In keeping with my new journal header, and to prepare myself for the cultural delights of the summer ahead, I’ve been reading “The Conscience of the King” by Martin Stephen. It’s one of a series of thrillers about a Jacobean gentleman spy, Henry Gresham, and in this one he becomes embroiled in the controversy over whether Shakespeare really did write all the plays attributed to him.
The central conceit of a very convoluted plot is that Marlowe didn’t really die in 1593 but showed up 20 years later with incriminating MSS, bent on revenge. This leads to character comment about “Marlowe’s second incarnation”. But this is my favourite extract:
” ‘And after he appears like a Jack-in-the-Box, and the audience is gasping with wonder and amazement,’ said Gresham, ‘then he makes his second announcement. That while they, his loyal public thought he was dead, he was dead only in name. His writing continued, almost to the present day. Did they really think that such plays could be written by a poor country boy from Stratford with no education? No! He, Christopher Marlowe, in the long, long years of his exile, has used Shakespeare as other noble minds had used Terence thousands of years ago.’
Gresham had risen to his feet now. He stood in the centre of the room and flung his arms wide in the manner of the great Burbage in a tragic lead. ‘I AM MARLOWE AND I AM ALIVE! I AM SHAKESPEARE AND HAVE LIVED ALONGSIDE YOU IN THIS THEATRE AS HIM FOR TWENTY YEARS PAST! MY ENEMIES ARE DEAD! THE MASTER HAS RETURNED! ‘”
My mind is now filling with images of a glorious follow-up to TSC, starring John Simm, of course. We didn’t see nearly enough of him in Jacobi’s frilly shirt, did we? And thank you to
for the perfect audience reaction shot.
Seriously (and the reviews on the Amazon listing are worth a read), it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to find that Martin Stephen was raised on classic Who. I saw many parallels between his portrayal of his hero, Henry Gresham, and the Doctor – so many, in fact, that I think Tennant would do well in the part if they ever filmed it. We’re told, repeatedly, that the ruthlessly cunning Gresham’s only weakness is his love for his wife, Jane, who is of humble birth, but intelligent, compassionate, feisty and devoted to him, an invaluable asset in all his many adventures. Frequently, he’s conflicted that by loving her, he’s made himself vulnerable. He can relate to anybody, had a fabulously wealthy but emotionally cold boyhood, and has made up for it by inspiring great loyalty in his servants and companions, who would willingly die for him and occasionally do. His instinct for getting into trouble is equalled only by his uncanny ability to ferret out the most tortuous plots – and when he fails to make the all-important deductive leap, Jane invariably does it for him, because despite her lack of formal education she is perceptive and highly intelligent.
Gresham also has a way of inciting others around him to the acts of violence that ensure the success of his Machiavellian schemes and his own survival, but remaining morally untouchable. Admittedly, he’s more violent than the Doctor (Stephen loves his gore and isn’t limited by the demands of a family audience), but we rarely see Gresham actually kill anyone, though we’re told frequently that he’s done it in the past and is more than capable of doing so. About the only time he’s induced to violence is if his beloved Jane is threatened; then you’d better get out of his way. Finally, his character has been deeply formed by a passionate homoerotic attachment in his youth to the heroic Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh doesn’t appear in the novel, for the very good reason that he’s been locked up in the Tower of London for decades.
Or maybe there are no parallels at all, and I need to get out more. Or at least watch less Who. There are, after all, a fixed number of plots in the world, as Shakespeare must have known all too well.