Christopher Marlowe had never liked Robert Greene when he was alive. But when Greene is found dead shortly after sending Kit a desperate letter, he feels duty bound to find out who killed him. Before long, the playwright-sleuth finds himself in the midst of a baffling murder investigation – where nothing is as it first appears.
Written by a husband and wife team under the name M.J. Trow, the Kit Marlowe series stars the ‘bad boy’ of Elizabethan drama. Below they explain the inspiration behind the character and the series . . .
We embarked on the series featuring Kit Marlowe because he is such an enigmatic character. The son of a Canterbury shoemaker, he won a scholarship to King’s School and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Destined for the church as a career, Marlowe was a rebel, wrote poetry, read banned books and went to London to seek his fortune as a playwright. He quickly became the ‘Muse’s Darling’, ‘all fire and air’, producing iconic works like Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta and Edward II. He was also, while still at Cambridge, recruited to the espionage service of the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. Both these elements – the theatre and the spying game – form the kernel of the series. It was a dangerous time for everybody. Marlowe may have been homosexual – a hanging offence. He was almost certainly an atheist – they burned people for that.
The Marlowe series features a mix of real life characters and fictional ones. We research as thoroughly as we can, but we also use poetic licence. For instance, Will Shakespeare (Shaxsper) is a bit player/playwright wannabe and everybody uses the now legendary phrases that are attributed to him. We never introduce the Queen herself – the stories are played out in the context of everybody’s response to her. Because we cannot be absolutely sure how people spoke in Elizabethan England – poetry, plays and legal documents were written in a specific style, not everyday speech – we have dispensed entirely with ‘thee’, ‘thou’ and ‘prithee’ as being both annoying and corny.
Marlowe’s life is so full of inconsistencies – as indeed was the time in which he lived – that we have found room to be ambiguous in terms of what made the man tick. He loves the theatre, but does he love his country more? Neither Philip Henslowe, impresario of the Rose Theatre, nor Francis Walsingham in Whitehall, pay enough, so a man like Marlowe, as much as a swordsman as a ‘University Wit’, has to live by his blade and his wits to survive.
History tells us that Kit Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl in Deptford at the age of 29. History, of course, is often wrong . . .
BLACK DEATH is available from 29 March in the UK and from 1 July in the US. Read more here.