Monday, May 3, 2021


Christopher "Kit" Marlowe is known both for his plays and for his untimely death at the age of only 29, purportedly after a disagreement over a bill at a tavern.  In A Tip for the Hangman, Allison Epstein looks at the tumultuous events that were happening during Marlowe's life, and offers up a different motivation for his death.

Kit was a student at Cambridge University when the story opens in October 1585.  The son of a poor and frequently drunken shoemaker in Canterbury, Marlowe was given a scholarship to study at the university, a fact which made both him and his professors feel he is unworthy to be in such exalted surroundings.  It comes as something of a shock when Sir Frances Walsingham, the Royal Secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, comes to Cambridge to recruit Kit to be a spy.  Catholic sympathizers are plotting to overthrow the queen and install their own favorite, Mary Queen of Scots, on the throne.  Walsingham wants Kit to pose as a servant and gather as much information as possible about any potential threats to the crown.  

After this assignment, Kit moves to London and becomes a celebrated playwright until, due to his previous work and his talent at breaking coded messages, he's called upon for another mission 5 years later.  Unfortunately, his champion and protector, Walsingham, is not exactly the picture of health . . .

To make matters worse, Kit is romantically involved with Tom, a fellow student from Cambridge, who isn't too happy about Kit's spying activities.  Kit also has a never ending series of conflicts with various family members who aren't at all impressed by his fame as London's leading playwright.  Kit gets involved in some double-dealings which also put him in danger from both sides of the political divide.

I enjoyed the time period and all of the details of the story that put the reader back in Elizabethan times.  All of the political wheeling and dealing and double-crossing is somehow very familiar to a modern reader! I didn't always enjoy Kit's spying activities, which seemed to involve everyone taking him at his word, even when he'd been involved in some pretty suspicious activities that would have likely caused some questions among those he was spying on.  Still, it is good to have Kit Marlowe brought to life in this adventurous book.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of A Tip for the Hangman from NetGalley in exchange for this review


About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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