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One last excerpt before I close the computer for the evening.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
The Scholars of night by John M. Ford
The Intelligencer by Leslie Silbert
"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
Mignon by Chris Hunt
Walk in moonlight by Rosemary Laurey
Rapture in moonlight by Rosemary Laurey
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.
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:
The Death of Christopher Marlowe by Leslie Hotson -- the original 1925 book with reproductions and translations of the documents he discovered,
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.
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.
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
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.
“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?
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.