Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy

Michael Feingold reviews the book by Park Honan, in the New York Times:

Fein450People who complain that we have so few biographical facts about Shakespeare, and use that lack of data as an excuse for indulging in fantasies about who “really” wrote his plays, should ponder the case of Christopher Marlowe (at one time a favorite candidate for that ghostwriter role), about whom even less is known. He flashed across the Tudor literary scene for a stunningly brief period, raising the standards of poetic achievement and transforming Elizabethan theater. Few pre-Shakespearean English plays still hold the stage; they include at least four of Marlowe’s. In recent decades, “Tamburlaine the Great” (its two parts usually condensed into one evening), “The Jew of Malta,” “Doctor Faustus” and “Edward II” have had regular revivals.

This is all the more remarkable because Marlowe (1564-93), unlike Shakespeare, is not the writer to comfort an audience with a jolly evening in the theater. A contrarian of epic stature, he’s most often celebrated as an embodiment of rebellion in every form: a cynic about all received ideas of society and religion; almost certainly a homosexual; most likely a government spy; probably an atheist; possibly even a dabbler in the occult; and, to round off the list, a glorifier of violence who died in a tavern brawl.

More here.