Begin scene. The man threads his way through the busy streets, the city breathing under the dirt and the noise of everyday life. People call out to one another, dogs and rats race along the ground, and all the while he whistles out a tune, weaving it around the bustle like he spins his lines of verse on paper. His boots click on the stones: the rhythm of the mighty line. Some are disappointed he does not speak like that in person, for he is far sharper, far quicker than those thundering speeches. Lives a different pace.
This is only one side to the city, one pretty little side to the ever spinning coin. Metamorphoses. So many: the Queen is also a man. The whistling man thinks of Ovid, of Latin and sex and those gods and heroes that so capture the imagination. Those figures of beauty. Salmacis and Adonis and Leander. London with an Ovidian twist, people turning into others amongst the crowds, flicking between one identity and another, hiding and being in full view both at once. Oh the sins of candlelight, of darkness, of wine.
Sins are his specialism. Christopher Marlowe, Marley, Kit the cat and so forth, scribbling lines and solidifying the vices of London, of England, and of the whole world as far as he can imagine. He has an intimate knowledge, of sin and of a number of individuals who would not want their names divulged. Not that people don’t know it about him, of course. He shrieks loud as a cat at times. Can’t control that mouth. Still, he keeps some secrets, locks them up with other truths and keeps the speculation going, the light-footed rumours about spying and sodomy and that most blessed of evils, atheism.
He blazes his trail through the streets, his destination one unsurprising to most. Small shock, small beer. Kit himself is small, smaller than others, but larger in infamy, perhaps. So people tell him. A set of Toms are there when he enters, Watson and Nashe and Kyd, only all together to confuse the account. Others too, but the Toms are more poetic. All scribblers, too, in some way. Another Tom he left that morning, not part of this crowd, but richer, higher, and more intimately known. More syllables, too. Tom cat; accidental theme.
London spits Kit out every now and then, watches him leave and says good riddance, but he returns, is drawn back into its web and its tangle of company, thieves and cozeners the lot. Top to bottom, liars and cheats. From the thief on the street, eyes darting like a fox, to Raleigh made out of smoke, a ethereal figure, more of a myth than a man. Marlowe is man and myth, courting whispers and shouting louder than any of them.
‘Gentlemen,’ he spits out, not meaning it. Gentleness won’t get you in with them. Better have something else, claws or a dagger or a sharp tongue. A friend lurking in a shadows, a patron with the money to get you free, an excuse to keep you safe.
‘Gentler every day, my dear Kit,’ says Nashe in a drawl. Him and Marlowe have known each other since Cambridge, and whilst Kit tends to keep out of his friend’s feuds, they have enough enemies between them to people a small village, especially as Nashe seems to find new ones like other people find cockroaches. Foes are easy to accumulate, if you’re quick to anger and showier than a peacock. London has little space to coexist peacefully, even outside its limits. It’s an atmosphere as well as a city.
Thomas Watson looks at him reproachfully.
‘Where hast thou been, Kit?’ he says, then takes a drink.
‘Scadbury. The country air is good for writing.’
Kit winks, and a number of the company raise their eyebrows, but nobody says anything. The famous patron and his convenient manor. The man’s never said a word on it, but they’ve come to their own conclusions, and Kit knows they have. People can come to conclusions, true or false, but he cares not. Conclusions cannot harm him, not as he sees it: they are but painted words, fashioned ideas, and he can simply turn them around, raise them higher than waxen wings can reach or plummet them down to the cobbles. Words, words; Kit Marlowe the magician does not think words will best him.
He does not think that they will be what shall remain of him, the famous and the not so. Lies and fiction, truth embroidering them together. Kit has plenty of words, an overabundance perhaps, but they will not all be shared. Some will be private, some whispers no one shall hear, and others cut short, lost after that fateful day. The lies he told, the truths he revealed, will become intermingled, but the words will remain.