It’s the evening of 30 May 1593 and a young Will Shakespeare is about to become England’s greatest living dramatist because his greatest rival, Christopher Marlowe, is losing a knife fight in a boarding house in Deptford. When the blade of a twelvepenny dagger enters Marlowe’s skull two inches above his right eye, it penetrates his brain to a depth of two inches, putting an instant full stop to the fevered imagination that has captivated the Elizabethan stage.
Christopher Marlowe is dead. Three blood-spattered men stand over his body. An army of historians would love to witness the conversation that is about to take place between Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley because it would illuminate the murky underworld of Elizabethan espionage; there can be little doubt that – just like his killers – Marlowe was a spy.
Had this killing occurred a year ago it’s likely that Frizer, Skeres and Poley would be facing disaster. Marlowe had enjoyed the protection of the most powerful men in England but in recent weeks and months he has suffered a spectacular fall from grace and favour.
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