Interviewing Mr. Marlowe
|Interview by Kathe Koja|
It can be chancy, to let a writer’s oeuvre do all the talking, but if we’re going to have answers to our interview questions, that’s the way it has to be. So let’s start with the hardest question first:
Q: Is it true that, beyond being a superstar playwright, you’re also a spy for Queen Elizabeth’s secret service?
Christopher Marlowe: Might first made kings.
Q: Is that a yes?
CM: Matters of import, aimed at by many, but understood by none.
Q: Classified, OK, we’ll read between the lines . . . And you’ve written some agelessly beautiful, indelible lines—“Is this the face that launched a thousand ships? Infinite riches in a little room. Make me immortal with a kiss”— starting with your first play, Tamburlaine. Tamburlaine was a game-changer for the whole of London theatre, wasn’t it.
CM: From jigging veins of rhyming mother wits, and such conceits as clownage keeps in pay, we’ll lead you to the stately tent of war—[pause as pint arrives] And then applaud his fortune as you please.
Q: Hard to say which is more gorgeous and bloody, your blank verse or the action onstage! Tamburlaine is a hardass –
CM: The scourge of God and terror of the world –
Q: And you brought him to life. What was it like, to be just out of school, and score such a sudden, stunning success? Tamburlaine had an immediate sequel –
CM: The general welcomes Tamburlaine received hath made the poet pen his second part –
Q: – and your other plays have been just as commercially successful, even though your subject matter is extreme. In Doctor Faustus, a man sells his soul to the devil—though you’re not a religious person yourself, are you?
CM: Shall I make spirits fetch me what I please, resolve me of all ambiguities? . . . These vain trifles of men’s souls! I count religion but a childish toy, and hold there is no sin but ignorance. If I were to write a new religion—!
Q: Blasphemy’s kind of illegal here, isn’t it . . . You have a master’s degree from a very prestigious university. What’s your take on higher ed?
CM: To this day is every scholar poor –
Q: You were a scholarship student yourself.
CM: – gross gold from them runs headlong to the boor! I’ll have them fill the public schools with silk, wherewith the students shall be bravely clad. Fantastic liveries, a short Italian hooded cloak . . . Speak well of scholars.
Q: Let’s talk about your translations of Ovid and Lucan, both of them controversial poets like yourself. In fact, Ovid’s erotic verses were suppressed –
CM: I mean not to defend the ‘scapes of any –
Q: They were pretty hot –
CM: – or justify my vices, being many. [Laughs]
Q: And your own “Hero and Leander” was pretty hot, too! Two gorgeous young people, separated by a dangerous river, risking their virtue and their lives to be together –
CM: Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?
Q: All your plays’ central characters—Tamburlaine, Faustus, Barabas the Jew of Malta, King Edward—are men at odds with their societies. Would you say you had an outsider’s view of the world?
CM: That like I best that flies beyond my reach. And peril is the chiefest way to happiness . . . The hour ends the day, the author ends his work –
And just like that the glass is empty and our interview’s done, he’s off from the table, he’s leaving the pub—is he headed for his lodgings in grimy Shoreditch? Or his wealthy patron’s estate in Kent? Someone says something about a meeting in Deptford . . . We’ll hope to meet him again, if not in this pub then always in his words.
Christopher Marlowe, poet and playwright, brought blank verse to passionate heights, and blazed the trail that Shakespeare followed, with his enormously successful plays for the London stage: Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, Edward II, The Massacre at Paris. But his clandestine career as a spy put his life in peril; he was stabbed to death in what the government rushed to call a drunken argument in an eating-house in Deptford. He was 29.
Kathe Koja’s novel CHRISTOPHER WILD takes immortal badass Kit Marlowe from his past into our future. She is currently adapting Marlowe’s EDWARD II into an experiential performance event, GLITTER KING, set in a Detroit punk bar, for early 2018.