Tuesday, September 14, 2021

My hero / Christopher Marlowe by Val McDermid


The only known portrait of Christopher Marlowe.

My hero: Christopher Marlowe

 by Val McDermid 

Saturday 25 September 2010


admire Marlowe for lots of reasons: he started from humble beginnings, the son of a shoemaker, and he found a benefactor who paid for his education, which he made the most of, ending up at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Even as an undergraduate he showed signs of being unusual, not like the other students. When the college refused to award him a degree, the privy council intervened – it turned out that what looked like subversive behaviour was actually a front for spying on behalf of the Queen.

He was never far away from trouble: once he'd moved to London he was caught up in a street brawl in which someone died. But in between spying and sword fighting, Marlowe started his career as a writer. What he brought to the early practice of blank verse was a real sense of poetry and passion. It's fascinating that even in his short career you can see growth and development, which makes it all the more sad that he died so young because you can see not just that he had potential, but that he was capable of developing that potential into something extraordinary.

Also fascinating, of course, is the mystery surrounding his death. What we know is that he died in an alehouse in Deptford, and that the three men who were present with him were all connected in one way or another to the Walsingham family and the English secret service. As a crime writer, I find any unresolved mystery fascinating – and when it concerns the life of such a writer, it's irresistible.

I admire the tenacity and the bloody-mindedness that took him from that shoemaker's house in Canterbury to become a thorn in the side of the highest in the land. And the glorious way he used the English language to conjure up extraordinary images is something that inspires me to this day.


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