The Merry Devils
Legend has it that once, during a performance of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, a real devil appeared onstage, to the terror of players and audience. Around this incident, Edward Marston shapes the second installment of his Elizabethan Bracewell Mysteries, now being re-issued. When Lord Westfield’s Men – a fictional acting troupe in the late 1580s – stage their eponymous new play, a conjuration scene turns out to be far too realistic for comfort: just who – or what – is that extra horned and tailed figure?
The players would be content to drop The Merry Devils at once, but unfortunately, their noble patron has taken a fancy to it. It is only a matter of time before disaster strikes, and everyone blames the playwright – a Marlowe-like Divinities dropout turned atheist with a liking for forbidden knowledge. Happily, for everyone concerned, Nicholas Bracewell, the company’s gem of a book-holder, has a sceptical mind. Can it be that human malice is at work?
Marston sets his colourful tale of theatre, superstition, love and revenge against a lively Elizabethan backdrop, peopled with actors, playwrights, feisty young ladies, and a few thinly disguised historical figures. The denouement may be slightly perplexing, but the depiction of a theatrical troupe’s busy and precarious daily life makes for an entertaining read.