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The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe

4.12  ·  Rating Details  ·  382 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
In 1593 the brilliant but controversial young playwright Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death in a Deptford lodging house. The circumstances were shady, the official account—a violent quarrel over the bill, or "recknynge"—has been long regarded as dubious.

Here, in a tour de force of scholarship and ingenuity, Charles Nicholl penetrates four centuries of obscurity to re
Paperback, 424 pages
Published July 15th 1995 by University Of Chicago Press (first published 1992)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,077)
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Apr 16, 2013 Sketchbook rated it it was ok
What becomes a legend most ?
The writing herein murders Marlowe a 2d time.
Oct 28, 2014 Lisasuej rated it liked it
Here is a totally misleading phrase:

"Provides the sheer enjoyment of fiction, and might just be true."

I was totally mislead by this critic's statement, and duped into reading this scholarly tome. No, I am not using the word, "tome" to show off. It's the best word choice, because it describes exactly what this book is: "a book, especially a large, heavy, scholarly one."

Other reviewers have said that this book reads like a John le Carre novel. It doesn't. It reads like a scholarly exploration of a
Richard Thomas
Dec 11, 2014 Richard Thomas rated it it was amazing
A good attempt at unravelling something which is probably going to be shrouded in mystery for ever. The questions about Marlowe's life and interests make him a fascinating figure in late Elizabethan London; stir in his ambiguous sexuality and the possibility he was a paid agent of the English intelligence service and you have a rich brew for a novel, let alone a history.
D.R. Haney
Feb 16, 2011 D.R. Haney rated it really liked it
According to the coroner's report, Christopher Marlowe was fatally knifed following an argument with friends over a dinner bill. Rumor later augmented this story, making Marlowe's killer a romantic rival and the location of their fracas a bawdy house. In fact, it wasn't a bawdy house but a respectable inn run by a widow of means, and Marlowe's killer was a con man, as proved by surviving legal documents, just as documents of a more clandestine nature prove that one of the witnesses to Marlowe's ...more
Nov 25, 2013 Kathleen rated it really liked it
Nicholl makes a very strong case for his theory of political intrigue as the motivation behind the murder of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. Nicholl’s scholarly and convincing arguments notwithstanding, I find in my 2000 edition of The Oxford Guide to English Literature that “Marlowe died in a knife fight in a London tavern.” Old myths die hard.

The Elizabethan era was a brutal one. The plague was claiming hundreds of victims annually, the antagonism between Catholics and Protestants
Phillip Kay
Dec 12, 2012 Phillip Kay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As he did in his book on Shakespeare, The Lodger, Nicholl teases out seemingly unconnected pieces of evidence, here concerning the death of Marlowe, and shows a likely relationship between them. Using the same technique that a classical era detective might apply to traces of a crime, but without bringing in a man with a gun, Nicholl makes the reader aware of a lot of Elizabethan history not usually mentioned in the history books, but true nevertheless. The Elizabethan age turns out to have been ...more
Jeffrey Hollman
Jun 09, 2014 Jeffrey Hollman rated it it was amazing
Christopher Marlowe may have been as great as his younger contemporary, William Shakespeare,had he not been murdered at such a young age in 1593. A great playwright before his death, his life was about as complicated as they come. This book begins with his killing in a bar and then goes on to discuss the Elizabethan age with details I had not previously learned.

For example, Catholics were as suspect in England as Communists were in 1950's America. If a person were Catholic, his life was at risk.
Sep 10, 2009 Larry rated it it was amazing
This is essential reading for anyone interested in Elizabethan Theater and the enigma that was Christopher Marlowe. It reads like a mystry novel and focuses on the events surrounding his murder. Nicholl introduces all the protagonists and the myriad of theories as to why by whom and how Kit Marlowe was killed. A Wonderful read.
Jul 15, 2015 Brandon rated it liked it
Shelves: books-read-2015
An extensively, well researched book centered around the murder of Kit Marlowe in a lodging house in Deptford. This is one of the great literary mysteries of both England and the world surrounded by shadows and numerous questions - Why, was he murdered? Did it have to happen? Could the man with the gentle soul of a poet really get into a knife fight over a bill? These are the questions that ran through my mind as I opened this book but unfortunately none of them were answered.

The book open and
Jan 19, 2012 Darren rated it it was amazing
Prompted by the lack of concern shown by most biographers of Marlowe to the circumstances of his violent death, Nicholl sets out in this book to discover what brought about the death of one of the best remembered Elizabethan literary figures.

Of the exact cause of his death there is no doubt; the inquest was overseen by the coroner to the royal household. It found that that during a scuffle the blade of a 12 penny dagger entered Marlowe's forehead making a wound two inches deep and one inch wide,
Feb 14, 2013 Joe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
An amazing book. Nicholl writes brilliantly and he is a clever and obsessive researcher. He shows that Christopher Marlowe was not killed in a drunken tavern brawl but rather at the end of a small day-long meeting in an upscale lodging house. The other men with Marlowe were all, like him, small time government informers, sharps and spies.

Nicholl's theory is that Marlowe was murdered as a result of the rivalry between the factions of Essex and Raleigh in the court of Elizabeth. His book brilliant
Brian Daniel
Jan 18, 2016 Brian Daniel rated it it was amazing
You just don't find books like this very often that can take a relatively obscure event and create a compelling book-length story out of it. And this one comes complete with an intriguing history lesson. The Reckoning is one of my favorite books. The author, Charles Nicholl, takes the murder of Christopher Marlowe, an ahead-of-his-time Elizabethan playwrite and contemporary of Shakespeare—and spins into the wonderful mystery/murder story that it actually is! Readers are taken on a journey of spy ...more
Mar 06, 2014 Catherine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-nonfiction
If you're interested in the playwright Christopher Marlowe, Elizabethan politics, the Elizabethan spy networks, or anything related to those topics, this is the book for you. Nicholl meticulously dissects the available evidence to uncover some interesting theories about the death of Marlowe but manages to keep it engaging and interesting. Highly recommended!
Hanley5545 Hanley
Jan 29, 2013 Hanley5545 Hanley rated it it was amazing
This was read along with 2 other books about Marlow some time ago.
The facts,ambient history as described and the tantalizing connects/research of this one were most interesting and all-in-all quite fresh. Old Kid was a Caravaggio type (And somewhat contemporary) with perhaps a bit more classic spy to his record or at least agent provocateur than most realize....but he was the one who wrote "the face that launched 1,000 ships."

If you love books that get behind the story to the other story this
Bryna Kranzler
This book was described as a medieval thriller focusing on the murder of Christopher Marlowe, but it reads like a medieval police procedural devote of excitement. More of a scholarly work than a factual thriller.
Jan C
Aug 15, 2009 Jan C rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in Elizabethan England
Shelves: england
I found this a fascinating book. And during the course of it, came across two other books about Marlowe - I haven't read them yet -Louise Welsh's "Tambourlaine Must Die" and Anthony Burgess' "A dead Man in Deptford". I think they are better read against the backdrop of "The Reckoning."

Because this book gives the factual background of what was going on at the time. All of the espionage that led up to the man dying in Deptford and why. A lot of it is supposition, but Nicholl has facts to back up
David Tendo
Aug 08, 2011 David Tendo rated it liked it
Nicholl does a fabulous job of reconstructing some of the clues and historical evidence to fashion a fascinating insight into the dark underbelly of the Elizabethan world. His theory of why Marlowe really died is convincing and exhaustively researched, and invokes an era of extreme paranoia, intrigue, espionage and religious bigotry - everyone's out to get each other behind each others' backs, and you might survive if you say you believe in what the majority believes in. However, the book, thoug ...more
Annie Perriment
Mar 03, 2016 Annie Perriment rated it it was amazing
One of my all-time favorites. This is a book full of rich, historical content that also manages to be a gripping page turner of a mystery.
R.J. Lynch
Jul 19, 2014 R.J. Lynch rated it really liked it
A really excellent piece of historical detective work.
Tim Robinson
May 24, 2016 Tim Robinson rated it really liked it
Shelves: society
A long and scholarly investigation into the underside of the Elizabethan police state, with its informers, provocateurs, traitors, infiltrators and victims: all too often the same people. The thread that binds and motivates the work is the events leading up to the sudden and violent death of one of England's great poet/playwrights in a Deptford boarding house. Was it a pointless brawl over a disputed bill, as the official investigation claims? Or the last desperate move in a conspiracy gone wron ...more
Jan 03, 2009 Hilary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A tour de force of literary research, beautifully structured around the day that Christopher Marlowe was murdered in a house in Deptford, possibly (or possibly not) in a fight over the bill for entertainment (the reckoning). Nicholl takes this as a jumping off point for an exploration of the evidence for Marlowe as a spy. The book has a great sense of atmosphere, and is a wonderfully vivid account of the shady side of Elizabethan politics. Highly recommended.
Nov 12, 2013 Susan rated it liked it
It was a good complement to A Dead Man in Deptford as Anthony Burgess used the findings from this book to craft his fictional tale of Marlowe. This book was confusing because the events and people were confusing - not the author's fault and the main points were accessible. It did take me a WHOLE WEEK to read though (fell asleep quite often) so something lighter would be good and that will be the end of my reading about Marlowe ;-)
Oct 24, 2014 Joan rated it it was amazing
Rich, dense, informed history fu. Replete with depressing information about the spies, informers, and agents provocateur of Elizabethan police state intelligence, and a compelling theory regarding Christopher Marlowe's death. This is the original edition, I understand Nicholl completely revised his thesis for the second edition. I find that charming, more historians should do that.
Jun 26, 2009 Wendy rated it liked it
The book was certainly interesting. However, there were so many threads woven, connections made (or insinuated) and multiple spelling of names I had a very difficult time keeping track of where Nicholl was going. Ultimately, I gave up, being unable to follow his "story". Maybe if I had had more background information it would have been easier to understand his thesis.
Mike Elliott
Dec 29, 2012 Mike Elliott rated it really liked it
Very strange...I was reading this on a flight to Britan, it was engrossing. A week later, the tour bus dumped us off right in front of Marlowe's college in Cambridge. This was totally random, I had know clue where this this was going. I found myself standing in front of the heart of the story I was reading about.
Aug 05, 2007 Shady rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An enthralling work on both the murder of Marlowe and the anti-Catholic intelligence network that existed under Elizabeth I. The degree to which Elizabethan England was not a free society, but rather a police state filled with informers and agents provacateurs is both appalling and amazing.
Peggy Euteneier
May 09, 2011 Peggy Euteneier rated it really liked it
Reads like a John Le Carre novel -- complex, interwoven, difficult to follow at times. But it's an altogether fascinating look at espionage and politics and government intrigue in Elizabethan England as well as the involvement of poets and writers in this shady business. A great read!
Vera Cobb
Feb 05, 2016 Vera Cobb rated it liked it
Started out very promising , but ranged really far afield of it title topic. Really more a study of Elizabethan spies and their relationship to Marlowe than of Marlowe himself. Still some interesting facts and refutations of generally accepted ideas about Marlowe
Oct 21, 2012 Edwinnaarden rated it really liked it
I think it's probably better than a probably more like 4.5. It was a bit hard to read but I think I learned a lot about Elizabethean England that you probably wouldn't have learned from most conventional history books. It was really excellent.
Colin Rennert-may
Dec 11, 2011 Colin Rennert-may rated it liked it
Nicholl's argument about the reasons for Marlowe's killing are a little circumstantial for me, but he paints an interesting picture of the police state atmosphere of Elizabethan England. I'll never read Macbeth in quite the same way again.
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  • Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy
  • The World of Christopher Marlowe
  • Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London
  • Shakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects
  • The Gunpowder Plot
  • A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599
  • The Life of Thomas More
  • A Dead Man in Deptford
  • Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare
  • Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert
  • Unnatural Murder: Poison in the Court of James I
  • Her Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage
  • My Just Desire: The Life of Bess Raleigh, Wife to Sir Walter
  • Shakespeare
  • The Young Elizabeth
  • The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I
  • Tudor England
  • The Alchemist and Other Plays

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