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The Marlowe Papers

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  481 ratings  ·  113 reviews
On May 30th, 1593, a celebrated young playwright was killed in a tavern brawl in London. That, at least, was the official version. Now let Christopher Marlowe tell you the truth: that his 'death' was an elaborate ruse to avoid his being hanged for heresy; that he was spirited across the channel to live on in lonely exile, longing for his true love and pining for the damp s ...more
Paperback, 407 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton
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Average rating 3.68  · 
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Feb 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Readers who care about Kit Marlowe
Recommended to Margaret by: Saw a review in the NYTimes
“The Review”

Picture this: a novel written in verse,
a modern imagining in Marlowe’s
mighty line, of a life lived after a
falsified death. Check Wikipedia;
Christopher Marlowe died, stabbed in the eye,
in a reckoning over a bill
in 1593, so it’s said. But
wait, there’s more to this story. The others
with him in that house in Deptford
were hardly model citizens: spies,
loan sharks, con-men. And, Christopher Marlowe
had some issues of his own. Arrested
for heresy and suspected as a
government spy, he seeme
To begin with, I was very gung-ho about reading a novel in verse. I also thought that I should raise the book's rating for that purpose. But, it's a new experience for me, sure, but it isn't for Barber. And in any case I'm no good at rating poetry. I mean, I also think that the verse form did this tale a disservice. I'll explain.

But first, the Shakespeare authorship question. I've read and enjoyed several plays by Shakespeare without ever wondering who it's author was. It is enough for me that t
Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
It was intriguing proposition: a story spun around the assumption that Christopher Marlowe did not die in a tavern brawl on 30th May 1593. The assumption that another man died and Marlowe fled, fearing being charged with heresy, and lived in exile. The assumption that he continued to write with his work being published under the name of another man: William Shakespeare.

I lack the depth of knowledge to assess whether or not the tale is viable, but I can say that, to me, Ros Barber made her case
Tina Cipolla
Jun 12, 2013 rated it did not like it
Oh for the love of God.

It was a good idea. It really was. A novel whose premise is that Christopher Marlowe did not die in a bar brawl, but instead staged his death and was spirited out of the country into hiding for fear of a heresy charge; punishment for heresy at the time was death. Further, he continued writing plays under the name of, wait for it, William Shakespeare.

But honest to God, a novel, a whole freakin' novel in iambic pentameter?! Seriously?! Ok, I do admire the cleverness of the
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterpiece and my current favorite to win the Women's Prize for Fiction! ...more
Feb 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is such an original novel, written with such verve and energy, that I'd recommend readers cancel their commitments for a few days, stock up on tea (or ale) and just enjoy immersing themselves fully in this rich, delicious, multi-layered story. You don't have to know about Marlowe, or hold any 'position' on the Shakespeare authorship question, to enjoy this book; you just need to be the sort of reader who appreciates an exciting tale well told. Then you can marvel at its fluency, and delight ...more
I loved this. I know its in verse and that's off-putting to a lot of people, but its extremely readable. If Barber had written it in prose, it wouldn't have been nearly as effective. It's gorgeously written, and I'll be buying a copy for my shelves (I borrowed it from the library) because it's something I'll definitely want to read again. I found/find myself wishing this is what really happened and I personally will happily pretend it's true. ...more
Roy Elmer
I see what Ros Barber was trying to do here. The Marlowe Papers is an argument for Christopher Marlowe being the real Shakespeare, composed entirely in verse, and spanning several years of Marlowe's life-after-death. It meets with a moderate amount of success, though I can't help but think that there are some flaws that spoil either her argument, or the yarn as a whole.

I'm a literature nerd by trade, with an MA in English and a specialism in renaissance drama. I've written essays and dissertatio
Ellen Wilson
Dec 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historical Fiction Fans, or to those who love Shakespeare
Recommended to Ellen by: A friend
Barber is a master at conjuring the dead. She so skillfully imparts the substance of the Renaissance you feel your flesh creep with the longings and desires of people she magically brings to life as we envision each scene she seductively lays before us.
How does Barber accomplish this magic? She tells the tale in verse. Writing like an Elizabethan poet Barber is able to intuit a tale in a language lost to us. She flavors the writing with as just as much Elizabethan speech as needed to properly c
Laura Whichello
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
And borne alone, the heaviness of lies
had worn me so extremely that I cared
no longer, truly, if I lived or died.

I've had this book on my shelves for a few years now, and every time I'd consider picking it up the challenge of reading an entire novel in verse daunted me enough to scare me off completely.

But if that similarly daunts you, and regardless of your opinion on the Marlow/Shakespeare authorship debate, I couldn't recommend this novel highly enough.

Our narrator, Kit Marlowe, is believed
David Seals
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
Disappointed - in the facile writing, and the research I've read before as a devout Marlovian. Nothing new. Of course he is "Shakespeare", and England is a fraud for keeping the pretense up for so long, for commerce; but why didn't he shout it from the rooftops, as all writers would, and have, like Cervantes when pretenders tried to say they wrote Don Quixote? Marlowe-Shakespeare must have been one crazy mean motherfucker. I don't like him. ...more
Jeffrey Winter
Aug 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As a fan of Marlowe and someone who truly believes he and Shakespeare are one and the same, this book just leaves me hungry for more each time I pick it up. The voice is ideal, the writing lovely. Ros has done a lovely job with this and I can't enjoy this any more than I can breathing. It sounds like home to me with every line. ...more
Feb 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the most original and enthralling novels I've ever read. Totally gripping plot: adventure and mystery and romance and history and literary whodunnit all rolled into a bundle of fast-moving poetic narrative. A must read. ...more
Brendan Howlin
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Loved this because it is about Marlowe and it is in blank verse!
Feb 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For the record, this story falls very firmly into the 'Marlowe didn't die' camp. Instead, his death was staged and he was shipped off to Europe, there to write and send back plays which were then sold by William Shakespeare as his. Interesting! The whole book is written in iambic pentameter, which also fascinates. All in all, a terrific read, even though I'm not exactly convinced Marlowe was Shakespeare. ...more
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant and beautiful, written in a vibrant approximation of Marlowe's actual verse. A swoon-worthy read, worth visiting again and again. ...more
May 10, 2012 rated it liked it
I thought this was a really interesting idea; a 'novel (if that's even the right word!) written entirely in Blank Verse. Obviously the subject matter was also one that interested me.

The book apparently formed part of Barber's PhD and her central theory is the one that playwright and intelligencer Christopher Marlowe did not in fact die in Deptford as supposed. Subsidiary to this is the idea that William Shakespeare was just a front man for a whole host of plays written by an exiled Marlowe. Desp
Jenny GB
Apr 16, 2013 rated it liked it
I picked this up browsing the new books at my library and was intrigued by the idea of reading an argument for Marlowe's authorship of the Shakespeare plays as well as interested in a book written in [poetry in iambic pentameter. Barber tells the story of Marlowe's life. At the beginning it jumps times frames between the past and present relaying Marlowe's early career, involvement with the government as a spy, and his eventual slow downfall from grace that leads to his faked death and exile.

May 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to E_h by: Liz
I wish I could rate this 4.5 stars. I'm one of those English majors who believes Shakespeare actually was a real person and actually wrote (most of) the work for which he receives the credit. And I still really enjoyed this verse-novel and found myself wondering if maybe Ros Barber's version of history is closer to the truth. The poetry is really good and not difficult or tiring to read. I would have liked a bit more exciting espionage-y stuff and a bit more about the actual writing of the plays ...more
Feb 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure whether I am allowed to comment on this book, having had the freebee copy sent to a friend of mine passed on to me because she knew of my interest in Christopher Marlowe. But I will anyway, because I find Gilly P's comments so ridiculous. She rejects it because she calls it an "epic poem" rather than a "novel in verse". So what? Despite my disagreement with some of the story as told by Ros Barber, I found her telling of it excellent, and read it in one sitting. It is a story which o ...more
Mar 25, 2013 rated it liked it
This book was a mixed bag for me.

Whilst I enjoyed the verse style of the writing I did find some of it to be somewhat lacklustre - having said that maintaining such a style for such a long book cannot be easy by any stretch. But therein lies another problem I had with the book - it's too long! I found that the first third was excellent, the middle third was okay but the last third became a bit of a slog. This is not because of the style but because of the story - I feel it had been dragged on fo
Nov 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
"The New Oxford Shakespeare edition of the playwright’s works — which will be published by Oxford University Press online ahead of a worldwide print release — lists Christopher Marlowe as Shakespeare’s co-author on the three “Henry VI” plays, parts 1, 2 and 3" ~ NYT

This very interesting bit of news came out after I'd ordered _The Marlowe Papers_ so reading it had an extra layer. I was wary at first. I've only read one other contemporary novel in verse, and it was brief and wonderful. I thought l
Apr 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: i-tried
I tried to read this. I thought the book had a smart, clever premise because it was written entirely in iambic pentameter which is a feat in and of itself. I was going to write this review in iambic pentameter but my computer just glitched on me and I lost my brilliant work. I give up. The novel picks up shortly after Christopher Marlowe was murdered, but actually his death was faked. He flees to the continent where he continues to write poems, plays, and other works under the name of William Sh ...more
Mar 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Early Modern era fans take not: a significant feat in which Ros Barber writes a novel, starring Christopher Marlowe, in blank verse. Kit, in this alternate world, does not die in a tavern in Deptford, but stages his death, escapes to the continent, and writes all of Shakespeare. Despite the literary devices and potential for twee the book flows beautifully, and shouldn't offend, except for those most die-hard Shakespearean-authorship axe-grinders. Highly recommended. If you would like a well-res ...more
May 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really good. Probably better read in paper format as the Kindle can't handle the layout of iambic pentameter and I suspect you lose something in that. I love a book that challenges my beliefs and this one certainly has. Never thought I could be a Marlovian. Shakespeare has always been an icon. AND I'd never known the difference between burglary and robbery, or the importance of Psalm 51 to these crimes. I do love a book that teaches me something even when I don't realise I'm learning. Absolutely ...more
May 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
I give this 2.5 stars.

It took me a very long time to read this book. About 6 months. I kept starting and stopping.

I think it's very impressive that Barber wrote it all in verse, but reading it was very tiresome and I almost gave up. I felt like the whole time I was waiting for something that made me understand why Marlowe could be Shakespeare, but it never came. my opinion a boring story that was very impressively written. The idea of the book certainly appealed to me more than the exe
Megan Anderson
The premise is great and the first few pages are lovely...and then it's just boring. I rarely encounter a novel in verse that I dislike, but this is definitely one of those times. Drawn-out and dull. I had to force myself to the end, and even the conclusion was unsatisfying. I didn't particularly care about any of the characters, and I didn't feel anything for Marlowe's plight. Oh, well. I did like how the events influenced the plays that were written and Barber's take on the Dark Lady and such, ...more
Jul 08, 2013 rated it did not like it
One star for the obvious great deal of effort that went into writing this novel. What sounded to me like a book that, composed entirely of blank verse poems, would be an interesting read turned out to be quite dull. How much better it would have been as prose interspersed with a limited number of poems that would elucidate character and conjure up period. Instead, it stands as a dry monument to one author's great store of knowledge. Scholars of Marlowe and the English Renaissance aside, this boo ...more
Aug 14, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Interesting concept, but the author didn't really carry it off. First, if you're going to do your novel in verse, fine, but your verse should stay in the voice of your character. There was too much modernity intruding for me to believe I was reading the work of Marlowe. Second, the cast of characters was confusing. (Too many with the same name and not always clear from context which one is meant.) Finally, the Marlowe in this book is just annoying. By halfway through, I felt the urge to read mor ...more
Meredith Watkins
Nov 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Interesting look into one of the many conspiracy theories as to William Shakespeare really was. Also, this is a novel, but it's written in the form of poems. Very clever in my opinion. The tale of Christopher Marlowe is indeed an interesting one. ...more
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