No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

2016/18: Cry Murder! in a Small Voice -- Greer Gilman

The player’s boy drew breath. I split. A lightning at his crown, an ecstasy. The spirit bound within him—light in body—woke. No other saw the courtier in green. But in his sight, the room was filled with hawthorn: with its writhenness, its shade, and yes, its vixenish rank scent. And in the wick of it, his master was, and it was of him: still renewing as a cold green fire. [loc. 1301]

London, 1604: three boy actors have died in the past year, and Ben Jonson is growing suspicious. The latest victim, Peter Whitgift, is grieved by his friend and lover Rafe Calder: it's Calder who hints to Ben that the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, may have more than passing knowledge of the deaths.

The quest to determine de Vere's guilt, or lack thereof, takes Ben to Venice -- where de Vere found and fetched back a young boy with a perfect voice, now dead -- and through the alleys and theatres of 17th-century London. This is London before the Plague and the Fire: a maze of muddy byways and smoky pubs, pitch-black nights and grinding poverty, stagecraft and gender-bending and Ben's fond resignation to the fact that his work will never match that of Will or poor murdered Kit.

For a chapbook, Cry Murder! has great depth: it's by no means a quick read -- not least because of Gilman's rich, antick language, and her blank-verse prose, and her arcane vocabulary. This is a novel packed into a pint pot, rich and dense and as full of allusion as of plot. The fantastical winds through the story, in playhouse superstition and casual allegory. And yes, of course Oberon is the English Dionysus: yes, that feels true.

No comments:

Post a Comment