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What I’m reading – History Play

by  in Comic News Comment
What I’m reading – <i>History Play</i>

Yes, I’m still reading stuff that isn’t comic-book in form! How about you?

I still have a few comics to read that I’m not planning on reviewing (the Showcase volume of Warlord, for instance), but right now I’m zipping my way through Rodney Bolt’s History Play: The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe. Bolt speculates that Marlowe faked his death in 1593 and lived out his life writing plays that we attribute to some bloke named William Shakespeare. It’s an interesting theory, although I haven’t gotten to the part where he fakes his death and therefore don’t know how Bolt accounts for why history has raised up Shakespeare over Marlowe. Bolt accepts that Shakespeare was around, but he claims he was little more than a country bumpkin who fawned over Marlowe and may have helped him write some of the weaker “Shakespeare” plays (like King John and The Taming of the Shrew). So far, Bolt has made a convincing case, tracking Marlowe’s movements across the Continent as an agent for Sir Francis Walsingham (I guess it’s commonly accepted now that Marlowe was an “intelligencer” – in other words, a spy) and showing how those travels informed the vast knowledge found in Shakespeare’s plays and also showing how Shakespeare himself was in no position to possess that knowledge. He also makes interesting points about Elizabethan drama, such as the fact that plays were often cobbled together as they were performed and that they weren’t published for years after their debuts, which makes authorship a dicey proposition at best. It’s an interesting theory, certainly, and as I’m a big fan of Marlowe’s, I’m always happy to read more about him. I’m not sure how Bolt’s theory jives with other Shakespearean scholars, some of whom I’m sure think he’s a heretic (the fact that he doesn’t cite Harold Bloom’s The Invention of the Human, perhaps the finest book on Shakespeare ever written, in his bibliography is a bit worrisome), but it’s still an interesting theory. I seem to recall this theory, that Marlowe wrote Shakespeare’s plays, being bandied about before, but I’m not going to go looking on-line for it, because I just don’t feel like it. It is interesting to consider how some of Shakespeare’s early plays (Titus Andronicus leaps to mind) are blatant rip-offs of Marlowe’s work, so the idea that Marlowe lived beyond 1593 and gradually matured into “Shakespeare” is certainly tempting. Bolt, interestingly enough, doesn’t treat this as a theory – he simply expects us to believe that Marlowe wrote Shakespeare’s plays, easily conflating references from the known “Marlowe” plays with references from the known “Shakespeare” ones. It’s kind of refreshing how cavalierly he writes this biography.

Tell me, gentle readers: What’s tickling your brain cells these days?

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