Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh

Canongate, 2005, 158 p.

 Tamburlaine Must Die cover

This novella is certainly a departure from the genre and style of Welsh’s first book, her novel The Cutting Room, a contemporary (more or less) crime tale set in Glasgow. The time here is London in 1593 and we are reading Christopher Marlowe’s account of his past few days, written in case he does not survive the morrow. Drawn before the Privy Council to answer charges of blasphemy and atheism (someone has been disseminating leaflets of this nature as written by “Tamburlaine” and naturally this is assumed to be Marlowe himself after his success with his play Tamburlaine the Great,) he is set free in order to procure evidence against Sir Walter Raleigh. His efforts in this direction are taken over by his quest to discover the person who had betrayed him; a search in which we are led through the byways, hideaways, stews and fleshpots of Elizabethan London, the politics of power and the drawbacks of having an influential patron.

I must confess I have not read nor seen any of Marlowe’s works – so how well Welsh captures his voice I cannot say, but it was convincing enough. Of course true Elizabethan prose would have been fairly impenetrable to the modern reader in any case so some degree of accommodation is to be expected.

On a second thought this is not actually so much of a leap by Welsh. She is still dealing with intrigue and crime. She has done it well though and is now on my look for list.

Pedant’s corner:- I couldn’t find ambidextor anywhere, on line or off, but its context was as if of people who might play one side against the other; nor could I find cosiner (but it may be a variant of cozener as it was in a list of felons of various sorts.) Otherwise:- wainscoted (wainscotted,) Baynes’ (Baynes’s,) hung (hanged, or was hung Elizabethan usage?) from whence (whence means from where, so from whence can only mean from from where.)

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