Park Honan, Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 421pp. ISBN 0 19 818695 9.
Sheffield Hallam University
Duxfield, Andrew. "Review of Park Honan, Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy." Early Modern Literary Studies 12.1 (May, 2006) 12.1-4 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/12-1/revhonan.htm>.
Did they meet often? Or become intimate? Plainly no record of their talk together survives. No obscure diary tells us of their meetings, though shreds of the truth can be discovered if we are willing to be patient, indirect, or somewhat roundabout in assessing Marlowes friendship with his prime contemporary This matter is extremely delicate, since it leaves us always at the edge of the unknown. (187-8)In the same paragraph there is an acknowledgement that absolutely no evidence of so much as a chance meeting between Marlowe and Shakespeare exists, and an assertion that a friendship existed between the two men, a roundabout assessment of which can reveal shreds of the truth. Indeed, despite the delicacy of the matter, Honan feels able, a few pages later, to refer to Shakespeare as Marlowes Stratford friend (p. 237). Here, it seems, (and this isnt an isolated incident) that the books stated aim of stringent adherence to fact has been sacrificed in favour of an exercise in wish fulfilment. Honan admits in his introduction to drawing modest inferences about personal relationships, but the narrative seems too often to dispense with caution in favour of readability; throughout the work, minor statements that are purely speculative are unnecessarily offered as if they represent absolute fact. For instance, Marlowe, we are told, acted the gentleman with a few friends, and the cynical infidel with others, partly to show how far he had left behind Canterbury (p. 223, my italics). I struggle to think how one could prove an assertion such as this of a person living today. This is, admittedly, a modest inference, but the frequency with which such inferences occur serves to undermine the authority of the work.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).