare: the untold story || John Clifford Mortimer || 1977 || novel || || British miniseries The Life of Shakespeare based upon this book || No |
| Enter a spy: the double life of Christopher Marlowe || Herbert Lom || 1978 || novel || || || No |
| Winter's tale || Connie Willis || 1987 || short story || || not immediately apparent it's Marlovian; collected in author's anthology Impossible Things; originally published December 1987 Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine || Yes |
| Mignon || Chris Hunt || 1987 || novel || gay || a former lover of the French king flees to England, where he becomes an actor and Marlowe's bedpartner || Yes |
| The Shadow of the earth: an historical novel based on the life of Christopher Marlowe || Lee Wichelns || 1987 || novel || || || No |
| The Armor of light || Melissa Scott & Lisa A. Barnett || 1988 || novel || fantasy; alternate history || both Philip Sidney and Marlowe survived in a world where magic works. One of my favorite novels || Yes |
| The Scholars of night || John M. Ford || 1988 || novel || modern espionage || plot involves possible Marlowe manuscript: flashback/hypothesis to Marlowe's life and death || Yes |
| Sandman #13 "Men of good fortune" || Neil Gaiman || 1989 || comic book || fantasy || Just a brief scene between Shakespeare and Marlowe. Collected in The Doll's house and Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1.|
Issue 19, "Midsummer night's dream," from 1990 (collected in Dream country) also makes reference to Marlowe's death in conversation.
| Yes |
| Entered from the sun || George Garrett || 1990 || novel || || || No |
| Time and chance || Alan Brennert || 1990 || novel || modern; road-not-taken AU || near end, main character stars in a Marlowe biopic, with speculations about his life & death || Yes |
| Death of a noverint || William Bankier || 1992 || short story || historical mystery || purports to solve Marlowe's murder; collected in Once upon a crime: historical mysteries from Ellery Queen's mystery magazine; originally published in April 1992 EQMM || Yes |
| Black swan || Farukh Dhondy || 1992 || novel || || || No |
| The Night Marlowe Died || Patricia Beer || 1993 || poem || || 24-line poem, published in Friend of Heraclitus || Yes |
| Christoferus or Tom Kyd's Revenge || Robin Chapman || 1993 || novel || || Kyd tries to unravel Marlowe's murder || No |
| Icarus flying: the tragical story of Christopher Marlowe || Liam Maguire || 1993 || novel || || || No |
| Nicholas Cooke: actor, soldier, physician, priest || Stephanie Cowell || 1993 || novel || || || No |
| Strange devices of the sun and moon || Lisa Goldstein || 1993 || novel || fantasy || || Yes |
| The Slicing edge of death: who killed Christopher Marlowe? || Judith Cook || 1993 || novel || mystery || || Yes |
| Left to his own devices || Mary Gentle || 1994 || novel || cyberpunk || || No |
| A Dead man in Deptford || Anthony Burgess || 1995 || novel || || || No |
| Vanitas: escape from vampire junction || S.P. Somtow || 1995 || novel || modern; vampire; sequel || 3rd in a series about immortal musician Timmy Valentine. Summary mentions flashbacks to encounters with Marlowe and other "historical personalities." || No |
| The Empire of Glass || Andy Lane || 1996 || novel || sf (Doctor Who) || part of the Doctor Who - The Missing Adventures series; features the First Doctor. Also available online at manybooks.net. || No |
| Heart of Whitenesse || Howard Waldrop || 1997 || novelette || alternate history || Marlowe investigates Johan Faustus || Yes |
| Slow chocolate autopsy || Iain Sinclair & Dave McKean || 1997 || novel || || time traveller witnesses Marlowe's death in Deptford, among other events || No |
| The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare || Stephanie Cowell || 1997 || novel || || || No |
| A Plague of angels || P.F. Chisholm || 1998 || novel || mystery; sequel || 4th in a series featuring Sir Robert Carey || Yes |
| Blood on the Borders || Judith Cook || 1999 || novel || mystery; sequel || part of a series starring historical astrologer Simon Forman; published in UK 1999, first American printing in 2004 || No |
| The late Mr. Shakespeare || Robert Nye || 1999 || novel || || || No |
| The Onely Shake-Scene in a Countrey || Dave Hoing || 2000 || short story || AU || imagines a world without Shakespeare, where Marlowe survives and becomes the greatest playwright in the English language; published in Century #5, Winter 2000. || No |
| A Mystery of errors || Simon Hawke || 2000 || novel || mystery; sequel || 1st in the Shakespeare & Smythe series; Marlowe appears near the beginning, many references to him || Yes |
| Walk in moonlight || Rosemary Laurey || 2000 || novel || vampire; romance || After Deptford, Marlowe was turned into a vampire; to be reprinted in 2004 under a new title, Kiss me forever || Yes |
| Ill met by moonlight || Sarah A. Hoyt || 2001 || novel || fantasy || Marlowe is primarily in indirect reference, but necessary reading for the sequel || Yes |
| All night awake || Sarah A. Hoyt || 2002 || novel || fantasy; sequel || Marlowe's final days and the circumstances of his death play major role || Yes |
| Rapture in moonlight || Rosemary Laurey || 2002 || novel || vampire; romance; sequel || 2nd in series; to be reprinted in 2004 under a new title, Love me forever || No |
| Ruled Britannia || Harry Turtledove || 2002 || novel || alternate history || Spanish-occupied London nine years after the English lost to the Armada || Yes |
| The School of night || Alan Wall || 2002 || novel || modern || man obsessed with authorship question; speculation on events surrounding Marlowe's death || Yes |
| Apocrypha Bipedium || Ian Potter || 2003 || short story || sf (Doctor Who) || part of the Short Trips: Companions collection of Doctor Who short stories; features the Eighth Doctor || No |
| Merchant of vengeance || Simon Hawke || 2003 || novel || mystery; sequel || 4th in the Shakespeare & Smythe series; Marlowe appears mostly in reference and as competition, with only minor appearances || Yes |
| All Done With Mirrors || Christopher Bav || 2004 || short story || sf (Doctor Who) || part of the Short Trips: Past Tense collection of Doctor Who short stories; features the Fourth Doctor with Sarah Jane Smith. || No |
| This Tragic glass || Elizabeth Bear || 2004 || short story || SF || collected in The Chains that you refuse || Yes |
| Any man so daring || Sarah A. Hoyt || 2004 || novel || fantasy; sequel || 3rd in series; Shakespeare is haunted by Marlowe's ghost || Yes |
| History play: the lives and afterlife of Christopher Marlowe || Rodney Bolt || 2004 || biography pastiche || || written as a faux academic biography, imagines that Marlowe faked his death and wrote the works of Shakespeare || Yes |
| Tamburlaine must die || Louise Welsh || 2004 || novella || || Marlowe recounts his final days as he tries to identify who wrote the Dutch Church libel. || Yes |
| The Intelligencer || Leslie Silbert || 2004 || novel || modern espionage || plot involves documents which may describe Marlowe's final mission and his death || Yes |
| Will || Tiffany Grace || 2004 || novel || || fictionalized biography of Shakespeare || Yes |
| Young Will: the confessions of William Shakespeare || Bruce Cook || 2004 || novel || || fictionalized memoir of Shakespeare; reviews say Marlowe seduces him in an Elizabethan-era gay bar || No |
| An Eye of death || George Rees || 2005 || novel || mystery || set in 1590s London starring Thomas Dekker as lead || Yes |
| L'esprit d'escalier: not a play in one act || Elizabeth Bear || 2006 || short story || || collected in The Chains that you refuse || Yes |
| The Secret of the Rose || Sarah L. Thomson || 2006 || YA novel || || In 1592, a fourteen-year-old girl disguises herself as a boy, and finds work as Marlowe's servant. || Yes |
| Whiskey & water || Elizabeth Bear || 2007 || novel || fantasy || modern fantasy in the Promethean Age setting, sequel to Blood and iron || Yes |
| Ink & steel || Elizabeth Bear || 2008 || novel || fantasy || historic fantasy in the Promethean Age setting || Yes |
| Hell & earth || Elizabeth Bear || 2008 || novel || fantasy || historic fantasy in the Promethean Age setting; sequel to Ink & steel || Yes |
| The Cobbler's boy || Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette || future / not yet published || YA novel || || adventure story starring 15-year-old Kit in Canterbury || Yes |
Stage and Screen
|TOTAL:||10||Have read/seen 40%|
| The Life of Shakespeare || || 1977 || TV miniseries || || British miniseries based upon the Mortimer book; starring Tim Curry as Shakespeare and Ian McShane as Marlowe. Listed online under various titles, including William Shakespeare: his life and times and The Life and times of William Shakespeare || No |
| The School of night || Peter Whelan || 1992 || play || || dramatizing Marlowe's final days || Yes |
| Marlowe's eye || Naomi Iizuka || 1995 || play || || dramatizing Marlowe's final days; exact date uncertain || No |
| Shakespeare in love || Tom Stoppard & Marc Norman || 1998 || film || || Rupert Everett plays Marlowe || Yes |
| Kit Marlowe || David Grimm || 2000 || play || || dramatizing Marlowe's life from college through death || Yes |
| Murdering Marlowe || Charles Marowitz || 2002 || play || || || No |
| The Opposite of showbusiness || Jim Grover || 2004 || play || || As yet unperformed. Subplot involves fanciful description of Marlowe's death || No |
| Marlowe || Harlan Didrickson || 2005 || play || || biographical play premiering June 2005 at Chicago's Bailiwick Repertory Theatre || No |
| It was kit: the 'true' story of Christopher Marlowe || Allsion McWood || 2006 || play || || performed at the Fringe of Toronto Theatre Festival || No |
| The English channel || Robert Brustein || 2007 || play || || Shakespeare and Marlowe in the spring of 1593; a four-person cast in a single set || Yes |
|TOTAL:||8||Have read 13%|
| Marlowe: being in the life of the mind || Anne Weir || 1996 || novel || || I also see references to a 1996 book by Anne Weir titled Christopher's journey. Not sure whether these are different titles for the same book or something separate. || No |
| The Golden Cockerel || Bob Archman || 2000 || online fiction || gay porn || X-rated romps involving several notable Elizabethans: Read at your own risk || No |
| Back to the days of Christopher Marlowe || Lis Riba || 2005 || filk || || filk song to "Return to Pooh Corner" by Kenny Loggins || Yes |
| Marlowe: Gay Atheist Spy || collaboration || 2005 || virtual series || || Difficult to explain; read the community profile || Kinda |
| Vrolok || Nolene-Patricia Dougan || 2005 || novel || vampire || Summary mentions encounters with Marlowe and other historical figures || No |
| Was I really that boy? the pilgrimage of Christopher Marlowe || Kenneth Rhienhart || 2005 || novel || || no details beyond title || No |
| Water lane: the pilgrimage of Christopher Marlowe || John Passfield || 2005 || novel || || no details beyond title || No |
| Letters to The King of Spain Part I: Shakespeariana || Cathos Maledon || 2006 || novel || || || No |
If you know of any works missing from these lists, please comment with any information you have.
A little knowledge goes a long way in providing context for these works.
In the last several years, a number of excellent quality biographies have become available.
Here are my favorites:
- The Reckoning: the murder of Christopher Marlowe by Charles Nicholl (1993)
This is probably the most influential book on Marlowe's death, and it dominates all subsequent portrayals. Don't worry so much about the conclusions Nicholl draws, as those are disputed, but the facts and research into the people and milieu are invaluable.
The author released an updated edition in 2002, which allegedly comes to a different theory of who was behind the murder. I haven't read the new version yet, so don't know how much of the modified material is new research as opposed to new conclusions.
- Christopher Marlowe: a Renaissance life by Constance Brown Kuriyama (2002)
- The World of Christopher Marlowe by David Riggs (2006)
- Christopher Marlowe: poet & spy by Park Honan (2007)
For those who prefer to find something online:
- Peter Farey's Marlowe Page
One of the best Marlowe sites on the web.Pages include full text of all the works attributed to Marlowe, and other relevant documents (the coroner's inquest, Drury's letters, and so on).
- Marlowe: facts and fictions by J. A. Downie (2000)
This essay provides a very good overview of what is and is not conclusively known about Marlowe, separating the evidence from conjecture. Very worthwhile, and relatively brief.
Originally published in the collection Constructing Christopher Marlowe
Aside: It seems to be a standard practice in Marlowe biographies for each new book to dispute the conclusions of the author who came before, like a great chain. Read enough biographies and a Rashomon-like portrait emerges from the fog. Eventually, some new evidence will emerge, or we'll run out of theories, or we'll all get bored and victory will go to the last one standing...
On Marlowe's modern appeal:
For a while now, I've been noodling with the question of what makes Christopher Marlowe so appealing a character for modern writers and readers.
Christopher Marlowe was an Elizabethan James Dean, who died young and left not just a good-looking corpse, but also an air of intrigue and mystery. He was a poor boy made good: poet, playwright, and spy. His enemies accused him of atheism, and he was also possibly homosexual or bisexual -- negative traits until the last half-century, which now give him an even more modern appeal.
Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote "If Shakespeare is the dazzling sun of this mighty period, Marlowe is certainly the morning star." [I wonder how intentional the Lucifer allusion was.]
Marlowe as a character gives writers access to a wide swath of Elizabethan settings and notables: the theaters, espionage, nobility (his patrons), the court (the previous two, plus his rumored association with Sir Walter Ralegh)... From the dregs of the sewers to the upper echelons, there are enough holes in his biography that you can read any of those into his circle.
For mystery writers, the uncertainties surrounding Marlowe's death (let's face it, the official story in the coroner's report does not add up -- see Peter Farey for details, even if you disagree with his conclusions) provide a marvelous unsolved crime. Fantasy writers seem to have noted that Doctor Faustus is fantasy fiction, and springboard from that. And for alternate history buffs, he certainly left behind a lot of unfulfilled potential.
Or, as Jeffrey Meyers wrote in his essay Marlowe's Lives (Michigan Quarterly Review, Summer 2003):
Marlowe has the irresistible appeal of a genius killed in his prime, his promise unfulfilled.
There are four mysterious areas of Marlowe's life: 1)his homosexuality, 2)his atheism, 3)his involvement in espionage, and 4)the circumstances of his death. The evidence about them is suggestive but inconclusive, which helps explain the endless fascination of his life, character, and connections.
Given how often prose fiction uses authors as protagonists, writing about another writer clearly holds a certain appeal. It gives the author an angle into the character -- provides a certain amount of familiarity, understanding, and identification. After all, the character is struggling with the same issues that the author goes through -- writer's block, deadlines, editors/censors, unappreciative audiences, trying to pay the bills... Particularly when writing an unfamiliar setting (such as the Elizabethan age), the situations will be similar enough, even if the tools are different.
And, let's face it. One reason why Marlowe is so attractive to writers is simply that he was so... attractive. The portrait to the left is popularly accepted as Marlowe age 21, though the evidence is purely circumstantial. Still, it compares favorably with modern movie star looks:
But portrayals do vary. I've read of the expert swordsman not to be trifled with (at least as far as sidewalk duels are concerned) and the lover, who definitely isn't a fighter.
And fantasy ranges all over the map for how Kit interacts with whatever magical creatures inhabit his England:
- Ill met by moonlight paints a picture of a "timid divinity student" turned reckless thrill-seeker by the love of an elven shapeshifter.
- In Strange devices of the sun and moon, Marlowe is a Doubting Thomas, refusing to acknowledge faeries existence until confronted with undeniable evidence -- and even then he's hard-pressed to believe his eyes.
- Armor of light deals with demons, rather than faerie, and Marlowe not only actively practices magic, but summons demons.
And all of these can be supported by emphasizing different things Marlowe said and wrote (taking material from both his plays and the accusations against him).
Anyway, I could go on, and would probably enjoy doing so, though not without the books fresher in my memory (and preferably, on hand as reference).
Related pages by the author: