The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe Critical Essays

Charles Nicholl

The Reckoning

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE RECKONING: THE MURDER OF CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE is, according to its author, a complex argument with some new facts as well as new ways of framing old facts. The “old facts” about the death of Marlowe, the promising writer of such English drama classics as EDWARD II and TAMBERLAINE, were themselves mostly rumors. Since his death of May 30, 1593, conventional accounts reported that Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl, fighting over a bill, or, more dramatically, over a male prostitute. Not until 1925 did an American scholar, Leslie Hotson, in a brilliant piece of archival scholarship, discover the official story, the coroner’s inquest of June 1, 1593, complete with eyewitness accounts.

Reasoning through the details of this official story, Charles Nicholl finds that it raises many interesting questions by what it leaves unsaid. Briefly, the inquest reports that Marlowe and three companions, after spending a quiet day talking and walking in the gardens of a respectable lodging-house, returned to their room for supper. Then, as Marlowe lay down while his companions sat together over a game, a dispute arose over the bill (“reckoning”). In the sudden skirmish that followed, Marlowe supposedly grabbed the dagger of the man sitting in the middle who, in self-defense, stabbed Marlowe above the right eye, killing him. The inquest found the man, Ingram Frizer, innocent of murder.

Although a weighty tome, THE RECKONING is astutely structured...

(The entire section is 415 words.)