Riba Rambles:
Musings of a Mental Magpie

About the author: Elisabeth in early 2007, photo by Todd Belf
Elisabeth "Lis" Riba is an infovore with an MLS. This is her place to share whatever's on her mind, on topics both personal and political. [more]
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Saturday, September 15, 2007
Still snarking
Posted by Lis Riba at 11:10 PM

One last excerpt before I close the computer for the evening.

the Corpus Christi portrait

From Dean, regarding Park Honan's biography:

Even where we do have evidence of Marlowe's acquaintanceships, Honan can say strange things. How on earth can he know that the room Marlowe shared with Kyd "was obviously a happy place"? It isn't obvious at all, far from it. Kyd's recollections were made, to be sure, under duress, but "That I should love or be familiar friend, with one so irreligious, were very rare", or "I cannot but with an aggrieved conscience think on him", do not indicate jolly bachelor chatter in the den. Indeed, and again with complete disregard for consistency, Honan starts another of his hares, about possible sexual advances by Marlowe to Kyd: "He seems to complain of more than words, that is: of gestures, hands, seductive effects, as if his partner would not sit still at a writing table, or kept inching his table closer to Kyd's." I have read through Kyd's statements to Puckering, which Honan reproduces, several times, and nowhere is there anything that could justify such a conjecture.

And another example of the circular logic Erne harps upon so critically, this time by Dean in relation to the Corpus Christi portrait:

[A]fter an elaborate review of the evidence he simply concludes that the portrait "matches our 'sense' of the playwright [. . .] the picture looks right". But "our sense of the playwright" is what prompted him to believe the sitter was Marlowe in the first place; mutually sustaining intuitions do not make a fact.

Why do I enjoy this so much?

Maybe because I have a low tolerance for sloppy logic -- even (or particularly) with regard to arguments with which I want to agree.

Yet More Marlowe
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:48 PM

Over the holiday, I did manage to read all the articles I possessed in Tuesday's list.

Most of them are focused on pointing out how little we actually know about Marlowe's life and debunking the common myths -- with a healthy dose of snark, particularly towards some of the best-selling biographers.

Downie remains a favorite wet-blanket -- carefully explaining how the evidence fails to support the popular portrayals:

[O]ur reading of the events of 1593 as they affect Marlowe is conditioned by our assumptions about his previus activities. While to some degree this is natural and unavoidable, the number and extent of the lofty edifices that continue to be erected on these shaky foundations have increased in recent years.


The reason that people have jumped to the conclusion that Marlowe was a 'spy' on the basis of the Privy Council certificate is actually on account of the very 'rumor' it was intended to scotch, and which the Privy Councillors were seeking to allay 'by all possible meanes'

However, Lukas Erne also manages to serve up the snark, such as:

The reception of Marlowe has often been marred by a vicious hermeneutic circle within which the play's protagonists are read into Marlowe's biography and the mythographic creature thus constructed informs the criticism of his plays. The documents about Marlowe's life and death that have come down to us are generally read as suggesting an unorthodox personality, allegedly atheistic, allegedly homosexual. These documents, in turn, are often thought to be reflected in the unorthodox protagonists of Marlowe's plays


What we can be confident about is that, as an agent or double agent, the ability to adopt and maintain poses, to forge identities without revealing the true one, was of vital importance for Marlowe. The control necessary to do so would seem singularly deficient in a man who went around scoffing at authorities and advertising his unorthodox beliefs. So did this, too, constitute a pose? Scholars who claim to know the "real" Marlowe — Marlowe the atheist and homosexual, informing and reflected by his overreaching dramatic protagonists — claim to have access to the personality that it would have been Marlowe's regular business to hide from his contemporaries. I need hardly belabor the epistemological dubiety of such an undertaking. It does not seem impossible to read the biographical evidence as showing a man in control of his outrageously self-fashioned self just as the plays betray an artist in control of his outrageous protagonists. Rather than believing that Marlowe's "second career" as an intelligencer neatly conforms to his supposedly unorthodox personality, scholars may need to be willing to admit that Marlowe's likely activities as a spy considerably complicate the rest of the biographical picture they draw.

Good points.

Unfortunately, the following passage feels flawed to me, seemingly trying to draw a cause-and-effect relationship where it doesn't seem warranted:

Unsurprisingly, with regard to Marlowe's death, pseudobiographical investigations in which historical evidence happily mixes with fanciful invention have been supplemented by explicitly fictional treatments. [...] In one sense, these fictional treatments constitute the logical continuation of a biographical, or mythographical, tradition that has worried preciously little about which parts of the story seem historically warranted.

Is he suggesting that such overdramatized suppositions inspired fiction-writers? Or is he trying to use the existence of fiction on the subject to further discredit the historians?

As someone who's read both fiction and nonfictional portrayals of Marlowe's death, I take pains not to confuse them. And while I don't have much personal acquaintance with biographers, the novelists are certainly aware of the boundaries.

Quoth Elizabeth Bear in an open letter to Peter Ackroyd:

[M]any critics believe that the earring on the so-called Chandros portrait that may or may not be Shakespeare is a fanciful later addition.
And yes, I used the earring as a plot point in my book.

Because (all together now) I write fiction.

Fortunately, fiction is just an aside reference within the article, rather than a focal point.

Hopkins also takes a look at the "growing flurry of novelizations of [Marlowe's] life," although I find her list woefully incomplete. :)

However, it does give me a possible approach for an essay of my own about these works.

She provides a brief introductory summation of the characterizations:

In general, these modern retellings portray very much the Marlowe of legend, often with particular emphasis on fidelity to the picture of him offered by the Baines Note.

And then goes on to provide a description of each work in a few sentences to a few paragraphs.

San-Check, Please!
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:01 PM

I must be crazy; I am seriously thinking of submitting something to this call for papers.

The problem with writing a detailed analysis of recent Marlovian fiction is that I haven't actually read many of the "classics" of the genre that everyone mentions (specifically Burgess's Dead Man in Deptford). Nor do I have that much interest in doing so. [I'm almost to the point of taking pride in my ignorance of this seminal work, just as I enjoy shocking fellow fen with the fact I've never read Tolkien.]

Then I had the bright idea of narrowing the focus to Marlowe portrayals in genre fiction -- the SF, Fantasy, alternate history, mystery, espionage thrillers, and the like.

  • Alternate History:
    • The Armor of light by Melissa Scott & Lisa A. Barnett
    • Time and chance by Alan Brennert
    • "Heart of Whitenesse" by Howard Waldrop
    • "The Onely Shake-Scene in a Countrey" by Dave Hoing
    • Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove
  • Fantasy:
    • The Armor of light by Melissa Scott & Lisa A. Barnett
    • "Men of good fortune" (Sandman #13) by Neil Gaiman
    • Strange devices of the sun and moon by Lisa Goldstein
    • Ill met by moonlight by Sarah A. Hoyt
    • All night awake by Sarah A. Hoyt
    • Any man so daring by Sarah A. Hoyt
    • Whiskey & water by Elizabeth Bear
    • The Stratford man: Ink & steel by Elizabeth Bear
    • The Stratford man: Hell & earth by Elizabeth Bear
  • SF:
    • Left to his own devices by Mary Gentle
    • Doctor Who: The Empire of Glass by Andy Lane
    • Doctor Who: "Apocrypha Bipedium" by Ian Potter
    • "This Tragic glass" by Elizabeth Bear
    • Doctor Who: "All Done With Mirrors" by Christopher Bav
  • Espionage:
    • The Scholars of night by John M. Ford
    • The Intelligencer by Leslie Silbert
  • Mystery:
    • "Death of a noverint" by William Bankier
    • Christoferus or Tom Kyd's Revenge by Robin Chapman
    • The Slicing edge of death by Judith Cook
    • A Plague of angels by P.F. Chisholm
    • Blood on the Borders by Judith Cook
    • A Mystery of errors by Simon Hawke
    • Merchant of vengeance by Simon Hawke
    • Tamburlaine must die by Louise Welsh
    • An Eye of death by George Rees
  • Romance:
    • Mignon by Chris Hunt
    • Walk in moonlight by Rosemary Laurey
    • Rapture in moonlight by Rosemary Laurey
  • Vampire:
    • Vanitas by S.P. Somtow
    • Walk in moonlight by Rosemary Laurey
    • Rapture in moonlight by Rosemary Laurey

The good news is that greatly reduces the number of works I'd have to cover, and I've already read a much higher percentage of this subset.

The bad news is that some of these are truly dreadful. Just off the top of my head, I can think of two published works that have blatantly Mary Sue heroines, not to mention the protagonist I've dubbed Twink Starfucker.

In a general essay, I could slide past some of these works -- mention their existence without going into too much detail.
A tighter focus would mean I'd have to pay far more attention to each title, and some will get closer scrutiny than they deserve -- or could withstand.

And weirdly enough, the narrower topics interest me less than the broad overview.

None of my library networks have access to the editor's other work, Milton in popular culture, but those essays seem to have truly slender scopes. Essays on Pullman, C.S. Lewis, Steven Brust's To Reign in Hell, Animal House, The Lady Eve... and so forth.

I mean, someone could definitely get a paper out of "Kit, Kelly and Kuryakin: the influence of espionage in the works of Elizabeth Bear" -- but I'm not that someone.

And so I continue to ponder.

Saving throw against the Thing in the Tupperware
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:25 PM

We have just registered The 960th Airborne Dust Mites on Chore Wars.

Setup seems fun; I hope it works as well.

Friday, September 14, 2007
She shops, she scores!
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:25 PM

While detouring down to Davis Square to pick up a couple quarts of ice cream at J.P. Licks for lunch with my inlaws tomorrow (Manichewitz sorbet and noodle kugel flavors), we discover that McIntyre and Moore Booksellers is having a 50% off sale (thru Sunday).

Trying to keep my detour brief, I still walked out with four bargains:

Yes, I know I'm a geek.

I did try to keep my shopping trip brief, though many other shinies caught my eye -- many of which I'm not interested in owning, but several I may return for. [One in the former group, a title I adore is The Baconian Heresy.]

BTW, I also spotted a copy of Nigel Saul's Richard II -- it looks relatively mainstream, but if any of the Ricardians reading this wants it, let me know today or tomorrow and I'll try to pick it up cheap for you. I think it's about six bucks.

Daven Jones' Locker?
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:40 PM

One of these days, International Talk Like A Pirate Day (September 19) will fall on the Jewish High Holy Days.

And I wonder how that intersection will play out...

I suppose the Jonah story wouldn't require much tweaking.

Or maybe people will force their Tashlich off the plank.

I don't know, but it's an entertaining diversion.

Update: Checking the calendar, I see we'll achieve convergence in two years, when Rosh Hashanah 5770 will run from sundown September 18th through September 20th, 2009.

Check it out
Posted by Lis Riba at 6:45 PM

No, I don't know why LiveJournal chose to repost several older entries.

However, in recompense, here is:

March of the Librarians:

And here's the teaser trailer for the sequel.

Plus a special bonus music video, "Librarian" by Haunted Love:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007
L'Shana Tova, everybody!
Posted by Lis Riba at 5:20 PM

Yontif is almost upon us, and I still haven't had time to finish my review of "The English Channel"

Much of the delay has been due to demands of my day-job, (though I'll admit to a bit of pique at the press liason who responded to my reasonable request to confirm a couple quotes by asking who I was, and though I included her earlier email in which she said she'd add me to the press list, she still hasn't replied with the information I requested).

Unfortunately, given the impending holiday, this means I won't have a chance to post my review before the show closes.

Ian has reviewed the production, so I don't

And I suppose I'll write up a more detailed critique that will come out after-the-fact. [Since I usually encounter Marlowe stories in print, my responses were more focused on plot and characterization, than performance.]

The English Channel
     written by Robert Brustein, directed by Wesley Savick

C. Walsh Theatre (55 Temple Street, Boston)

Sept. 13 - 15 at 7:30pm, plus a Saturday matinee at 3pm (Schedule)
Tickets $30, $15 for seniors and students with ID

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

And now, I'm going offline for the next 48-72 hours...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Cites for sore eyes
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:24 PM

I seem to be compiling a bibliography for the academic essay I was adamantly not going to write about Marlowe portrayals in modern fiction -- and in the process, a few names keep coming up whom I might trust to such an article in my stead.

Setting aside the actual list of fiction, reasonably relevant articles include:

1995Dead Men in Deptford: recent lives and deaths of Christopher Marlowe Kenneth Tucker want
2000Marlowe: facts and fictions J. A. Downie nonprintable PDF
2000Tobacco and boys: how queer was Marlowe? Stephen Orgel have PDF
2004Marlowe's reception and influence Lisa Hopkins have PDF
2004"No more yielding than a dream": The Construction of Shakespeare in "The Sandman" Annalisa Castaldohave PDF
2005Biography, Mythography, and Criticism: the life and works of Christopher Marlowe Lukas Erne have PDF
2006A Christopher Marlowe chronology Lisa Hopkins own the book
2006Was this the face? Paul Dean have PDF
2007Looking for Christopher Marlowe Lagretta Tallent Lenker have PDF
2007Marlowe, May 1593, and the 'Must-Have' Theory of Biography J. A. Downie want have

Plus possibly the biographies by Nicholl, Kuriyama, Riggs and Honan (of which I own three out of four).

[Of course, in writing this, I find other texts not directly relevant, but still look interesting, such as:

I am such a geek.]

With great power, comes...
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:01 PM


What is the difference among:

  • Magic,
  • Psionics, and
  • Superpowers?

When Ian posed this question in conversation, it stumped me. I've a gut feeling that they should be different, but it's difficult to explain how.

So far, the only responses I could come up with were genre conventions (with the caveat that interstitial fiction of the last two decades have blurred these boundaries).

  • Magic is used in historic, fantastic, and primative settings.
  • Modern and futuristic societies have psionics or superpowers, determined by the story's tone: noir or four-color.

As far as practitioners are concerned,

  • Magic users do so openly.
  • Psionics are private and hidden.
  • Superheroes have secret identities but/because they use their powers in a flashy public manner.

Magic can require tools (such as wands) and can be used to create or enhance objects.
Superpowers and psionics can often be simulated by sufficiently advanced technology.

Ian added that magic is more teachable, learned from books or mentors.

Anybody have some better answers?

Who are those masked men?
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:15 PM

Many recent works of fiction and film have recontextualized comic book tropes -- putting superheroes into more realistic contemporary settings or into other genre conventions.

So far, I've come up with the following (chronologically by format):


Can anyone suggest further examples?

And is this a recent trend, as this list makes it appear, or am I just experiencing selective memory?

Great quote crossed my screen this morning
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:10 AM

Adam Gopnik on Philip K. Dick:

“He seems to have been a man of intellectual passion and compulsive appetite (he was married five times), the kind of guy who can't drink one cup of coffee without drinking six, and then stays up all night to tell you what Schopenhauer really said and how it affects your understanding of Hitchcock and what that had to do with Christopher Marlowe.”

So, what did Schopenhauer really say? Anyone care to speculate?

Monday, September 10, 2007
A batch of books
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:00 PM

Several books I heard about this weekend which sound intriguing enough to list for later:

Also, a few forthcoming books I've been anticipating, mostly sequels, with their official release dates:

The Book with Everything
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:55 PM

That was the title of a panel at Farthing Party, which was described thus:

SF has a plethora of weird novel awards. It would be theoretically possible for one book to sweep them all. The panel attempts to brainstorm a plot that could fulfil all the requirements.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden helpfully compiled a list of requirements, which the crowd then ran with.

At the conclusion of the panel, I had another idea which manages to hit most of the bases.

Setting aside awards based on attributes of the author or publication status, such a book must:

“satisfy the genre expectations of hard SF, mythopoeic fantasy, horror, alternate history, and romance, have positive gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered characters, and include examinations of gender, gender identity, racial identity, class, and libertarianism, while not being unsuitable for younger readers. Also, it has to have poetry in it. And a vampire.”

And here's the plot I came up with:

In an alternate-history Nigeria, a recently-widowed woman of color hopes to use her newfound freedom to explore her gender identity and alternate sexualities. In short, she is looking for romance.

Unfortunately, with the loss of her husband, Miriam Abacha has lost her social status and faces a dramatic struggle to regain personal liberty and her property rights against the bloodsucking usurpers keeping her captive.

Her only recourse is to invoke a mythopoeic ritual dating back to the Spanish Armada, which she will innovatively update with new verse translations and perform upon a worldwide collection interconnected computer networks (to be described in lovingly-accurate technical detail).

What do you think?

Any aspects I missed?

Mind you, I have no intentions of actually writing this -- even though it could be my first novel, thus qualifying me for several other awards on that bases. But it's certainly a fun exercise.

More about the panel on Making Light.

Inspiration and further variations on the story at Yo, Wocky Jivvy, Wergle Flomp

Nor am I out of it...
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:35 PM

Remember the call for papers that I blogged about on Thursday?

The one seeking essays on:

Marlowe [portrayals] by popular and mass cultural media.

While I was offline over the weekend, I wrote up a query letter...


I fear the ruin of my hopeless soul...

Channel No. 1
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:30 PM
Poster for 'The English Channel'

Ian has posted his review of The English Channel, a new play we saw Thursday night.

My writeup remains unfinished and forthcoming, so you should read his in the meantime.

The English Channel
     written by Robert Brustein, directed by Wesley Savick

C. Walsh Theatre (55 Temple Street, Boston)

Sept. 13 - 15 at 7:30pm, plus a Saturday matinee at 3pm (Schedule)
Tickets $30, $15 for seniors and students with ID

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission



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