I am now nearly finished with my first draft of "The Fire of Winter" which is a historical fiction adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth.
Yes, there have been other adaptations in the past, so I thought I might relate how my novel is different. In this version, I attempt to combine both the play and actual history, which is truly a task since most of what Shakespeare wrote about the man, Macbeth, is not historically accurate. To start this post, I quote directly from the Craig edition of "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" here:
"There can be no doubt that the subject of the triumph of Banquo's offspring was recognized as one of the greatest interest to the king (James I) and to those Englishmen who were loyal to the Scottish succession, as most Englishmen were. Especially in Macbeth there was foreshadowed the triumph of Protestantism and insular independence, since the play carried as a story the theme of the escape and survival of the royal seed when it was beset by murder, usurpation, and tyranny.
For the material of this story Shakespeare went to Holinshed's Chronicles; in the first instance to the account of the reigns of Duncan and Macbeth, in the second, to the chronicle of King Duff. From the former comes the story of Macbeth's rise and fall and most matter pertaining to Banquo and MacDuff. From the latter he borrowed the story of how Donwald, a man whom King Duff never suspected, murdered King Duff in the castle of Forres. Having, with the aid of his wife, drugged the two chamberlains who lay with the king, Donwald, although he greatly abhorred the deed and did it only at the instigation of his wife, induced four of his servants to cut the king's throat. When morning came, he slew the chamberlains and cleared himself of the crime by his power and authority, though not without being suspected by certain noblemen because of his overdiligence. There were great portents in the kingdom that year both of sun and moon; certain horses in Lothian ate their own flesh; and a "sparhauke" was strangled by an owl.
Thirdly, from the chronicle of King Kenneth, who had murdered Malcolm Duff, is drawn the idea of a voice, which Kenneth had heard as he lay in his bed at night, warning him of the sure detection of his crime, so that he was filled with dread and passed the night without any sleep.
Finally, from the chronicle of King Edward the Confessor comes the account of how that saintly monarch cured the king's evil by his touch, and the story of Siward's invasion of Scotland in which he overthrew Macbeth. The chronicle of King Macbeth contains within it the story of MacDuff. In the beginning of the chronicle of Robert II there is even a suggestion for the show of eight Stuart kings (IV, i, 110).
These Scottish chronicles were for Shakespeare a brilliant and spirited source, far better than the chronicles of English kings that he had used earlier in his career. Holinshed's compilation had drawn on the Latin of Hector Boerce (1527), and to him probably is to be attributed the vividness of the narratives. Boerce had drawn from Fordun, a historian of the fourteenth century."
That being said, however, the sources Shakespeare used to compile the play of Macbeth reveals the extent of his artistic license. As historical fiction writers today, we are often questioned as to our accuracy. This did not seem to be an issue in Shakespeare's day, for he definitely stretched the truth in relation to the life of Macbeth macFindlaech of Scotland.
In my own research, I used my own artistic license to try to bring a correlation to the plays as well as to the real man, more especially to his wife, since my novel deals more with her role in Macbeth's life - the spark behind the flame, so to speak.
Very little historical accounts are available from 11th-century Scotland, so I relied much on the Annals of Ulster and piecing together the bits of stories told of the various battles, known facts of Canute the Great, of Uhtred of Northumbria, of Thorfinn the Mighty, of Svein of Norway, as well as adhering close to the actual scenery. At that time, castles were motte-and-bailey or the ring fort design. Not until later, during the Norman influence, did castles start looking like castles we know and love today.
I also used artistic license to explain some of the spiritualistic phenomenon of the plays, such as the witches and ghosts - using a knowledge of the practice of medicines or herbal concoctions that some of the common folk, mainly peasant women, used of the variety of plants in the Scottish countryside. The "witches" become mere deformed women who perhaps give the air of other-worldliness with their appearance and with Lady Macbeth's encouragement. Plus, the brews and ointments used during much of my novel accounts for the hallucinations, as well as the dive into madness of both Macbeth and his wife, as you will see!!
Lastly, since the novel deals mainly with Lady Macbeth, Queen Gruoc of Scotland, well, what can I say about her? She is definitely a piece of work!! There are moments when I despise my own main character, but other times I see the reasons behind her seething anger and revenge. To say she is a layered character is an understatement, and even in my first draft, I am learning even more about her as she speaks.
I often find a friendship with my main characters as I write about them, even a sympathy, but Lady Macbeth is a conundrum for me. But, I must say, definitely one I am willing and wanting to work out.
Thanks for reading!
D. K. Marley
Introducing Master Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, the often misunderstood genius poet, playwright and provocateur of the Elizabethan era. I love this summarization of his life from the Poetry Foundation and thought for those wondering about my own novel “Blood and Ink”, that you might like to know a little about the man I wrote about.
Here is the excerpt: “The achievement of Christopher Marlowe, poet and dramatist, was enormous—surpassed only by that of his exact contemporary, Shakespeare. A few months the elder, Marlowe was usually the leader, although Shakespeare was able to bring his art to a higher perfection. Most dramatic poets of the sixteenth century followed where Marlowe had led, especially in their use of language and the blank-verse line. The prologue to Marlowe’s Tamburlaine proclaims its author’s contempt for the stage verse of the period, in which the “jygging vaines of riming mother wits” presented the “conceits [which] clownage keepes in pay”: instead the new play promised a barbaric foreign hero, the “Scythian Tamburlaine, Threatning the world with high astounding terms.” English drama was never the same again.
The son of John and Catherine Marlowe, Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury, where his father was shoemaker, in 1564. He received some of his early education at The King’s School, Canterbury, and an Archbishop Parker scholarship took him from this school to Corpus Christi College in the University of Cambridge. In 1584 he graduated as Bachelor of Arts. The terms of his scholarship allowed for a further three years’ study if the holder intended to take holy orders, and Marlowe appears to have fulfilled this condition. But in 1587 the University at first refused to grant the appropriate degree of Master of Arts. The college records show that Marlowe was away from Cambridge for considerable periods during his second three years, and the university apparently had good reason to be suspicious of his whereabouts. Marlowe, however, was not without some influence by this time: Archbishop Whitgift, Lord Burghley, and Sir Christopher Hatton were among members of Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council who signed a letter explaining, “Whereas it was reported that Christopher Morley was determined to have gone beyond the seas to Reames and there to remaine, Their Lordships thought good to certefie that he had no such intent, but that in all his accions he had behaved him selfe orderlie and discreetlie wherebie he had done her Majestie good service, & deserved to be rewarded for his faithfull dealinge….” The reference to “Reames” makes everything clear. The Jesuit seminary at Rheims was the refuge of many expatriate Roman Catholics, who were thought to be scheming to over-throw the English monarch: the Babington Conspiracy was plotted here—and its frustration in 1586 was achieved through the efforts of secret agents placed by Sir Francis Walsingham.
In 1587 Christopher Marlowe, M.A., went from Cambridge to London; and for the next six years he wrote plays and associated with other writers, among them the poet Thomas Watson and the dramatist Thomas Kyd. His friendship with Watson brought trouble: the two friends were arrested in 1589, charged with the homicide of William Bradley, and committed to Newgate Prison. Marlowe was released after a fortnight, and Watson (whose sword had killed Bradley) pleaded that he had acted “in self-defence” and “not by felony”; he was set free after five months in prison. The association with Kyd was also the cause of trouble some years later. In the spring of 1593 Kyd was arrested on a charge of inciting mob violence in riots against Flemish Protestants. His home was searched, and papers were found there containing “vile hereticall Conceiptes Denyinge the Deity of Jhesus Christ our Savior.” Kyd denied that the document was his, asserting that the papers belonged to Marlowe and had been “shuffled with some of myne (unknown to me) by some occasion of our wrytinge in one chamber twoe yeares synce.” Perhaps Kyd, a professional scrivener, had been transcribing the manuscript for Marlowe—who was not, however, the author (the ideas had been published in 1549 by John Proctor under the title The Fal of the Late Arrian). Riots combined with the plague made the spring of 1593 an unusually tense period; and the Privy Council (Archbishop Whitgift and Lord Burghley were still members, as they had been in 1587) acted quickly on Kyd’s information and instructed a court messenger “to repaire to the house of Mr. Tho: Walsingham in Kent, or to anie other place where he shall understand Christofer Marlow to be remayning, and … to apprehend, and bring him to the Court in his Companie. And in case of need to require ayd.” Marlowe—who had perhaps retreated to Kent in order to avoid the plague which had closed the London theaters—was commanded to report daily to the council. The treatment was proper for a gentlemen: a lesser person would have been imprisoned.
Attempting to exculpate himself from the charges of heresy and blasphemy, and to deny any continuing friendship with his former chamber mate, Kyd sent two letters to the Lord Chancellor, Sir John Puckering. In the first he affirmed Marlowe’s ownership of the papers that had been “shuffled” with his own, declaring “That I shold love or be familiar frend, with one so irreligious, were very rare … besides he was intemperate & of a cruel hart.” In the second he enlarged upon the subject of “marlowes monstruous opinions,” offering examples of how Marlowe would “gybe at praiers, & stryve in argument to frustrate & confute what hath byn spoke or wrytt by prophets & such holie men.”
Kyd was not alone in making such accusations at this time. Puckering also received a note from a certain Richard Baines, who may have been a government informer and had previously been arrested with Marlowe at Flushing in 1592. On this occasion the Governor of Flushing commented in a letter which he sent to Lord Burghley along with the prisoners, that “Bains and he [Marlowe] do also accuse one another of intent to goe to the Ennemy or to Rome, both as they say of malice one to another.” In 1593 Baines denounced Marlowe for his “Damnable Judgement of Religion, and scorn of gods word.” Marlowe, he said, had stated
That the first beginning of Religioun was only to keep men in awe….
That Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest ….
That if there by any god or any good Religion, then it is in the papistes because the service of god is performed with more Cerimonies, as Elevation of the mass, organs, singing men, Shaven Crownes & cta. that all protestantes are Hypocriticall asses….
It is perhaps understandable that the Elizabethans, fearful for their Church and their State, should have given some credence to these wild statements, but it is astonishing to find that some readers of Marlowe’s works—to the present day—are prepared to accept the slanders of Kyd and Baines and believe in Marlowe’s “atheism.”
Although such slanders have affected the dramatist’s reputation, they did no harm to the man. By the time Puckering received Kyd’s second letter and the note from Baines, Marlowe was probably already dead.
Marlowe’s death and the events which immediately preceded it are fully documented in the report of the inquest (which was discovered by Leslie Hotson and published in The Death of Christopher Marlowe). The report tells of a meeting at the house of Mrs. Eleanor Bull in Deptford—not a tavern, but a house where meetings could be held and food supplied. On 30 May 1593 Marlowe spent the whole day there, talking and walking in the garden with three “gentlemen.” In the evening there was a quarrel, ostensibly about who should pay the bill, “le recknynge”; in the ensuing scuffle Marlowe is said to have drawn his dagger and wounded one of his companions. The man, Ingram Frizer, snatched the weapon and “in defence of his life, with the dagger aforesaid of the value of 12d. gave the said Christopher then & there a mortal wound over his right eye of the depth of two inches & of the width of one inch; of which mortal wound the aforesaid Christopher Morley then & there instantly died.” Ingram Frizer was granted a free pardon within one month, and returned to the service of the Walsinghams. One of his accomplices was Robert Poley, the man largely responsible for the discovery of the Babington Conspiracy in 1586. The third man was Nicholas Skeres, who may have been the “Skyrres” who was with Poley and some of the conspirators shortly before the discovery. Such a combination of events and personalities makes it unlikely that this was a mere tavern brawl.”
So, the question could be – did Marlowe actually die in Deptford, or is there another story beneath what happened? “Blood and Ink” tells another tale, beginning Kit’s life at the age of eight when he is kissed by the inspiration of a muse… Now available in hardcover, paperback, ebook and Audible narrated by the incredible actor Jon Dixon! Visit Amazon or my website at www.dkmarley.com/blood-and-ink to learn more!!
I held my breath as the train pulled up the station in Stratford-upon-Avon. I looked out the window and my eye fixed on the sign above the station door. No mistaking, I was here, about to walk in the footsteps of Shakespeare. I am sure I looked the ordinary tourist-type with wide eyes looking around every tree and brushing my fingertips through bushes as I walked up toward the town center from the train, almost as if anticipating meeting the very man himself. Which was fine with me and I freely admit to the giddy swirling in my stomach, especially as I reached the streets where Shakespeare might have actually walked. Well, where he did walk.
My first thoughts – I wanted to stand right there for a moment and not say a word. At each place – the house on Henley Street, his birthplace; the Guildhall, the King Edward’s School, Trinity Church, Clopton Bridge, the Avon River – all places where he might have stood in the very same place.
Walking along the banks of the Avon, leaning against a willow tree and watching the swans glide regally with the current, I wondered how many times he did the same and conjured up one of his characters. As a writer, the thought moved me and inspired me at the same time.
Many people have asked me why I feel such a connection to this city. Honestly, I am not really sure except that I have loved Shakespeare’s writing since I was very young. My grandmother loved the plays and we shared the same affinity for literature and writing. She gave me my first book of Shakespeare’s works, her very own college book, when I was eleven and still to this day I relish seeing the little notations in her own handwriting in the margins about her favorite passages.
Other people have asked me why I decided to write a novel about the possibility that Shakespeare did not write the plays and my answer is always the same.
I am a Stratfordian, and always will be a Stratfordian, but I am also a historical fiction author. When presented with an opportunity and an idea to create a work, I will run with it. I never before even heard of someone else writing the plays, but once, after visiting the Globe Theater, I saw a presentation there of the men who might have written them instead of Shakespeare himself. Christopher Marlowe’s eyes drew me in, and the novel emerged in my thoughts.
With all this being said and all of the words written and published, I still do not question my belief that Shakespeare is actually the man who wrote the plays. After all, who am I to question? I just thought the idea of Marlowe writing other than Shakespeare made for a creative alternative historical story to the one presented as fact.
So, my writing the story did not detract me away from the city, but drew me to it even more. Touching my fingertips onto the surface of the waters, walking slow through the room where he played as a child, standing at the edge of the grave where he is buried – all these things helped me with the writing of my story “Blood and Ink,” the same as walking through Canterbury to learn about Marlowe drew me to him.
It’s what historical fiction writers should do and what I highly recommend. Research on Google is one thing. Stepping your foot on the same ground as your characters is a very different experience entire. I stopped at the Windmill Inn/Pub which is only a few hundred yards away from where Shakespeare lived, so I sat there and imagined him jawing with some of this friends over a pint of ale, perhaps, Burbage? Perhaps, Jonson? And so, I downed a pint of my own and soaked in the literary air, hoping, nay praying some of the artistic inspiration might seep into my own brain.
I must say, as well, the draw of Shakespeare is well founded there, but even without this attraction, the city itself is incredibly beautiful. The half-timbered houses still standing, the gentle flow of the Avon, the peaceful swans… all the while laying back in the grass in the shadow of the Swan Theatre where the Royal Shakespeare Company still upholds the quality and caliber of acting and performance the man, Shakespeare, first envisioned when he set his quill to paper. You will fall in love with this city, when you visit, as did I. And, to be completely honest, I wept as I walked back down Alcester Road to the station that evening. I felt I was leaving home.
There is no doubt, if you ever visit my Pinterest board, that I love Virginia Woolf. She is a rare writer, whose work I can read over and over and over, again. She has such a beautiful way with words, a gift she left that reaches far beyond those days when she was alive. They reached clear to me, and I am sure, to many many others who adore her works.
As I continue on my blog postings, I will from time to time, post some of my favorite quotes or passages of hers, as well as some of my other favorite authors.
Here is a story I wrote back in 2009, a short imagining of sitting across from her at her home at Monk House.
A Visit to Monk House
Virginia Woolf sat across from me. Touching her slender fingers to her cheek as she turned her stare out the window, she answered my questioning look in a soft, yet resolute, voice.
“Women have sat indoors all these years, so that by this time, the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.” The corner of her mouth curled in a slight, awkward, smile. “Yes, I remember writing that.”
“And, Mrs. Woolf, what were your thoughts when you wrote that line?”
I prodded, hoping that she did not notice the nervous waiver in my voice and the insistent clicking of the silver knob on the end of my ink pen; an on and off whereby my hand struggles to write words in her presence, thus lending to my thumb’s pressing habit. Yet, of course, she noticed. How could she not? Even with her contemplative eyes staring through the unveiled window, over the untamed reaching arms of hollyhocks and tulips bowing over the garden path, and onward set on some distant thought in the passing cloud, she saw and heard.
She answered quick. “Oh no, my dear, that is not why you are here. You are here to answer for yourself. Tell me, if you can, what were your thoughts when you read that line?”
I felt overcome with clarity, like the sudden warmth rushing through your veins and flushing your cheeks when someone discovers you in a lie. My arm twitched and crooked to scratch an annoying itch at the spot between my shoulders. I paused in mid-scratching as her eyes rested on me with a knowing look. Oh dear, I thought, she saw that too. Of course.
“Well,” I said, swallowing down my fear, “I think women sometimes are their own masons.”
She struck a match and leaned her head back against the cushioned chair back; the end of her cigarette glowed orange as she sucked. “Too simple. You’re a writer, give me more,” she answered in a cloud of smoke, forming an aura around her loosely cinched brown hair.
I knew what she wanted. That connection. Perhaps she looked for the same electricity flying on the words of Henry James as he sat in her company. Perhaps he sat in this very chair. I crossed my legs and arms, fidgeting at the thought.
“You’re right, Mrs. Woolf, that is too simple. And yet, sometimes it is the simplest things that bind us in. Maybe not in your generation or even in my mother’s generation. Times were different then. Then, maybe women were among the trivial things of life, sitting within their four walls, cooking, cleaning, having babies, with men standing guard to make sure that his woman didn’t see that chink in the wall. For some, like you, their creative force found their way to pens and brushes, but, more often than not, so many suffocated in the darkness. I think of my grandmother. She was a college graduate, an English teacher, a writer on the verge, yet her little brick and mortar house and her sitting did nothing but turn her into a sad spirit. Where did her creative force go? It ebbed away down the drains and lay like dust on the floors waiting to be swept under the rugs. Whether you know it or not, Mrs. Woolf, but writers such as you laid the cornerstones of writer’s rooms today. Now, when we sit and our creative force permeates the walls, harnessing to pens, the vibration shudders across our gardens, into our towns, and floods national and international boundaries. Your sitting in that room of your own has opened the doors for my generation. As I said before, I think writers build their own barriers today because there are so many more opportunities for this generation. In some cases, not all. There are still those who because of circumstance, choice, or mental and emotional problems, who have no idea of the freedom enjoyed in the spinning of a potter’s wheel, or slapping a bold slash of color on a canvas, or the releasing of demons onto a blank page. That is why writers need other writers, and artists need other artists. Reminds me of a scripture that says, ‘one mans face sharpens the face of another as iron sharpens iron.’ As writers who have been there, we can help those who cannot see beyond their walls and shuttered windows. It is amazing what a gift of a journal and a pen can do in the hands of a person who is battered, abused, abandoned, alone, sad, feeling unloved, unworthy, scared, tired, or hollow. You were one of the fortunate ones, Mrs. Woolf, to have a husband give you the freedom of a room of your own.”
She took another slug of her cigarette and looked across at me with those dark eyes. “Fortunate? How can you call me fortunate when every morning I awoke with shackles about my brain?”
I found it difficult to look into her sad face; so turning my head to gaze through the front window, I rested my cheek on my palm. The sun broke in little shafts of light through the dancing elm leaves, casting shadows on the windowsill, and a sudden unexpected roll of thunder shook the pane. I lifted my gaze to the sky. A dark cloud edged over the tops of the trees, already streaking gray far in the distance where the River Ouse slumbers along. I knew what she was thinking, so I answered her question.
“Yes, I know. I have imagined you, Mrs. Woolf, sitting in your room, the hours passing by, the temporary consolation in the scribbling of your pen, your creative force throbbing within those four walls like the rising bubble of magma just before an eruption. You wanted a freedom beyond words, something that you could bear, and yet, when the struggle seemed hopeless, you chose death. Like so many incredible artists and writers of your day and before, geniuses who struggled with the gift of the divine chained in a human form, very like Hamlet crawling between earth and heaven, and opting for the quiet rest from a thundering brain. Some would say that your writing benefited from your suffering, for in those four walls you struggled for us all, over those common threads that link us: childhood, parents, relationships, triviality, inequality, sadness, humanity, and death. Therefore, you gave us a gift, the gift that so many writers sitting in their rooms have given: their minds gushing onto a page. Yet, if you look closer, you will see the core behind mere words, something real, something true, something lasting beyond death woven into every letter and every sentence. The gift of their soul. You left us, Mrs. Woolf, and yet, you still live for the writers after you to learn. You left a legacy, just like my grandmother. Although she cleaned away her ambition with a rag and a broom, it hid like a film of dust hiding way on the top of a bookshelf, waiting for my sticky young fingers to leave a mark and pick up my grandmother’s dust bunny soul. And this is me, now, sitting in your armchair at Monk House.”
The smell of smoke mellowed and I felt suddenly alone. I turned my head to see that Mrs. Woolf had risen from her seat and drifted away from me without notice. I ran to the window upon hearing the front door click shut and pressed my forehead to the cool glass. She paused at the front gate with her hand on the latch and looked up to catch my eye. The tilt of her head, the suggestion of a smile and the slight nod moved me beyond words. She stuffed her hands in the pockets of her coat just as the clouds burst open, drowning her fading form in gray.
As for me, I sighed and let my gaze caress over the items in the living room, the mementos of her past. Sucking a deep breath to soak in the lingering smell of her cigarette smoke, I brushed my forefinger over a certain dusty spot on the bookshelf: the spot where she left her final words. Like the sizzling pop of electricity, my brain throbbed, and, for a brief moment, I thought I felt her presence behind me. My tongue felt tacky and bitter from the ink pen clenched between my teeth and I imagined I heard her voice whisper into my left ear. Two words only, but they were enough.
Hey, all! So, here is my new blog! First and foremost, to address this large Jabberwocky who has stalked me for so many years now. There are so many reasons I left off writing all those years ago: my own fears, the travails of life, the ugly tragedies sucking my breath, and so much more. I really could go on and on, and perhaps, in time, as I pour out my heart upon this blank page, those waves will wash over me and out before me in black and white.
I thought I might start this blog by acknowledging the Jabberwocky's existence and give him fair warning that, as the saying goes, the pen is mightier than the sword. I have determined to post over the next few weeks many of my former short stories, passages, articles - little treasures this monster tried to hide within his dark cave - so as to renew an old fire started so many years ago. I have aged, grown up in ways I did not expect or want, but so did Alice after so many years spent in her Wonderland or on the other side of the Looking Glass.
And, so, here I go... another adventure down the rabbit hole...