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Paperback review: The Marlowe Papers: A Novel in Verse, By Ros Barber


Ros Barber's readable prose poem captures effortlessly the brutality and the secrecy of Elizabethan England during the time of Christopher Marlowe's death, with murder and torture a constant threat, and love between men forbidden.

Invited to become one of Sir Francis Walsingham's spies, Marlowe treads a fine line in his undercover career that eventually allows him to escape into exile, where he continues his literary work as "William Shakespeare". It's an implausible theory yet it's also a huge credit to Barber's substantial powers that it convinces us, as she explores the connection between life and art, making links between the most famous of Shakespeare's plays and aspects of Marlowe's suggested life. And why write it all in verse? The man himself tells us: "A poem, the only code I know that tells the truth."