Tamburlaine: Christopher Marlowe (1587)

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★★★★

(Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 25 August 2018)

Something is brewing in the Scythian steppes. As the power of once-mighty Persia begins to wane under the rule of foolish Mycetes, rumours reach the court of a new leader rising in the north: a former shepherd, who has gathered a band of thugs and thieves and believes he is destined to rule the world. His name is Tamburlaine. Christopher Marlowe’s play is rarely performed, which is a pity because it has powerful resonance in the modern world. The RSC’s production, directed by Michael Boyd and designed by Tom Piper, was first staged in New York in 2014 and boils down Parts 1 and 2 into a single three-and-a-half-hour behemoth of death and ambition. (Imagine seven seasons of Game of Thrones condensed into 180 minutes and you have some idea of the amount of blood involved.) These cuts emphasise Tamburlaine’s dizzying rise to power, and the whole play is anchored by a magnificently charismatic performance by Jude Owusu.

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To Be A King: Robert DeMaria

★★★★

A Novel about Christopher Marlowe

I have a peculiar fascination with Kit Marlowe as an historical figure, although I’ve only ever sat through one of his plays (a student production of Doctor Faustus). To Be A King follows close on the heels of several other fictional encounters I’ve had with him, including the strikingly original Marlowe Papers. However, the most pertinent comparison for this book is Anthony Burgess’s famous novel A Dead Man in Deptford, which has a close kinship with To Be A King both in its reading of events and in its characterisation.

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Shakespeare in Love: Tom Stoppard

Shakespeare in Love

★★★★★

(Noël Coward Theatre, London, 16 July 2014)

For the feel-good romantic comedy hit of the summer, head down to the Noël Coward Theatre on St Martin’s Lane in London, where the stage production of Shakespeare in Love has just opened for previews. It’s only been running for a few days but a friend and I went along to see it tonight and it is genuinely one of the most delightful plays I’ve ever seen. At the end we tumbled out in the London night so stuffed full of joy that we were fit to burst: comedy, love, and a bit with a dog. What more could you desire?

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A Dead Man in Deptford: Anthony Burgess

★★★★

Serendipity was in action when I decided to move onto this after Death of the Fox. Although Christopher Marlowe is the protagonist here, and events take place some thirty years earlier than Garrett’s story, A Dead Man in Deptford also features Raleigh as a prominent character (though morally more ambivalent). Both books are written in a dense, elaborate, semi-archaic style and both create a vivid impression of late Elizabethan England, although these impressions couldn’t be more different from each other.

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