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The Marlowe Papers: A Novel Hardcover – January 29, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The most plausible candidate for who really wrote Shakespeare is Christopher Marlowe, who fashioned brilliant blank-verse dramas, witty love lyrics, and superb retellings of classical legends—just like Shakespeare! But he died in a fight in 1593, before the Bard’s great plays hit the boards. Ah, but what if his demise was faked? Barber’s wonderfully fluent novel in blank verse runs with the notion that Marlowe, dodging a frame-up for blasphemy, was whisked away to the continent, thanks to a wealthy friend. There he eventually wrangled a living by ghostwriting plays that a small-town businessman pretended were his. He slipped back to England to see his benefactor, who became the love of his life, and bedded the odd comely wench, too, finally marrying one. Barber doesn’t grossly betray Marlowe scholarship; things just might have happened this way. But her Marlowe is less substantial than he is in recent biographies, his bisexuality comes off as blandly pc, and the other characters, especially the rich lover, are shadowy. A high-toned period romance, at best. --Ray Olson


“A remarkable book. It is also a brave one…Barber conjures up some beautifully realized scenes.”
--New York Times Book Review

"With the screw-tightening verve of a great thriller and the romantic pull of Renaissance poetry, the novel — which purports that Marlowe is the true author of William Shakespeare’s legendary oeuvre — is a gripping, lyrical, most unlikely page-turner.” --American Way

“Lush, inspired and provocative, this spellbinding dossier conjures up a bewitching Marlowe.” --Kirkus

“Marlowe meets fascinating characters, sneaky spies and counterfeiters, gifted poets and playwrights, self-serving noblemen and vicious gutter-snipes. Barber’s vivid portrayal of filthy, stinking London, the horror of the plague, the rampant and bloody religious intolerance, and the squalid daily life of 16th-century Europe are accurate and convincing.” –Publishers Weekly

"A must-read for anyone interested in Marlowe, William Shakespeare or 16th-century English history . . . The writing is superb, the plot moves quickly and Marlowe's story is compelling. An award-winning, highly original novel in verse about the life of Christopher Marlowe--even after the world believed him dead.”--Shelf Awareness

"Terrifically accomplished and enjoyable . . . restores one's faith in English fiction." --Fay Weldon

"Searing poetry meets compelling narrative in a historical tour de force that had me ripping through the pages. My only complaint is that everything else I read for a while now will, I fear, suffer by comparison." --Robyn Young, author of The Fall of the Templars and Brethren

"For me personally, this is the most complete Marlowe I've ever encountered." - Will Self, author of Umbrella
"A story of ambition, infamy, beer, cunning, facepaint, red herrings, knives, and pen and paper, [The Marlowe Papers] is not only an homage to Marlowe but a celebration of poetry - and of its power to allow the dead to speak." --Blake Morrison, author of And When Did You Last See Your Father?
“The best book I've read for a long time. Truly innovative, truly original, and a powerful poetic journey to another truth.  Ros Barber has told a great story, in a fascinating way, so fascinating that she had someone like me gripped to the very end. This really is a joy to read and a true work of art.”--Benjamin Zephaniah, author of Gangsta Boy and Face

“The Marlowe Papers is a bravura performance: a noir thriller in doublet and hose. The life of Kit Marlowe, the baddest boy of English Literature, is great fare for any writer. There’s espionage and sex; murder and treachery; and, this being England, a healthy dose of cross-dressing. And Barber serves it, steaming hot.” --Simon Worrall, author of The Poet and The Murderer

“Combines historical erudition with a sharply satisfying read. Marlowe's passion infects the page; Barber's skill draws the fever.” --The Independent (UK)

The Marlowe Papers is the best read, so far, this year.” –The Sunday Express (UK)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (January 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250017173
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250017178
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.5 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,045,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ros Barber was born in Washington D.C, USA, of British parents, and grew up in Colchester, England. She now lives in Brighton, Sussex. Her debut novel in verse, The Marlowe Papers is published by Sceptre in the UK (May 2012) and St Martin's Press in the US (late 2012). Two collections of poetry are published by Anvil, the most recent of which, Material (2008), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. More information can be found at and

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Librarian on February 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I loved this. I know its in verse and that's off-putting to a lot of people, but its extremely readable. If Barber had written it in prose, it wouldn't have been nearly as effective. It's gorgeously written, and I'll be buying a copy for my shelves (I borrowed it from the library) because it's something I'll definitely want to read again. I found/find myself wishing this is what really happened and I personally will happily pretend it's true.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By WineCountryLover on May 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
It's all about getting past the fact it's written entirely in verse. Once you do that it takes you into the mind of the gifted Elizabethan playwright whose life and peculiar death remain a great mystery centuries later. Of course when references to the Turnip begin halfway into the book, any conspiracy lover worth their salt will laugh with joy at that turn of events. I read this along with "Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom", on which the movie "Anonymous" was based. It was a time of capital punishment dealt out left and right for perceived criticism against the Crown (including in plays). The story also details the dark world of spycraft. I found it a most diverting "what if" story and very well-written. What a labor putting this book together must have been.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By kazoo on December 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Barber is a master at conjuring the dead. She so skillfully imparts the substance of the Renaissance you feel your flesh creep with the longings and desires of people she magically brings to life as we envision each scene she seductively lays before us.
How does Barber accomplish this magic? She tells the tale in verse. Writing like an Elizabethan poet Barber is able to intuit a tale in a language lost to us. She flavors the writing with as just as much Elizabethan speech as needed to properly cast the spell. It is alive. The verse moves fluidly like water cascading from the rocks of one small chapter to another. We are charmed and then hooked as the veil of time fades away into an earlier period. The novel would not have worked well in the traditional format of prose, yet surprisingly moves like the traditional format of prose. We must have it in verse to become thoroughly entranced in the time.
We learn of the story of Christopher Marlowe, England’s best and most beloved poet before Shakespeare. This is a man who must make his mark, “Who writes must love their pen and every mark/it makes upon the paper, and the words/that set their neighbors burning, and the line/that sounds against the skull when read again.” The story of Marlowe is the stuff of legend. It is Elizabethan James Bond meets William Shakespeare, for Marlowe was a spy and a poet. The tale weaves us through an assortment of characters from noble Earls, to street thugs, to lost loves; it is essentially everything in a tantalizing yet savory piece of fiction.
Ros Barber is an artful historian as well as a talented poet. As The Marlowe Papers weaves its spell, Barber sinks a little Elizabethan magic into your soul. It is a book about a man who demands to be heard and who Barber accurately renders. She is a writer well worth remembering.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Peter B. Hodges on December 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I admit, I was concerned when I heard that it was written in blank verse, but it is a real page turner. I am probably biased because I have been a Marlovian since 1971, but Dr. Barber has accomplished something rare with this book, a lucid reimagining of history that is poetic, readable and fully documented. That it is told in Marlowe's voice makes the use of blank verse entirely appropriate and convincing, as he wouldmost unlikely to write in prose.

The character of Marlowe is beautifully realized. In fact, so well realized that it renders much of what happened to him more comprehensible than ever before. He appears to be something of a naif, not realizing the deep waters in which he was swimming until too late.

As a long time student of the cover-up, I have a few qubbles with Dr. Barber's spin on some of the finer interpretations of the evidence, but I have to say that her overall presentation is not merely plausible, it is convincing. Those who might dismiss this book as mere fiction should challenge themselves to respond point by point to both her conjectures and her research, not to mention the citations of various other scholars.

Scholarship aside, I want to reiterate that this is a darn good read. Dr. Barber undertook a substantial, one might say, improbable challenge with this and succeeds brilliantly.

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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Stuart J. Nettleton on June 14, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Dr Barber has presented a coherent model for Christopher Marlowe's authorship of the Shakespearean Canon. Dr Barber is to be applauded for presenting her case in blank verse, which is a most pleasant and accessible medium of communication. It also helps to amplify her plot into a gripping tragedy of almost Shakespearean proportions, the flowering of genius from a playwright wronged and unrelentingly bruised to the end of his days by the very Queen and King he loyally served. In terms of cons, I found the overwhelming themes of homo and bisexuality unnecessary. These may be fashionable but to me are unsupportable and contradictory, for example, inconsistent with the early argument regarding "tobacco and booze". My greatest uncertainty about Dr Barber's model is the missed opportunity of making links to the Pembroke family. Just as the social network of Edward de Vere seems to never run in the Verge of this grail family of the First Folio, so too with Marlowe's social network, given there is just a mere side reference to a dedication to the Countess of Pembroke. The health of our society is interwoven with its cognitive reflection on past intolerances and acknowledgement of wrongs. If further research validates Dr Barber's hypothesis, then perhaps the British Prime Minister may owe Christopher Marlowe an apology, in the same way as that made posthumously to Alan Turing who was ostracised and persecuted by the very society he served so well and for some of the same reasons. Thus it is of existential importance to our society that researchers unequivocally resolve the Shakespearean authorship question. Dr Barber is to be thoroughly congratulated on success in materially advancing the Marlovean authorship case and above all on a great read!
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