Exploring biographical fictions: the role of imagination in writing and reading narrative

Barber, Ros. 2010. Exploring biographical fictions: the role of imagination in writing and reading narrative. Rethinking History, 14(2), pp. 165-187. ISSN 1364-2529 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The creation of a literary biography requires an awareness both of how we construct what we believe we ‘know’ about a writer, and how the stories we adopt change our reading of their works. Research into the sources used to construct Marlowe’s and Shakespeare’s biographies supports the conclusion that when writers can no longer create their own stories, those created about them are necessarily fictions, even if delivered under the supposedly more ‘factual’ genre of biography. Historical biographers construct narrative by imaginative interpretation of evidence. Writers’ biographies are commonly written not by historians but by literary critics, who draw extra biographical ‘evidence’ from interpreting the author’s works. But interpreting the works is a highly subjective exercise, and the story we find there may depend upon the story we are looking for. In the process of researching and writing a novel in verse based on Marlovian Theory - the idea that Christopher Marlowe faked his own death, fled to Northern Italy and wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare - the utilisation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets to create a new narrative exposes the inherently deceptive nature of poetry. By switching between literal and figurative readings, and emphasising previously overlooked phrases, it is possible to interpret the Sonnets in such a way that they support Marlovian Theory more easily than they support the orthodox narrative.

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biography; narrative; fiction; authorship; Marlowe; Shakespeare

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature



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Date Deposited:

17 Nov 2014 16:01

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:03

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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