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Writing Marlowe as writing Shakespeare

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posted on 2023-06-08, 11:52 authored by Rosalind Barber
This thesis consists of two components: a 70,000-word verse novel and a 50,000-word critical component that has arisen out of the research process for that novel. Creative Component: The Marlowe Papers The Marlowe Papers is a full-length verse novel written entirely in iambic pentameter. As with verse novels such as The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, or The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo, its inspiration, derivation, conventions and scope owe more to the prose novel than to the epic poem. Though there is as yet no widely-accepted definition, a verse novel may be distinguished from an epic poem where it consists, as in this case, of numerous discrete poems, each constituting a ‘chapter’ of the novel. This conception allows for considerable variations in form and tone that would not be possible in the more cohesive tradition of the epic poem. The Marlowe Papers is a fictional autobiography of Christopher Marlowe based on the idea that he used the pseudonym ‘William Shakespeare’ (employing the Stratford merchant as a ‘front’), having faked his own death and fled abroad to escape capital charges for atheism and heresy. The verse novel, written in dramatic scenes, traces his life from his flight on 30 May 1593, through the back-story (starting in 1586) that led to his prosecution, as we similarly track his progress on the Continent and in England until just after James I accedes to the English throne. The poems are a mixture of longer blank verse narratives and smaller, more lyrical poems (including sonnets). Explanatory notes to the poems, and a Dramatis Personae, are included on the advice of my creative supervisor. Critical Component: Writing Marlowe As Writing Shakespeare This part of the thesis explores the relationship between early modern biographies and fiction, questioning certain ‘facts’ of Marlovian and Shakespearean biography in the light of the ‘thought experiment’ of the verse novel. Marlowe’s reputation for violence is reassessed in the light of scholarly doubt about the veracity of the inquest document, and Shakespeare’s sonnets are reinterpreted through the lens of the Marlovian theory of Shakespeare authorship. The argument is that orthodox and non-Stratfordian theories might be considered competing paradigms; simply different frameworks through which interpretation of the same data leads to different conclusions. Interdisciplinary influences include Kuhn’s philosophy of scientific discovery, post-modern narrativist history, neuroscience, psychology, and quantum physics (in the form of the ‘observer effect’). Data that is either anomalous or inexplicable under the orthodox paradigm is demonstrated to support a Marlovian reading, and the current state of the Shakespeare authorship question is assessed. Certain primary source documents were examined at the Bodleian Library, at the British Library, and at Lambeth Palace Library. Versions of Chapters 2, 3 and 4, written under supervision during this doctorate, have all been published, either as a book chapter or as a journal article, within the last year (Barber, 2009, 2010a, b).


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