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History Play: The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe
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History Play: The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  54 Ratings  ·  13 Reviews
Rodney Bolt's delightful life of Marlowe plays out a surprising solution to an enduring literary mystery, bringing the spirit of Shakespeare alive as we've never seen it before.

Rodney Bolt's book is not an attempt to prove that, rather than dying at 29 in a tavern brawl, Christopher Marlowe staged his own death, fled to Europe, and went on to write the work attributed to S
Hardcover, 388 pages
Published September 6th 2005 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 2004)
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Ben Babcock
Few books have managed to disappoint me as much as this one has. The captivating premise of History Play--that Marlowe faked his death and wrote all the plays attributed to Shakespeare--belies its overly-pedantic treatment of Marlovian theory (an actual literary theory supported by several leading Elizabethan scholars).

The most interesting part of the book is its foreword, which wasn't even written by Bolt, but instead by Mark Twain! It lists the facts we know definitively about the life of Will
Sep 25, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
I'm still struggling to understand the premise behind this book, and I can only conclude that Rodney Bolt, an accomplished historian, is a fiction writer manque. The story is wonderful, really compelling, lovely, and if - like me - the topless towers of Ilium have haunted you since you read your first Marlowe, one you want desperately to believe in. It's a copiously footnoted account of how the wonderful, raffish Kit Marlowe 'wrote' all Shakespeare's plays, wasn't stabbed in a tavern duel, and l ...more
May 29, 2008 rated it did not like it
After the most amazing foreword I've ever read (check the book out for the foreword alone. I'm totally serious), I was really let down by the rest of the book. It just got so bogged down in the details that I couldn't even get to the meat of the author's argument (that Shakespeare is really Marlowe, his death faked due to royal espionage) before I gave up on the book. Really dissappointing.
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘The question confronting a young man in [Elizabethan times] was not, am I heterosexual or am I homosexual, but where do my greater loyalties lie, with other men or with women.’ The answer for Kit was ‘with both’.

Reread, for a paper on Christopher Marlowe in Historical Fiction that I was unable to give (due to ill health) at the Historical Fiction Research Network conference. My earlier review is here.

I still think it's a delightful bit of historical play: I suspect I caught some more in-jokes
Jun 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel
My local library shelves this book in the nonfiction section, perhaps because of its biographical nature. But do not be confused. This book is fiction, an alternative history that exposes readers to a good deal of factual Elizabethan history along the way.
The aptly titled History Play refers to Shakespeare's historical dramas. Of course, the title also winks at what's going on in this narrative, which assumes that playwright Christopher Marlowe did not actually die in a bar room brawl, and was
May 04, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Being interested in Elizabethan playwrights and especially the controversy concerning Kit Marlowe and Shakespeare I was most disappointed by this book. Having read most if not all of the dissertations on the theory that Marlowe wrote a good % of Shakespeare's plays this is a work of pure 99% supposition and fiction that should come with that clear warning. Its well put together IF the aforementioned disclaimer is made clear but it is not and accordingly when you start shaking your head at the st ...more
Jun 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
A fun idea, and the book is largely redeemed by the author's self-directed humor — putting him in an entirely different, and a finer, class than the warped souls who firmly believe (for instance) that Mozart didn't really write his own music, and who freely invent and rewrite history to suit their front-loaded eccentricity. The grand finale, a sort of Marlowe-Cervantes-Monteverdi triangle, is a little labored, but in principle, a worthy and playful invention. Bolt's musicology is a little dodgy, ...more
David R.
Mar 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A delightfully clever retelling of the Shakespeare-wasn't-the-playwright story. Many have suggested that the worldly Christopher Marlowe was the real Bard, but Bolt goes the extra distance to both explain how Marlowe did it but also to advance a hypothesis that Marlowe survived his 1593 murder and continued to write plays at least to 1613. Shakespeare himself takes a real beating in this one, repainted as a mediocre playwright and grasping poseur. This one's enticing and a real treat.
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read
Did Will Shakespeare really write the plays he's known for, or was he just in the right place at the right time? A well-written book, engaging and wonderful. I'm not ready to accept Bolt's theory, but it is worth spending some time on.
Jul 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, non-fiction
OKAY SO THIS ISN'T REALLY NON-FICTION BUT this has been bugging me for the past 6 months and I am marking it non-fiction for, y'know, the first half of the book. Making a "speculative biography" tag just seems.......a little too much.
Lewis Birchon
Aug 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this. The premise was tantalising and the execution was intricate and entertaining. This book will make you think differently about every other historical biography you read.
May 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
I am now convinced Shakespeare was a laying common-kissing flap-dragon.
A rollicking, slightly wacky, confidently ridiculous ride of a conspiracy theory. With copious footnotes.
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Rodney Bolt was born in South Africa. He studied at Rhodes University and wrote the play Gandhi: Act Too, which won the 1980 Durban Critic's Circle Play of the Year award. That same year he won a scholarship to Cambridge and read English at Corpus Christi. He has twice won Travel Writer of the Year awards in Germany and is the author of History Play, an invented biography of Christopher Marlowe (H ...more
More about Rodney Bolt

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