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

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

2016/19: Exit, Pursued by a Bear -- Greer Gilman

"But three days since I asked if he'd a play in hand. He said, one in mind: there'd be a shipwreck in Bohemia. Where there is no sea, I told him, by some hundred miles. Yet might there be, he said, if I do write of it. A snort. Thou wast ever in the mood subjunctive, Will, said I. And he, Thou, Ben, imperative. [loc 373]

We find Ben Jonson overseeing, with Inigo Jones, the preparations for his masque Oberon, the Faery Prince. The younger of King James' sons, Charles, is keen to be part of the action: his older brother, the shining Prince Henry, gets the lead role. Which is asking for trouble, since the Faerie court are fully aware of the imminent lèse majesté ...

Enter Kit Marlowe, who is dead. (This is 1611.) Fresh from disporting with a lovely satyr, Kit finds himself challenged by Titania to disrupt the masque and abduct the prince: his reward for success will be release from the static joys of Arcadia, his penalty for failure a trip to Hell. Either is preferable, for Kit, to the stagnation of Faerieland where everything is beautiful, nothing changes, and he can no longer write.

This short work -- as densely packed and richly written as Cry Murder! in a Small Voice -- also features Galilean astronomy (and some interesting observations on colonialism); polar bears; a pearl beyond price that's stolen from actor and playwright Nathan Field while he's disporting with the Faerie monarchs; a fascinating depiction of early theatrical mechanisms; and a stunningly cinematic final scene in which Watling Street is also the zodiac, and Kit's last pub-crawl a gauntlet of myth and magic.

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