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Live Fast, Die Young 

Kit Marlowe was framed!

Christopher "Kit" Marlowe was a talented poet and playwright, but there is little doubt that he was also a spy. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he was already successful as Shakespeare was coming into his own. Some scholars believe had he not died young, the hard-living Marlowe would have eclipsed Shakespeare, while others believe his death could have been faked and that he was Shakespeare.

Louise Welch has taken what we do know of Marlowe and fashioned a fascinating novella, an account of the few days just before Marlowe's untimely demise. The basic historic facts are that Marlowe died in a tavern brawl of sorts — Ingram Frizer testified at the inquest there was a dispute over the bill at an inn in Deptford, where he, Marlowe and two other men had been drinking most of the day. Frizer further testified that Marlowe attacked him during this "discussion," and he defended himself. Marlowe was stabbed above the right eye in this fracas and died.

In Tamburlaine Must Die, Welch decides for the purposes of her story that Marlowe was indeed a spy, possibly an atheist, and gay or bi-sexual (historically, some remarks attributed to Marlowe have been interpreted to indicate this). Tamburlaine was one of Marlowe's first plays, and was about a ruthless man who tires of his lowly station as a shepherd. He raises an army of brigands who attack the king of Persia. Welch creates a situation where someone using the name of Tamburlaine posts atheist notices on a church. Marlowe gets the blame because he created the character and is called before the Queens Privy Council, but there is more to this persecution than meets the eye.

Kit Marlowe's patron, Lord Thomas Walsingham, proves of no help in this matter, and Marlowe doesn't know whom he can trust. Written from Marlowe's point of view, this is a chilling tale of betrayal, and the reader is right there with Kit as he rushes headlong toward his fate.

This short book takes time to get into — I tried twice to start reading it and had to start over. The Elizabethan world may be just too alien for some — although all the double dealing and posturing will seem familiar to anyone who follows what is going on now in Washington, DC.

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