Pix & notes: Christopher Marlowe's Paris

I was in Paris in May this year, when the City of Light was the City of Flowers. We visited several lovely parks, about which more another time, but spent most of our days in the magnificent museums: the Louvre, the Museum of Man, the Musée de la Préfecture de police, which also deserves its own post. But I did get my traditional early Sunday morning to romp around the Left Bank taking pictures. Little remains of Kit’s Paris beyond the twisty streets and the Cathedral of Notre Dame, but what there was, I saw & snapped.


Of course we need a map! Wikipedia, whence cometh this fine map, says that Paris was the largest city in Europe in 1550, having about 350,000 inhabitants. It’s only 2.2 million now, lagging well behind London’s 8.7 million. Everyone said, “Paris is a very compact city,” resting neatly inside its circling highway, the periferique. It’s very easy to get around by means of the excellent metro system — unless the trains are on strike that day!

Paris ca 1550, Olivier Truschet et Germain Hoyau.

The island in the middle is the Île-de-la-Cité. That largish box near the top right corner is the Cathedral of Notre Dame, built between 1163 and 1345. Marlowe would certainly have toured that very famous landmark. He grew up in Canterbury, remember, where the equally famous cathedral was rebuilt in the Gothic style in the twelfth century.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre Dame

Today you join a queue of tourists from all over the world to stroll through the vast building, craning your neck to marvel at the wealth of imagery inside. In Marlowe’s day, there would have been tourists from all over Europe, if none from China or Japan, similarly craning their necks — while keeping a hand on their purses! All of today’s tourists are literate; we can only guess at the literacy rates of Kit’s contemporaries. It doesn’t matter. Everything is bent toward teaching you the story of Jesus and the saints. Paintings, stained glass, sculptures, and a series of painted wood carvings all depict important stories from the Bible for those who don’t read and don’t understand the Latin of the songs and sermons. Marlowe had both skills, but only a brute could fail to appreciate the beauty of Notre Dame’s abundant works of art. 


I love gargoyles, but my little camera isn’t up to zooming that far with any kind of focus. (Could be time for a better camera!) So here are two suffering souls from the front facade, doomed to bear a row of church worthies forevermore.



Walking tours of Paris

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of London Walks, the wonderful guided tours of London and environs. I don’t think Paris has anything quite like that, and I wouldn’t have had time for it anyway, since I was with other people, which means lots of screwing around at the beginnings and ends of days. Super Tourist (c’est moi) gets up and gets going!

But before we left I found this cool site with downloadable self-guided tours: History Walks Paris. I printed out the one for the sixteenth century, which didn’t have Marlowe in mind, but it might as well have. But first, a couple of pix of things that he definitely did not see. Cool things!

st-ephrem1733Saint-Ephrem le Syriac was built in 1733. It’s now used for performances of classical music, which I didn’t get to hear, and is filled with fine paintings, which I did not see. Next time, eh?









This magnificent beast is part of the Fontaine St-Michel on the Boulevard Saint Michel near the fontaine-st-michelSeine. It was built in 1858-1860, during the French Second Empire when so much of the grandest parts of grand Paris were built. This really is the City of Grandeur! My Moriartys can see all these fabulous monuments, but this fountain was just a small square in Marlowe’s day; nothing to write home about.









OK. Here’s a street in the Latin Quarter. It would have been more thatch with plaster walls, MUCH more crowded with people in woolen garb and muddy shoes, muddy street with a kennel of crap running down the middle. Kit would have felt very much at home visually, while his sharp eyes tuned in to the Parisian French all around him. I imagine him absolutely loving it. His plays are filled with fabulous place names, suggesting a young man eager to explore the world. At least he got to see Paris!


I walked across the Pont de Neuf, built between 1578 and 1607. So unless they had spanned the river before finishing all the details, Marlowe couldn’t have crossed here! He would have had to use the bridges connecting the Île-de-la-Cité.

pont neuf

The Louvre palace

The walking tour starts at the Louvre. It started out as fortress against English soldiers in Normandy, built by Philip II. Charles V converted it to a residence, then Francis I remodeled it into the palace we see today. Francis Bacon would have spent time here, watching the court with his bright eyes and listening with his sharp ears. This is where he polished his French language skills to a fare-thee-well, as well as his ability to spend his days idling at court.

Marlowe would have entered at least this courtyard, where I took pictures. He served as a messenger, I think, delivering letters from some important English person or persons, probably someone on the Privy Council. I’ve blogged about that. He would have been expected to keep his sharp ears open too, maybe ask a discreet question here and there. He was handsome, articulate, charming, and quick-witted. I think he spent time in this courtyard playing dice with the other messengers, learning whatever he could that might interest his masters, as much for the sport of it as for the extra shillings.

This yard would have been crowded with men old and young, a few women, perhaps, selling food and drink or sexual favors. Maybe a gentlewoman waiting for someone. Horses clattering through. Barrels, maybe, crates, straw littering the ground. Shouts and vendors’ cries echoing off the walls.




According to History Walks, this was “the parish church of the kings of France.” The kings are gone, but they still hold services here, with or without tourists strolling quietly about snapping pictures. (I’m far from the only one doing this.) I give you this view because (a) the square-cut trees of Paris fascinate me and (b) the lofty tops of churches would have stood out above the lesser buildings and thatched-roof houses, helping people orient themselves in the city, as well as in heaven, one supposes.




The Lombard church

I was excited to discover the church of Saint-Merri, the parish church of the wealthy Italian Lombards in Paris. Alone among Marlowe aficionados, perhaps, I think he might have delivered messages for one of my favorite Elizabethans, Sir Horatio Palavicino. He was actually born in Genoa, but they didn’t have a Genovese church in Paris. He was the scion of aristocratic bankers who became a Protestant and moved to England, where he lent Queen Elizabeth several boatloads of money. He bought a house near Cambridge the year after Marlowe graduated, but I like to think they met during a house-hunting trip. Marlowe would have appreciated a wealthy, cosmopolitan master and Sir Horatio would have recognized Marlowe’s exceptional qualifications as a confidential messenger.

So I spent a little time in this church, soaking up the atmosphere. Churches were excellent places for quiet little meetings, in olden days as well as our own. It’s hard to get a picture of this place, because it’s tucked into a district of narrow streets. And my pictures of the narrow streets don’t look like anything much either. You just have to imagine Christopher Marlowe meeting a wealthy Lombard in that aisle, handing him a folded letter and leaning in to murmur the unwritten portion of the message in their common language, Latin. He would have been paid with a silver franc, perhaps, and paid again when he got back to England with the reply.

church of Saint-Merri

church of Saint-Merri

Hôtel de Ville

This fine building has been the headquarters of the municipality of Paris since 1357. Sacre bleu, that’s a long time! History Paris tells us that it was one of the most popular gathering places in medieval and Renaissance Paris,where goods were unloaded, celebrations and executions occurred, and strikes were held. Marlowe would have strolled through the crowds, soaking it all up whilst munching on a sack of roasted chestnuts or a sweet cheese pie. Or perhaps a French breakfast taco, which is what I call a crepe filled with egg, cheese, and bacon.

hotel de ville
Hotel de Ville, 2018
Hotel de Ville, 1583

These sculptures weren’t there. I don’t know who the naked lady is (all sculptures of women must be naked), but Moliere lived from 1622-1673.


Marlowe wouldn’t have wasted his precious francs on books – not while he lived at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge University, which had one of the finest libraries in England in his day. But he would have enjoyed browsing and practicing his French on the bookseller. “I’m Christopher Marlowe,” he might say, after Tamburlaine rocked European theater back on its heels. “Oh, yeah, and I’m the Queen of Sheba,” the bookseller would have scoffed.

Be yourself, unless you can be Christopher Marlowe in Paris, in which case, be Christopher Marlowe.

bookseller, paris

Let not advantage slip: Find the time

This isn’t about history, nor is it about writing historical fiction, exactly. But it’s near the start of the time_clock2year, so perhaps a post about time is timely. Besides, we humans spend a lot of time thinking about time so I might as well add my $0.02.

Francis Bacon didn’t write an essay Of Time, though he wrote one Of Dispatch. He meant what time managers mean when they teach us about managing time. The OED puts it thus: “Promptitude in dealing with affairs,” and cites Bacon’s essay: “1612   Bacon Ess. (new ed.) 70   Measure not dispatch by the times of sitting, but by the advauncement of the businesse.”

Meaning, don’t evaluate your effectiveness by how much time you spend in meetings, but by how much you actually get done in the way of actual work.

Time to create timeless art

I don’t know what this print by William Hogarth has to do with time management, but when I looked up “time in art” in Wikimedia Commons, I found this and can not resist sharing it because it is so weird. I guess time is creating things out of the smoke from his pipe. I don’t know what the Greek at the top says, but the lines at the bottom say, “To Nature and your Self appeal, nor learn of Others what to feel.”

Meaning, listen to your inner self, don’t copy from others. For a painter, this is about how to create and perhaps obliquely about time related to acts of creation. And now I’m thinking Wm. Hogarth liked to smoke a pipe while he stared at his canvas thinking about his work for the day.

The mighty list, maker of time

I’m a doer of things. I finish things, many things, things to be proud of, like books and blog posts and even sometimes things like annual marketing plans. 

Every now & then I do something and someone says, “I don’t know where you find the time.” I come to recognize that that often really means, “I don’t want to do that at all.” But sometimes it’s an actual question.

The first answer is that this is my job, this writing & publishing books, so of course I have time to do my job. The deeper answer is that it’s all about the list: you make lists of things to do, you do the things, and then you check them off the list. This is a well-known time management strategy. You don’t have to be born with this skill. You learn it.

My desk in my little house in Backofbeyondia, Oaxaca. Note the calendar on the wall. Theres also a weekly diary on the desk.

Then today whilst walking the dog I realized that I actually attended a sort of list-making boot camp, my first summer doing fieldwork in linguistics. We had to make lists, or rather sub-lists of the professor’s master list. We had to work through our lists in order, checking things off one by one, noting our weekly progress on the master list posted in the meeting room. We got yelled at if we slacked off or lolly-gagged. Besides, everyone else was doing it and there wasn’t anything else to do, at this dump of a motel in Nowheresville, Veracruz.

You make a list of what you intend to accomplish during your two months in the field. Then you break that down into tasks and sub-tasks, estimating how long it will take to do each one. Use that to plan each week and each day. Then each day note down what you actually got done. So you start and end each day with a few minutes of work on the lists.

El Jefe said, “I do one thing until it’s done, and then I move on to the next one.” That’s great if you’re working your way through an enormous list of words and concepts, asking your consultant to translate them into his or her native language. “How do you say ‘chair’? How do you say ‘stool’? How do you say ‘bench’?” You can do that for eight hours at a stretch, if you must. Very hard work for the linguist. Very boring for the consultant. Mine used to make up little songs to entertain himself while I tried to figure out if two words had any common morphemes or not.planner

But creative work is different. I find 4-5 hours is about it for making up stories. Then I go to the gym or go work in the garden for a couple of hours. Then I’m good for an hour or so of business-type chores. I look at the master to-do list, pick something the right size, do it, and check it off. Ka-ching!

Lists, my friends, lists! It’s how you get stuff done.

That summer was like a Marine boot camp for list-making. “You call that a numbering system, Maggot?” Or, “Just because that morpheme is both a prefix and a suffix doesn’t mean you don’t have to run it through the verb-root master grid twice — Maggot!” (He didn’t really call us maggots. In fact, the yelling was only ever about the work, never personal in any way.)

Maybe someone should organize something like that for writers. You could charge them a couple hundred bucks, although yelling at them might not work. They would cry or throw things at you or plot your assassination. Flattery would work much better. “Wow, that is the most amazing list!!

This is the best we could do for a group photo that summer. Notice that only the paid consultants complied; none of the grad students, except for the woman in front. The guy in the red shorts is El Jefe, the one who trained us all to keep work logs for the rest of our lives.

Linguists and consultants in Veracruz, 1994

This website uses cookies for basic features such as contact or blog comments, but not for anything else. For more information, read my Privacy Policy.