David Riggs: The World of Christopher Marlowe (Faber and Faber: London, 2004)
If you squint, you’ll see that this was one of the books I bought as retail therapy a short while back. I tackled this one first owing to my commitments to teach Edward II again this coming school year – I was hoping to get a few additional nuggets about Marlowe‘s private life.
The book has turned out to be an absolute revelation …
Not just about Marlowe, but about the social and political situation during the latter half of Elizabeth’s reign. When context is worth 20% at GCSE and 50% of one assignment at A Level, it’s worth knowing a lot more than simply the texts in isolation – a recurring theme when talking to my students. And if I can do it, when I don’t have a qualification riding on it, why can’t they?
One of the things I learned, which I had been curious about for years, was the evolution of iambic pentameter in the mid 1570s. I’d never found it in all the Shakespeare books I’ve read, so it just goes to show.
By the time I was a quarter through, a friend looked aghast at the amount of bookmarking I’d done. It’s highly possible that I’ll end up having a second copy of this at school for use during lessons. Choosing a quotation from last week’s reading is a practically impossible task, therefore. But here’s one from the many I could have selected:
‘Marlowe’s murderous friar [in The Massacre at Paris] personified the threat that confronted the queen in the mid-1580s and thereafter. Like modern terrorists, Elizabeth’s enemies were fanatical and invisible, ready to sacrifice their own lives in the hope of bringing hers to an end. The reward for mayhem was martyrdom. The queen’s best line of defence was to comply agents who could penetrate the ranks of her enemies, regardless of how dangerous such men could prove tone.’
It’s hard not to reflect (with some depression) how we’ve not progressed terribly far as a species in 400 years …