Humans 2.0

Humans 2.0


a starling sitting on the edge of a bird feeder as another comes in to landWe live in an era that magnifies unhappiness. The 24-hour news cycle mines endless sources of misery and transmits them into our pockets. Social media algorithms heighten loneliness and addiction while rewarding and amplifying outrage and envy. The principle of idiocracy — that dimwits have no issue declaiming their every thought while the intelligent hesitate to contribute — brings pervasive despair as we perceive we are swimming in an ocean of stupidity. Micro-video formats, TikToks and reels, foreground the shallow and idiotic while splintering attention spans.

Don’t get me wrong. I feast on reels featuring clever dogs, mean cats, and snowboarding toddlers. But I do so chiefly as an antidote to the misery generated by the rest of modern life. And these reel fests spawn long-term unhappiness as you realise you have wasted yet another chunk of your precious existence on the consumption of fluff rather than the creation of substance.

Added to all this, the Information Age has become the Misinformation Age, where we find ourselves so awash with falsehoods (and with insufficient time to investigate their veracity) that we come to trust nothing and no one. I remember when I used to believe the Guardian and the BBC. But now, we live against a backdrop of bias, propaganda, and corruption. A culture where nuance is dead and investigative journalism on a gurney under shock paddles.

The human results of this magnified misery are all around us. Hurt people hurt people, and many of us are experiencing more than a small ladling of strangers shouting at us online or in the street. Even posting positive content can provoke fury from those whom social media is relentlessly goading (whether activists, conspiracy theorists, or those struggling with their mental health; not mutually exclusive groups).

What can a person do to make a positive contribution? In my lifetime, there has never been a more challenging time to stay emotionally afloat, yet we must make every effort to do that. I met an environmental activist the other day who is clearly a joyful being but terrified about how we might save the planet when we may only have ten or fifteen years before a catastrophic tipping point. From an existential point of view, it has never been more critical to get our shit together. Yet here we are, paralysed by anxiety and outrage, shouting at ‘the other side’ or soothing ourselves with puppy videos.

When I look at what society is going through, I see what I went through, alone, 23 years ago. A self-destructive despair and rage and nihilism. A sadness so extreme that it looks like madness. In short, a nervous breakdown.

There is a possibility of extinction at the end of it, as there was for me in 2000. But the human survival instinct is a powerful thing. And despite appearances, we are a brilliant, resourceful and inventive species, gifted like no other with the capacity to alter our destiny and change our environment for the better.

My first degree was in biology, and in my final year, one of my four specialities was Evolution Theory, studying under the genius Professor John Maynard-Smith. The fossil record shows evolution not as a steady curve but as long periods of stasis followed by rapid change in response to powerful environmental forces. Potentially catastrophic changes lead to heightened pressures where organisms must evolve or die.

This is ours. This time of chaos and ramped-up misery (which includes a significantly increased number of deaths) marks an evolutionary moment unknown to humankind since Homo Sapiens took over from the Neanderthal. The necessary shift for our species to survive is to become Human 2.0.

What does Human 2.0 look like? I remember predictions about physical appearance from my childhood: taller, long-limbed, huge-headed creatures. But what is needed in the 2020s isn’t a bodily evolution. The evolutionary pressures are (primarily) not physical but mental, emotional and social. The necessary evolution is an evolution of consciousness.

When we understand that we are all intimately and intricately connected, that we are essentially cells in the body of a single organism, we will have the means to stop the misery. The most fundamental tenets of every religion have recognised the Golden Rule: do as you would be done ny. The reason it sticks is because what we do to others, we are actually doing to ourselves. I sat on the tube a few months ago and tried this: I looked at every person in turn and saw them as my brother or sister. I looked into their blank, smiling, or suffering faces and sent love to them as if they were my closest family. There was no question that I was the chief beneficiary.

How do we fix the world? We start with ourselves. We start by curing our own unhappiness. We stop being part of humanity’s cancer and return ourselves to health by turning our attention away from the misery. The same way I recovered from my breakdown 23 years ago is how we as a society recover. Individually, instead of looking at what we lack, what makes us miserable or furious, we turn our attention to every tiny good thing we can find. Appreciate every small joy, beauty, and convenience our eyes or mind can light upon. This way, each of us becomes a little mill of happiness. By tending to ourselves, we tend to others, because the ripple effect works just as powerfully for good as for ill. Put your oxygen mask on first. And deeply, deeply, breathe.





Funeral poem


Funeral poem called Signal

A few years ago I wrote a funeral poem for general use. Grief and death are important topics for me, largely because of losing my brother many years ago. My brother was not religious. In fact my whole family were atheists. It was hard to find something suitable to read at his funeral. So many funeral poems are, I am sorry to say, just a bit clunky. The better ones are overused. I often had people asking me, as a poet, could I recommend a funeral poem. And I felt it was a surprisingly challenging task, given how much need there is for good (and not overused) funeral poems. Some funeral poems also only work in certain circumstances: they are only suitable for a spouse, but not a sister or brother. They are only suitable for an older person. What if you need a funeral poem for a child?

So I wrote this poem, deliberately, to be applicable to anyone at all. Anyone we have loved and lost, no matter what the connection. I wanted a poem that would help people to grieve, while still being a comfort in some way (at a time when there seems to be so little comfort). It incorporates my own beliefs and I hope it is a genuine help to those who have lost someone they love.

I offer it for anyone who would like to use it in their funeral service. There is no need to ask my permission. You can publish it in Orders of Service, no problem at all (it would be great if you can credit it to me but I won’t be policing anyone!).  There is a downloadable PDF here: 


A Word version here:




If we believe there is no afterlife

and love is shattered when the body fails,

we do ourselves a wrong: we strip our hearts

of love’s warm coat when death is blowing gales,


and wonder why we’re cold. If we believe

the soul we knew, and loved, and who loved us,

was never more than flesh and blood and bone,

their lively eye is lost, is ash and dust


and we’re alone. So ask yourself just this.

A broken radio gives out no sound,

but does the music it was tuned to, play?

And can you sense that broadcast even now?


Love is unbroken.  Mourn your loss today,

allow each moment that you need to grieve,

but listen for that signal in the air,

and know that we can choose what we believe.

Peter Farey ( 25.04.1938 – 02.02.2020)


My friend Peter Farey died early last year. This obituary was first published in the members’ newsletter of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust. I am reposting it here as an accessible tribute to a man whose loss I will always deeply feel.


Bearded man at laptopPeter Farey, the leading Marlovian researcher, has died aged 81. A cautious and diligent scholar, he was twice winner of the Annual Calvin & Rose G. Hoffman Prize for a distinguished article on Christopher Marlowe (2007, 2012).  He was founder member of the International Marlowe Shakespeare Society (IMSS).

Peter’s love of Shakespeare came directly from theatre. His stepfather was assistant director at the Old Vic, and as a boy, Peter saw (for sixpence a seat) many fine productions, including Richard Burton playing both Othello and Iago on alternate nights. Peter himself began acting as a scholarship boy at Dulwich College (founded in 1619 by Edward Alleyn) and after leaving was in the first ever production of what would become the National Youth Theatre, alongside then unknowns, Simon Ward and Derek Jacobi.

After seeing Tyrone Guthrie’s Tamburlaine the Great, with Donald Wolfit as Tamburlaine, and learning that the first actor to play the part was the founder of his school, he also became “hooked” on Marlowe. As it happened, on joining the school he had been allocated to “Marlowe” house, and “whilst I acted in Shakespeare, I played rugger and cricket for Marlowe, ran for Marlowe, boxed for Marlowe, sang for Marlowe, and even acted for him, in the House Drama Competition.”

After school, Peter did National Service in the Royal Fusiliers, the Intelligence Corps, and Brixmis (officially based behind the Iron Curtain). After demob he joined BOAC, later to become British Airways, and stayed with them until taking early retirement in 1989. While at BA he specialised in management training and development, which taught him the techniques of clear thinking, problem solving and decision making that subsequently served him well as a researcher. He also gained an MA.

Peter Farey’s work first reached a wide audience in Shakespeare: New Evidence (1997) by A.D. Wraight. Knowing he had been in military intelligence, Wraight asked Peter to decode some encrypted letters she had found in Lambeth Palace archives. Peter’s son Rob was actually the one to crack the code, but subsequently Peter made a number of fascinating discoveries in the archives related to a man named Le Doux, then believed to be a possible posthumous identity for Marlowe. Shakespeare: New Evidence originally began as joint project, in which the first and third parts were written by Wraight and the second part (based on his archival research) by Peter. However, Wraight was unhappy with Peter’s criticisms about her suggested re-ordering of the Sonnets on which her argument in Part 1 depended, and he stepped away from the project. When the book was published in 1997, Peter did not receive a co-author credit. His work, though barely a word had been changed, was presented as Wraight’s.

Peter Farey’s importance to Marlovian studies is impossible to overstate, yet he published no book on the subject. As a diligent researcher who was always keen to refine his arguments, and correct them if they turned out to be mistaken, Peter preferred to present his research in online articles, both on his website and on Carlo Dinota’s blog, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, where they can still be found. As his health began to fail, he compiled all the articles he considered still relevant into the manuscript for a book, updating them where appropriate. There are plans for this book to be published posthumously. Though he became less active as his health deteriorated, he remained a supportive correspondent to other Marlovian researchers. His final work, completed in summer 2019, was an entry for the Hoffman Prize.

Peter’s curiosity – a questioning rather than a dogmatic or didactic outlook – was the cornerstone of his scholarship. His approach, which involved remaining flexible enough to change one’s mind in the face of contradictory evidence, influenced many Marlovians. Peter positively sought to test his ideas with those who opposed them. He never allowed emotion to cloud reason when engaging in debate, and as a result, won friends and admirers on all sides of the authorship question. In the early days of online debate, he was an active member of humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare, where many Stratfordian/anti-Stratfordian exchanges took place. In later years, he participated in similar (always considerate) arguments on the Oxfraudian Facebook group. He became friendly with Tom Reedy, with whom he was often in polite conflict in the Talk section of the Wikipedia page for the Shakespeare Authorship Question, and when Reedy visited the UK, they arranged a joint research trip to Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

So well-respected was he with the Stratfordian campaigners of the Oxfraud group that, on hearing of his death, they published their own tribute to him. As a testament to Peter’s brilliance in crossing divides and maintaining friendly discourse at all times – something to which we might all aspire – it seems fitting to give his opponents the last word:

“Peter Robert Farey was the leading proponent of the Marlovian authorship theory. His passing on Feb 2, 2020, at the age of 81, stilled one of the most interesting voices of Shakespeare authorship doubters. We of the Oxfraud group are saddened by his loss. Peter stood out from other advocates of alternative authorship candidates. He wrote numerous essays about Marlowe and the early modern era, many of which are on his website ( He was awarded the Hoffman Prize in 2007 and 2012, for “distinguished publication on Christopher Marlowe.” He was a member of the Oxfraud facebook group, and frequently discussed his theories with us. In comparison with other anti-Stratfordians, Peter was careful about evidence and arguments based on it. He was able to maintain a respectful discussion, and though he did not change any minds, he earned the respect and friendship of many who disagreed with him. The intellectual power of the anti-Strats is greatly diminished by his loss. He will be missed.”

A Curiosity in the Bodleian First Folio Shakespeare

A Curiosity in the Bodleian First Folio Shakespeare


One of the finest results of the 400th anniversary of the death of a certain man from Stratford has been the increased availability of digitised original texts connected to Shakespeare.  The Folger’s Shakespeare Documented project is a treasure trove, though in many cases one should take the write-ups with a pinch of salt.  It is quite a stretch, for example, to claim that a report from 1633-43 that the name “Shakespear” was carved into the panels of tavern alongside those of other famous people of the day is ‘a unique record of Shakespeare, at the peak of his career, gathering with friends and colleagues at the Tabard inn in Southwark’. Unless someone can furnish us with evidence the people in question did their own carving, it sounds more like the landlord paying homage to some local celebrities and trying to increase the cachet of his hostelry by association. But I digress.

As a scholar whose specialist subject is the authorship question, my eye tends to fall on those offerings that orthodox scholars miss: items that so strongly resist fitting in with the traditional story that they will be passed by as nonsensical or unimportant. This week, a fresh oddity was brought to my attention, and if you’re at all interested in the idea that Christopher Marlowe might have authored the Shakespeare canon (the premise of my first novel), I think you’ll like it too.(1)  You will find it opposite the title page of the newly digitised Bodleian First Folio.  Follow that link, flip forward two pages, and see it for yourself.

A new First Folio find

The usual page containing Ben Jonson’s 10-line poem facing the Droeshout engraving, and telling the reader seeking the author to ‘looke/Not on his Picture, but his Booke’, has been removed. On the blank page that remains, someone has written a replacement 10-line poem that reads as follows.

An Active Swain to make a Leap was seen
which sham’d his Fellow Shepherds on the Green,
And growing Vain, he would Essay once more,
But left the Fame, which he had gained before;
Oft did he try, at length was forc’d to yeild
He st[r]ove in Vain, – he had himself Excell’d:
So Nature once in her Essays of Wit,
In Shakespear took the Shepherd’s Lucky Leap
But over-straining in the great Effort,
in Dryden, and the rest, has since fell Short.

[I have tried to reproduce it as the author intended, including those words and phrases in italics; I have left the spelling of ‘yeild’ alone, though it is wrong to modern eyes. I think it fair to assume from the context that ‘strove’ rather than ‘stove’ was intended.]

I imagine the title of this poem might have been instructive, but it has been removed. Presumably it was offensive to someone; perhaps the same person who wrote ‘Honest [Will? Shake]peare’under the portrait, or the person who copied back in, by hand, the poem that should have been on this facing page. We are fortunate the poem itself survived.

The Dryden reference helps date the poem: John Dryden was made Poet Laureate in 1668. The Bodleian First Folio is a rarity for not having been re-bound since it was first donated to the library in 1623.  The library ‘appears to have sold it at some point in the late 1660s, perhaps having replaced it with the new, improved, edition, the Third Folio, with its additional plays, which was published in 1663/4.’  So it seems likely that ‘An Active Swain’ was written into the Bodleian First Folio not long after this: during Dryden’s dominance: 1668-1700. The anonymous author need only be one or two generations removed from Shakespeare’s generation: in a position to have had information directly from their father or grandfather.

Like many of the anomalous writings connected to the Shakespeare canon, this poem is written in such a way that its meaning is deliberately veiled. To someone convinced of the traditional narrative, it will look like nonsense (essential for preservation: not worth destroying, though the title clearly was). But if you look at the words through a particular lens, you may get a little more clarity. I am choosing to look at it through a Marlowe-shaped lens because there seem to be some strong points of connection with that theory.

Shakespeare and another poet

This is a poem about the author known as Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s name is mentioned in the 8th line, and the poem has been deliberately placed opposite the Droeshout engraving, replacing Ben Jonson’s instructions about how to approach the First Folio. It speaks of a separate poet, an ‘active swain’, later referred to as a shepherd. Swain or shepherd was a common pastoral term for poet. Christopher Marlowe was referred to as a shepherd in As You Like It when Rosalind quoted a line from Marlowe’s Hero and Leander:

Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:
Whoever loved, who loved not at first sight?

But the term does not identify an individual. So the poem begins by saying there was ‘an active poet’. The poet cannot be equated with Shakespeare because line 8 makes it clear they are separate: that Nature, ‘in Shakespear took the Shepherd’s Lucky Leap.’  What is this ‘leap’? We’ll come back to that, through a Marlowe-shaped lens.

This poet made a ‘leap’.

Lines 1 and 2 tell us:

An Active Swain to make a Leap was seen
which sham’d his Fellow Shepherds on the Green

The poet made a leap which shamed his fellow poets (who are on ‘the green’ because this is what pastoral poets do, of course, sit about on the grass). What kind of leap could that be? With Marlowe, take your pick.

  • An artistic leap. Only in his twenties, he took blank verse drama to a level it had never been before.  The two-part Tamburlaine was a huge hit, as was Doctor Faustus. Jonson refers to ‘Marlowe’s mighty line’ in the preface of the First Folio. Most orthodox scholars accept that Marlowe was a genius who paved the way for Shakespeare. Swinburne said

    ‘He first, and he alone, guided Shakespeare into the right way of work… Before him there was neither genuine blank verse, nor genuine tragedy in our language. After his arrival, the way was prepared; the paths were made straight, for Shakespeare.’

  • A social leap. A cobbler’s son, he won scholarships to grammar school and university, gaining an MA (then the highest qualification) and by so doing, officially gaining the social status of Gentleman. The most powerful men in the land (the Privy Council) wrote to Cambridge University in his support, saying he had ‘done her Majesty good service … in matters touching the benefit of his country’. He became ‘very well known’ to high ranking noblemen Lord Strange (5th Earl of Derby) and Henry Percy, the 9th Earl of Northumberland. He dedicated a work to Mary Sidney, the Countess of Pembroke; new research (in press) consolidates his connection to her social circle. He was also part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s circle of free-thinkers and Raleigh wrote a response to Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to his Love. (And there’s that Marlowe/shepherd connection again).

Both artistically and socially, Marlowe outstripped his peers, putting them to ‘shame’ as the poem describes. According to the poem, this ‘leap’ led to the poet ‘growing Vain’. Gabriel Harvey’s ‘Gorgon’ poem, written in 1593 and mentioning ‘thy Tamburlaine’, contains a contemporary accusation of Marlowe’s vanity:

He that nor feared God, nor dreaded Div’ll,
Nor ought admired, but his wondrous selfe:
Like Junos gawdy Bird*, that prowdly stares
On glittring fan of his triumphant taile

* peacock

This poet ‘left the fame’.

Lines 3 and 4 tell us:

And growing Vain, he would Essay once more,
But left the Fame, which he had gained before;

These are very interesting lines, don’t you think?  Can you tell me of a famous poet (for the poem is explicit: he had ‘Fame’) – who ‘left the Fame, which he had gained before?’  Generally when poets become famous, they stay famous during their lifetimes. These lines are a fine fit for the Marlowe theory, which includes the reluctant abandonment of fame. The theory goes that he was forced to fake his death (which occurred while he was effectively ‘on bail’, having been arrested ten days earlier) to escape being executed for atheism, then considered treason.  A faked death of this kind would not be technically difficult, given Marlowe’s high-placed connections and his work for the Elizabethan secret service. Roy Kendall, biography of Marlowe’s nemesis, Richard Baines, has noted ‘deaths in the murky world of espionage can often be “blinds” for disapearances, and vice versa’. But a faked death would be emotionally very difficult indeed for a successful and vain young man, who ‘would Essay once more’ (‘would’ = ‘would like to’; best fit for the verb form of ‘Essay’ from the OED: try/accomplish).(2)

There was a struggle and the poet lost.

Lines 5 and 6 tell us:

Oft did he try, at length was forc’d to yeild
He st[r]ove in Vain, – he had himself Excell’d:

The poem doesn’t tell us what he tried ‘oft’.  One wonders if there is a link here with the previous verb, ‘essay’, which means both try and accomplish, and is linked (through its noun form) to writing. All we know is that no matter how much he tried, he tried in vain, and was ‘forced to yield’.  To whom or what?  And what does this have to do with Shakespeare’s First Folio, in which the poem is so deliberately written? If we read the reference as Marlowe’s struggle to be ‘resurrected’ or at least have his works attributed to his own name, the words directly opposite the poem: ‘Mr William SHAKESPEARES Comedies Histories & Tragedies‘ are the record of his defeat.  And why?  Because ‘he had himself Excell’d‘.

The poet excelled himself.

The first argument against Marlowe authoring the Shakespeare canon is “wasn’t he dead?”; the second is “Marlowe’s works aren’t as good as Shakespeare’s”.  But this is to compare the works of a (brilliant but inexperienced) twenty-something (everything in the Marlowe canon was written by the time he was 29) with a writer allowed to reach his prime. Doctor Faustus and Edward II are accomplished plays but Lear, Othello, and Hamlet came twenty years later; twenty years extra reading, life experience, writing practice, and ‘striving’.  If you look at the combined Marlowe-Shakespeare canon in the order in which it was written, the transition is actually pretty smooth.  The early Shakespeare plays (e.g. the Henry VI trilogy, The Taming of the Shrew) were often attributed all or in part to Marlowe until the 1920s; Titus Andronicus (c.1594) is incredibly Marlovian. Late Marlowe and early Shakespeare segue one into the other without a hiccup.

‘He had himself Excell’d’ is clearly important: it is the only phrase in the poem that the author has emphasised by writing it in italics. The solitary dash clearly indicates that ‘excelling himself’ is the cause of the poet’s failure (to achieve what he was trying to achieve). Under what circumstances could a poet’s excellence lead to their failure? If Marlowe was the central author of the Shakespeare canon this line makes perfect sense. Having excelled himself, Marlowe could not be attributed with the surpassing genius of the Shakespeare canon.

The poet’s ‘lucky leap’ is ‘in Shakespear’.

Lines 7 and 8 tell us:

So Nature once in her Essays of Wit,
In Shakespear took the Shepherd’s Lucky Leap

We start with ‘So’: this is a solution to the problem that the poet couldn’t succeed at his striving (to be credited with his own works?) because ‘he had himself excell’d‘. The noun form of ‘essays’ in the 17th century most commonly meant ‘trials’ – so a modern translation of the phrase in line 7 could be ‘trials of wit’.(3) But since the modern meaning of the noun ‘essay’ was in use at this time, there may  also be an intended hint of ‘witty writing’.  It is the poet who has been trying, striving, and essaying, and perhaps here it is the poet’s ‘Nature’ that is implicated. ‘Nature‘ is being credited for something whose mechanism we do not understand.  You might think of it as something like the poetic muse, that mysterious creative force. But how to explain the next line?

‘Shakespear’ contains the poet’s ‘lucky leap’ – that leap, we remember, that set him apart from his ‘fellow [poets]’, put them to shame, and made him vain. But how might we account for that interesting adjective ‘lucky’?  So many other two-syllable adjectives might have been chosen to make the metre, and one might fairly ask how the poet’s ‘leap’ – the excellence that apparently led to failure, despite all his striving – could be described as ‘lucky’.  Again, Marlowe theory to the rescue. It would be fair to say that someone slated for a grisly execution (hanging, drawing and quartering being standard for treason) and whose secret service colleagues helped them escape into exile might said to be ‘lucky’ to be alive, even though they had lost control of their writings.  Under the Marlowe theory, Marlowe’s ‘lucky leap’ – the blessed escape which allowed him to continue writing and developing as a writer, and all the wisdom that such an experience would bring  – ends up ‘in Shakespear’ – in this book of plays that appear under the Shakespeare name.

The poem explains why ‘Shakespeare’ is unsurpassed.

Lines 9 and 10 tell us:

But over-straining in the great Effort,
in Dryden, and the rest, has since fell Short.

It is Nature, we remember, who has over-strained in this effort: the effort presumably being the same one referred to with the words ‘try’ and ‘st[r]ove’.  And the final lines explain that no writer since has come close to the brilliance we find in the canon called Shakespeare. The poet’s striving to overcome his circumstances (the circumstances that involved leaving his fame behind) led to him excelling himself with a genius (contained ‘In [the works of] Shakespear[e]’) that has never been surpassed or even equalled. Not at the time this poem was written, and not since.

‘Nature’ is shorthand. The excellence of Shakespeare, through the Marlowe-shaped lens, is due to the shaping force of an extraordinary experience on an already extraordinary creative mind. The genius found ‘In Shakespear’ is not equalled because the author’s experience of suffering has not been equalled.  It was suffering that brought wisdom, as suffering often does, giving this singular author a broad perspective, and profound human understanding.

Points to ponder

Consider Shakespeare’s obsession with name, with exile, with mistaken identity, with resurrection.

Consider some of the otherwise inexplicable lines of the Sonnets: ‘as victors of my silence cannot boast‘ (Shakespeare’s silence?) or ‘my name be buried where my body is‘ (though the name ‘Shakespeare’ was plastered across the top of every other page in the 1609 sonnets and on numerous title pages too).

Consider what Stephen Greenblatt perceived through his wide and deep reading of the Shakespeare canon:

‘Again and again in his plays, an unforeseen catastrophe … suddenly turns what had seemed like happy progress,  prosperity, smooth sailing into disaster, terror, and loss.   The loss is obviously and immediately material, but it is also, and more crushingly, a loss of identity. To wind up on an unknown shore, without one’s friends, habitual  associates, familiar network — this catastrophe is often epitomized by the deliberate alteration or disappearance of the name and, with it, the alteration or disappearance  of social status.’  (4)                   

Consider this quote from our former Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes:

‘The way to really develop as a writer is to make yourself a political outcast, so that you have to live in secret. This is how Marlowe developed into Shakespeare.’ (5)

Consider Hamlet’s dying words to his only friend:

‘O good Horatio, what a wounded name
(Things standing thus unknown) shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.’

Consider the torn out corner where the title of this poem would have been.

The rest is silence.


An Active Swain in situ Bodleian First Folio

(1) Many thanks to Gary Allen for bringing it to my attention.

(2) The poem uses ‘essay’ twice: once as verb and once as a noun. There is no verb form of ‘essay’ connected to writing. If we assume the poem was written in the mid 17th century, the OED offers 4a: To attempt; to try to do, effect, accomplish, or make (anything difficult) and a variation of 1a: Also to practice (an art etc.) by way of trial but this form would usually be transitive i.e. have an object – you would essay something. The verb in the poem has no object, but poets will often bend grammar to their own devices, so the practicing of an art may also be implied, perhaps as a secondary layer of meaning.

(3) Though ‘essay’ as a written composition had come into use by 1597 (Francis Bacon, following Montaigne’s 1580 Essais), the noun form of essay in this poem seems likely to accord with OED Essay (n) 1a: a trial or test, although it could be 5a: attempt.  However, if it was ‘attempt’, one would need to change ‘of’ to ‘at’ to make grammatical sense (attempts at wit). Therefore ‘trials of wit’ is the best fit.

(4) Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World (2004), p.85.

(5) Ted Hughes, Letters of Ted Hughes (2007), ed. Christopher Reid, p.120.

“You” = “One” = “Me”

“You” = “One” = “Me”


One morning you wake up and you think,

Okay, enough is enough. I am going to do the thing that scares me. I am going to ask for help.

You hate asking for anything. But especially help. You have spent years being strong and capable. The times you asked for help and were refused (way back in the last millenium, when you were struggling to cope, alone with three small boys) hurt so deeply that you swore never to ask anyone for help again. You are a very strong and capable woman. You tile bathrooms. You build websites. You construct furniture.  You help other people for a living. You don’t ask other people to help you.

But ten weeks ago you made a commitment to stop hiding the fullness of who you are.  To have the courage to tell the truth: not The Truth, because you know there are many truths, but your truth, even though you know that will make you vulnerable. You have read Brene Brown. You recognise that vulnerability is a form of strength. So today, you will overcome your fears and ask for help.

If that isn’t scary enough, the kind of help you must ask for is money.

Money: society’s greatest measure of success. You know that if you tell the world that you are struggling financially, despite all the things you have achieved, and won, and been awarded, some people will conclude you are a failure. But that is the form of help that is required; the thing that will genuinely take the pressure off you, so that you can focus on what you’re good at: writing. Maybe there are some people out there who can see the value of your writing, and who like it enough that they could spare a dollar a month (84p inc VAT) to help you focus upon it. So you set up a Patreon account. You discover that Amanda Palmer has enough Patreon supporters to provide her with $36,000 a month (strictly speaking, per ‘thing’ at about one ‘thing’ a month). You are nowhere near as popular or successful or well-known as Amanda Palmer, but nor was Amanda Palmer before she started asking for help.  You don’t need anywhere near as much financial support as Amanda Palmer gets. It is worth a try.

You eat the frog. You e-mail your friends and family, to let them know about the Patreon account. Five of them become patrons, which is lovely, and you thank them. Another one turns up the next day (when you are at work in London) with bread and cheese and teabags. Your husband calls to ask you why your friends are turning up on the doorstep with food parcels. It is sweet, but also embarrassing, because you are not on the breadline. You are not a charity case, any more than Amanda Palmer is a charity case. More embarrassing than the food parcel, the wealthiest person in your family (an actual millionaire) writes you a lengthy text to explain why he cannot spare 84p a month.  It makes you squirm inside, and wonder how much he spends on coffee, which is none of your business. It reminds you how much you hate asking for help. You would have vastly preferred silence.

You think maybe people don’t understand why you are asking.  So the next day, you write a post on your blog explaining why you have been reduced (and that is the way you think about it) to asking for patronage.  You explain that even writers who have had considerable success (as you have) make far less from their books than is commonly assumed. You share the link on social media, and get on with your day.

Then something extraordinary happens. People love the article. They appreciate the honesty about author earnings. The link is widely shared. 5000 people read the article on the first day, and by the end of the week, 10,000 people have come to your website to view it.  That’s as many people as would normally come to your website in a whole year. Three become patrons, and you are deeply grateful to all three of them. (But let’s face it, it’s not looking good for the Patreon idea. Three patrons out of ten thousand readers is a conversion rate of 0.0003%.)

People comment on your article. Like the friend who brought the food parcel, some of them offer something you didn’t ask for. They offer advice. If money is what you want, they say, you should self-publish.  Self-publishing is the answer to low author incomes. You answer their comments, explaining why you don’t think self-publishing is a solution to your problems, especially as a novelist who writes literary fiction. But the same advice keeps coming. So you decide your next blog post will be about that: why self-publishing isn’t the answer for you.

Then something brilliant happens. On Tuesday the books editor of The Guardian gets in touch. The Guardian!  Your favourite newspaper!  (Even though the Guardian review of your first novel was the only bad one it got. At least the Guardian review of your second novel made up for it). The editor says they enjoyed your piece about author earnings, and would you like to do a follow-up piece in the Guardian books blog? Maybe about why you won’t self-publish your literary fiction, because you made some interesting points about that in the comments? They will even pay you. (Not much, but something! You asked for money. Here comes some money.)  You say yes, of course, brilliant, you were going to write about that next anyway.  When do you want it?  Not soon, you hope, because you’re going away for the weekend for your husband’s birthday weekend in a couple of days and you have a pile of student marking to do. They say by Monday please. (Which means by Thursday, because you’re going away for your husband’s birthday weekend). You say you’ll do everything you can to squeeze it in. (The Guardian!)

This is a great opportunity. Here comes the next fear. What if I fuck up?

Okay, you think, you can do this. They like what you wrote before, so you just have to write like that again. You have to tell your own truth just the way you would on your blog, forgetting this is for The Guardian, because that will only make you nervous, and if you are nervous you will fuck up.  So to keep yourself relaxed, you write it as an unpublished post on your own blog. It still feels a bit scary when you are writing it, but only a little bit.  Some people might not agree with what you write, but it is just your opinion, based on your experiences. You are not laying down the law, just saying how you see things.  You try to keep it sharp and funny. Because of the student marking, you don’t finish it before you have to run off to meet your husband and daughter at the Eurostar terminal with your £29 winter sale bargain tickets tucked in your computer bag. You try to write it on the train but you get motion sick. You finally finish it on Saturday morning, at the kitchen table, using headphones to block out other people, which is to say your beloved husband, who wants to go out and enjoy a city he hasn’t visited in ten years, and especially your daughter, who keeps asking “when will you be finished?” Suddenly worried it might be a damp squib after the last one, that it might be so bad they won’t even publish it, you press Send. Writing never seems to get any easier; any more certain. You try not to worry about whether it is okay for the next forty-eight hours.

On your husband’s birthday it goes live.  It has been edited. Some of your words have changed. The heading and subheading are not yours at all, and not quite the way you would have put them: you wouldn’t say ‘poverty’, for example. You are not in ‘poverty’, very clearly, because you are in a beautiful apartment in beautiful Paris.  Yes, you are here thanks to credit cards, and Christmas optimism, and your father-in-law’s generosity… but ‘poverty’ sleeps in shop doorways.  You guess ‘massive debt’ doesn’t have such a poetic ring. Never mind. Money always comes unexpectedly when you most need it. And look what is happening. The Guardian! Life is wonderful. Everything is heading in the right direction. You go out for the day with your family, take your daughter to the top of the Eiffel tower for the first time, and for a boat trip along the Seine at dusk.

When you return to the apartment’s WiFi, there are a lot of complimentary tweets and messages. People mention that the comments section is getting lively and you know what that means. You avoid ‘below the line’ discussions as a matter of course. There’s no way you’re going to read the comments on your own article. You’re not some kind of lunatic.

Though part of you feels ridiculous because the article’s headline claims you are in poverty, and you are actually, right this minute, opening a bottle of champagne. You didn’t buy the champagne. The owner of the AirBNB apartment you are renting, Marie, another writer and the classiest woman you know, bought the champagne for both of you as a gift, because she knew it was your husband’s birthday. This is the universe’s way of letting you know that you are loved and blessed beyond measure. You take a picture of the birthday spread. (You are eating in, to save money. Your husband’s birthday meal is a ridiculous combination: reheated ravioli, and champagne.) You cannot share the picture on social media, because you’re in Paris drinking champagne when you’re supposed to be poor. People would be angry about that.

But people are angry anyway. You expressed an opinion some of them didn’t like. Your biggest mistake, it turns out, was using ‘you’ as the indefinite pronoun. The article was about you, your experiences and opinions, but because you didn’t want it to be full of the word ‘I’, and ‘one’ seems too awkwardly posh and ‘a person’ is ridiculously formal, you used ‘you’ in your subheadings. People tell you that your use of ‘you’ was provocative. Because you used ‘you’, some people think you mean them. In fact, they are sure you mean them. You’re a writer, they say, you know how to use language and you knew full well what you were doing. It reminds you of when you were 21 and temping at the Alliance and Leicester Mortgage Advance department, and one of your duties was answering phones to people who shouted into your ear “You told me it would take two weeks EIGHT WEEKS AGO!” and even though you weren’t even working there eight weeks ago and hadn’t told them anything, you experienced their frustration as a personal attack and would go home every night and cry.

Writers are sensitive creatures. Self-publishing, as it turns out, is a sensitive topic. Some ‘Indie authors’ believe you have attacked the practice of self-publishing as a whole, rather than expressing your personal reasons for not self-publishing literary fiction. (You are not against self-publishing. You self-publish two non-fiction books). Because you have said self-publishing can make you act like a fool (you give the example of endless self-promotion on Twitter), some people think you have called all self publishers fools. They miss the nuance of ‘can’. Your husband tells you (fondly) that you are an idiot, because that was obviously going to happen if you put ‘self-publishing’ and ‘fool’ in the same sentence. The word you had originally used was ‘twat’. You can’t decide if ‘twat’ was better or worse than ‘fool’. You consider it jocular, but other people might find it more offensive. Twat or fool, you regret not having more time to sit on the article before sending it; more time to realise for yourself how some people would read that sentence.

Not reading below the line doesn’t save you. After winding each other up into a frenzy of rage about this perceived attack on themselves and their choices in the comments section of the article, the angry people seek you out. On your website, on Facebook, but mostly on Twitter, because that’s where you hang out for fun.

You are accused of ‘eviscerating’ self-publish[ing/ers], by people who attempt to eviscerate you for “your rude, belittling music metaphor.”  You’ve never been attacked for a metaphor before. They mean that part where you compared literary fiction to opera. You were trying to say it’s unpopular; it has limited appeal, a small market. Jesus, you don’t even like opera. You like Taylor Swift. You remember reaching for that metaphor under pressure on Saturday morning, and thinking literary fiction is like… what… bluegrass? jazz? what?  and then remembering Will Self had compared it to opera and thinking that would have to do, because you really needed to give your attention to your husband and daughter; it being the weekend, and your husband’s birthday weekend, and them seeing little enough of you as it is.

Probably because of the opera metaphor, you are called an elitist and snob. You, a person who feels inadequate for being schooled at an Essex Comprehensive, who makes basic errors of grammar, and who has to Google which/that every time you use them. You are called an attention grabber, an egotist, and a failure. You are told that your ‘facts’ are woefully out of date, even though you didn’t really use any facts (because it was an opinion piece, not a factual piece), except for the 90:10 marketing to writing ratio supplied to you by two self-publishers on your original blog piece.  You trusted that they knew what they were talking about. The funniest tweet that comes out of your being outdated (unquestionably true; your offspring would concur) is “The 90s called and asked for your background research. ;)”  You gave that one a ‘Like’.

For the first time in your life, you are called a cunt. The impact is slightly softened by the fact that the person who calls you a cunt goes by the Twitter handle ‘Angel Medium’.

Three days on, you are back home, and it is still happening. A few people are coming to your defence, which is heartening. Actually it is people coming to your defence that brings tears to your eyes, so you shut Twitter down for the day.

You walk the dog. It is one of those mornings where, even though you are deep in thought, strangers come up to you, engage you in conversation about the dogs, laugh with you. It’s like the universe is putting its arms around you and hugging you.  Letting you know: no matter what is happening on social media, you are loved. And that people on the whole are good, and kind.

After staying calm and polite through the barrage of people’s fury and misunderstanding, it is people’s kindness that makes you cry.

You decide to write this, and post this, even though the angry people will come here too.

Authors and the Truth About Money

Authors and the Truth About Money


The Rich Writer Myth

One of the biggest myths about becoming a successful novelist is that it means you must be rolling in it. ‘Six-figure-advance’ trips off the tongue very easily, as if it were normal. ‘Royalties’ sounds juicy. Money: still something that people who want to write a novel want to write a novel for. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I got a very handsome £75,000 advance for my first novel, The Marlowe Papers. But that was £75,000 for four years’ work, and paid over another two years, so in essence £12,500 a year (before agent’s commission and tax). Add to that the fact that I had, like many startup businesses, launched my career through getting into debt to an amount almost equalling the advance, and you’ll realise it wasn’t actually a life-changing amount of money.

I also hadn’t realised that unless your debut novel becomes a best-seller, you’ll not get that kind of money for the second book. My advance for Devotion (2015) was £5,000. That’s £5,000 for two years’ work.  This is not because it was 1/15th as good as The Marlowe Papers.  Some people are liking it very much indeed.  But that low advance (which is actually a pretty average advance) is causing me headaches. Thanks to the critical success of The Marlowe Papers, and nearly 20 years of teaching experience, I now have half a job (2.5 days a week) as a creative writing lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London.  But that’s half a salary, which means that every month I have to find ingenious ways to drum up the other half to meet my living costs. Those ingenious ways are time-consuming, not always money-generating.  In short, what they do is get in the way of writing any more books.

Writer Royalties

What about royalties? Surely if you’ve written books that win prizes and get reviewed in the mainstream press, you must be getting regular royalty cheques? Only if you’ve earned out your advance, because an advance is an advance on royalties. And the way things have gone in the publishing makes it increasingly hard for an author to earn out their advance.

Yesterday, as I was finally bracing myself to put out the begging bowl, I pulled out my publishing contracts and put my royalty figures into a spreadsheet. I found out that in order to earn back that £5,000 advance on Devotion I would have to sell 12,500 copies of the paperback through Amazon, or 7,500 copies through independent bookshops. (That’s because Amazon and other large retailers press publishers for large discounts, and the publisher passes on the effect of those discounts to the author.)  If you know anything about publishing, you’ll understand that literary fiction doesn’t sell in those quantities unless the book makes a major prize list. So there’ll be no royalties on either of my novels in the foreseeable future.

Supporting Authors

The best way to support an author is to buy their book, read it, and, if you like it, tell other people about it or even buy it for them.  But as far as supporting an author financially, buying their book doesn’t help them out as much as you might think. Here’s what I get if you buy a paperback of either The Marlowe Papers or Devotion (RRP £8.99).  (I say, ‘what I get’, but in truth, this is the amount that will get offset against my advance, reducing the debt I owe to my publisher).

  • Buy directly from the author at full price: author gets £4.50* (minus any postage)
  • Buy from an independent bookshop/Hive: author gets 67p
  • Buy from large-chain bookshop: author gets somewhere between 40-67p
  • Buy from Amazon: author gets 40p
  • But second-hand from Amazon marketplace: author gets nothing.
  • Buy from second-hand bookshop or charity shop: author gets nothing.
  • Borrow from library: author gets 7.67p. (And I actually receive this money. It comes through the PLR system and not via my publisher. For 2014-15 I got £69.41).

[* authors can buy their own books from their publisher at 50% discount. But some contracts will stipulate these books are ‘not for resale’ or will attempt to limit how many copies an author can sell direct to readers.]

I noted that my US sales (the US paperback is released in April) will net me even less, because they are based on “price received” rather than the recommended retail price. The US paperback retails at $15.99, but the publisher will receive something on a sliding scale between 70% ($11.19) and 30% ($4.80) of this amount from the retailer, and my paperback royalty rate of 7.5% is calculated on that figure   So in the US:

  • Buy from an independent bookshop at non-discounted price: author gets 84 cents (59p)
  • Buy from (at maximum discount): author gets 36 cents (25p)

The audio book of Devotion has just been released (hurrah) but my royalty on this is also on price received, and frankly I can’t even tell what that will be, because though it retails for £16.62, I can’t imagine anyone will pay that when the most prominent price is £0.00 next to a notice that potential listeners can get it free with a trial of Audible (£0 for 30 days, then £7.99 a month). What the author will get from that is anyone’s guess.

I should add, these are not abnormal contracts. They are vetted both by my agent and by The Society of Authors. It is just where publishing is going, and is the reason why average author income continues to shrink year on year (see ‘Author’s Incomes Collapse to “Abject” Levels’).

Modern Patronage

It is clear that authors, like other creative people looking to make a living doing what they love and are good at (bringing joy to many people in the process), are going to have to look to new ways of supporting themselves. In the olden days, writers, composers and artists needed wealthy patrons.  Then for a while, there was Net Book Agreement and substantial funding for the Arts, and we could mostly survive directly from the fruits of our labours. Then came funding cuts, and the internet: for love it though I do, it has ushered in Amazon and their erosion of author royalties, the free and 99p Kindle, e-book piracy, and a ‘free content’ mindset. Authors need patrons again – and hey, where are the wealthy people?  Not sponsoring writers, as far as I know (though I’m prepared to be proved wrong!). The modern model of patronage, Patreon, is based on crowdfunding.  You can become a patron of the arts for as little as $1 /84p a month.  That’s $1/84p you probably won’t notice, but if enough people do the same, your chosen artist/author really will.  Check it out. The continued survival of literature written by anyone other than the wealthy and privileged could depend upon it.

If you like anything I’ve written; if you’d like me to write more; if you’d happily buy me a cup of tea if you met me, then maybe you’ll consider becoming my patron.  You can do this for only $1 (84p including VAT) per month. Patrons will get regular ‘insider’ updates and at certain levels get other rewards too (first edition signed and specially inscribed copy, name in acknowledgements etc). Find out more by clicking here.

Further Developments with The Marlowe Papers


filming trailer for The Marlowe Papers stage versionThis week, I had the huge privilege to be present at the filming of a trailer for our stage adaptation of The Marlowe Papers. A high quality affair thanks to professional film company Drop Dead Films, who have all the right gear (HD cameras, jibs etc.) and who offered their services after seeing the play during its run in the last week of January.

The snowballing of a creative project is a great process. It’s wonderful to consider how something goes from being you, all alone with your idea and typing a few words on a keyboard… to ten years later, having six creative people in a room all bringing your idea to life with skill and passion.  What’s even more wonderful is knowing that this won’t be the end of it: dozens more people, perhaps eventually hundreds, will end up giving their creative input into various iterations of a story that began in my head.  The contract for the option of The Marlowe Papers opera was finally signed this week.

And in further developments, I am currently working (and loving working!) on a film script. It’s a great joy to enter the world of my characters once more, and the stripping out of Marlowe’s internal musings (such a huge part of the book and a significant part of the play), as well as the words whose work will be far more effectively done with cameras, has left me some room to develop and deepen some strands and even add new scenes.

None of this would be possible without the huge enthusiasm of everyone who loved the original book, from my agent, my editor and the rest of the team at Sceptre and Hodder, to readers and reviewers.  And Nicky Haydn, whose insistence we adapt it for the stage has led to so many delightful things, and to even more people being able to enter and enjoy this imaginary world.  And Jamie Martin, whose masterly acting has brought to life the most challenging of scripts and persuaded me I can adapt it for the screen.  Here’s to all of you wonderful people, and all the wonderful people to come: deep gratitude and appreciation for everything you have done and are yet to do.


Fear of Failure – and How It Makes Us Play Small

Fear of Failure – and How It Makes Us Play Small


fear of failureFear of failure is the block that comes up more often than any other when I am working with writers. It is the holding category for about the half the content of ‘Write the Damn Book!‘ It is the bucket into which writers can throw a great deal of their negative self-talk:  what if it’s rubbish? what if I can’t do it justice?  what if I can’t find an agent? what if I can’t find a publisher? what if it doesn’t get reviews? what if it does get reviews and the reviewers hate it? And not just writers: anyone who ever had a dream of doing something and were afraid to do it. Fear of failure is a kicker.

Fear of failure is what stops most people even starting. Why put all that effort into something if it’s (probably) going to fail? And look around: don’t you see people failing everywhere? And look at all those failures in your past. Remember how painful they were? Better not even try. Better keep that dream where nothing can break it: in the future. Better keep that novel safely in your head, where it can remain as perfect as you envisage it, and not be sullied by your monstrous attempts to render it into actual words.

This is the paralysis that met me when I first sat down to write The Marlowe Papers. Especially after I spent three months writing an opening I was rather pleased with, only to put it in front of my then supervisor Lavinia Greenlaw and be told (quite correctly) that it was crap. (Obviously she didn’t say ‘crap’ – we talked viewpoint and narrative voice and stuff like that – but the upshot was, DELETE, back to the blank page). At that point, fear of failure got me round the throat like a cold bony hand and wouldn’t let go. Not a word would come out because they would be words leading to FAILURE.

Luckily, at just that point, I had learned EFT.  I began tapping every day on the individual fears that made up my own fear of failure; the foundational events that made me want to run away screaming: the three unpublished novels, the ‘also ran’ poems. Hell, here I was proposing that I could write a novel in the voice not just of youthful genius Christopher Marlowe, but of Marlowe-as-Shakespeare… i.e. the Greatest English Writer That Has Ever Lived.  With absolutely no evidence that I was capable of doing anything of the sort.

Hubris. You betcha.

It took weeks of daily EFT to completely eliminate fear of failure for this project. And then – guess what?  It was back for Devotion and I had to tap the fears connected to that book out of the way. But that’s because if you are always moving forward, out of your comfort zone, you are going to keep meeting fear.  You are expanding yourself into territory you have never visited before, and that is bound to bring some fear along with it. Fear is a good sign, in other words, of where you need to grow. So long as you don’t let it actually win, so long as you recognise it and move through it, fear is the first energy of the creative process.

So how do you stop fear of failure from destroying your dreams?  If you’re procrastinating on a creative project – failing to begin it, or failing to make progress – fear of failure is probably behind it and you’ll need to take action to remove it.

How to remove fear of failure

To remove fear of failure I highly recommend energy psychology techniques.

  • You can learn EFT like I did (free and detailed tutorials from the inventor of EFT can be found here) and move it out of the way yourself with a little dedication.  It will usually take at least a couple of weeks (tapping for 20 minutes a day), but this method is free, and it will give you plenty of insights into yourself along the way, as well as blessing you with some unexpected secondary gains.  (I got improved relationships with my spouse and family, and relief from anxiety and depression, just for starters).
    • Cost: FREE
    • Time: Approximately 5 – 15 hours in total, not including EFT-learning time.
  • You can see an EFT or Matrix Reimprinting practitioner.  This will costs £60-120 a session for someone who really knows what they’re doing, and you’ll probably need a few sessions, depending on the complexity of the underlying causes.  Not all practitioners are equally effective: try to get a personal recommendation.  I’ve been doing this kind of work one-to-one and in groups (notably on Write the Damn Book) for years, but I haven’t the time to take on any new one-to-one clients at the moment.
    • Cost: £60-£1,200
    • Time 1 – 10 hours, not including travelling to/from appointments
  • There’s a brand new development of EFT and Matrix Reimprinting called Release and Replace. I’ve been using this with my existing personal clients over the last few months with incredible results. You can read about it, and how it works, here.  What’s great about Release and Replace is that you can ‘bundle up’ all the past traumas that are creating an issue (such as fear of failure) and neutralise the emotional charge on them in a single session.  End result: that problem stops being a problem in less than an hour.  Don’t believe me? Try the method for yourself. No travelling to/from the appointment, and unlike any other kind of therapeutic session I’ve ever heard of, there’s a 100% no-quibble money-back guarantee: if you don’t release your fear of failure, you get a full refund.
    • Cost £17
    • Time 90 minutes.

Interested? For more details click here.

In the meantime, let me have your comments on your own experiences fear of failure, or indeed your experiences of energy psychology techniques, if you’ve tried them.  What has worked (or not worked) for you?


Guilpin’s Fuscus: Sir John Davies

Guilpin’s Fuscus: Sir John Davies


“Man is known by the company he keeps.”

A great deal of my recent research on Christopher Marlowe has involved looking at the wider social networks of which he was a part. This can get pretty obscure by most people’s standards, but since so many amateur sleuths looking into the Shakespeare authorship question seek information with a straight forward Google search rather than mining Early English Books Online and other paid-for sources, it seems sensible to blog about an article or two I’ve had published recently.

Fuscus in Guilpin’s Skialethia (1598)

Fuscus Guilpin Skialethia Sir John DaviesFor Shakespeare authorship questioners, minor characters in obscure texts can take on a great importance, and whole theories are sometimes constructed around a single (sometimes very wobbly) interpretation.  When I was looking into the identity of someone nicknamed ‘Fuscus’ in Everard Guilpin’s Skialetheia (1598), I found various assertions that Fuscus was Marlowe, or Thomas Nashe, to add John Payne Collier’s 1868 guess that Fuscus was John Marston.

Not so, my friends.  Combining clues from the several different epigrams in which Fuscus is mentioned with the work of P.J.Finkelpearl and J.R.Brink on a certain scandalous happening at the Inns of Court at Candlemas 1598, it is now clear beyond any doubt that ‘Fuscus’ is the poet and lawyer Sir John Davies, he who had his Epigrams published side by side with Marlowe’s translation of Ovid’s Elegies. The article is here behind a paywall until December 2017, but after that you’ll be able to download a copy from the publications section of my staff page at Goldsmiths or my profile on  If your need is urgent, you can always get in touch and I’ll send you a copy.

Rosalind Barber, ‘Sir John Davies as Guilpin’s Fuscus’, Notes and Queries (2015) 62 (4):553-554.

The Marlowe Papers on Stage – Jamie Martin as Kit

The Marlowe Papers on Stage – Jamie Martin as Kit


Jamie Martin as Kit MarloweThe first run of the Marlowe Papers opens in Brighton on Tuesday 26th January 2016. It’s on for just five days, with the final night on Saturday 30th. The director is my friend Nicola Haydn, who helped me adapt this one-man version from the book. The adaptation was no mean feat: the audio book version (which is unfortunately read very badly and which I cannot recommend) was 9 and a half hours and the play – with original music by by Fiddes Smith – runs to 110 minutes (plus interval). I worked closely with the actor and director to hone the script for performance am loving the results. There something really wonderful about your characters being brought to life in front of your eyes.

Jamie Martin (who was most recently in the Young Vic’s very successful World Factory) is tremendous, both as Kit and as numerous other characters. I hope many people who loved the book will get a chance to see it and well as many people who haven’t read the book at all. We plan to take the play to London, and perhaps tour it across the UK, even beyond if that proves to be feasible.  Come and see if you possibly can!


Update: 5-Star review: “It is impossible to take your eyes off Martin’s performance – which is a masterclass in how to perform a one-man piece.” – Brighton Argus, 29 Jan 2016.