Christopher Marlowe, Poet & Spy by Park Honan - review by Katherine Duncan-Jones

Katherine Duncan-Jones

Bawdier Than The Bard

Christopher Marlowe, Poet & Spy


Oxford University Press 422pp £25

Writing a life of Marlowe ought to be very much easier than writing one of Shakespeare. For one thing, the book can be much shorter. Both poets were born early in 1564, with similar social origins, their fathers being master craftsmen and tradesmen who achieved local eminence before being embroiled in debt and litigation. One of Honan’s persistent clumsinesses is to describe John Marlowe, who became Warden of Canterbury’s Shoemakers’ Guild in 1589, as a ‘cobbler’, a much more humble craft. But while Shakespeare the glover’s son lived to almost fifty-two, Marlowe the shoemaker’s son was killed at twenty-nine.

Surprisingly, Park Honan’s Marlowe is almost as hefty as his Shakespeare: A Life (1998). It’s true that some records survive for Marlowe whose Shakespearian equivalents we lack. Shakespeare’s education at the King’s School, Stratford, is a matter of reasonable presumption, while Marlowe’s scholarships at the King’s School, Canterbury, and at

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