Charles Nicholl

Charles Nicholl is preparing a revised edition of A Cup of News, his biography of the Elizabethan pamphleteer Thomas Nashe.

Fetch the Chopping Knife: Murder on Bankside

Charles Nicholl, 4 November 2021

WhenCrimewatch first aired on the BBC in the mid 1980s, its presenter Nick Ross promised: ‘This is about real-life crime, not the stuff of fiction.’ Nowadays the distinction is rather less clear, and our screens are filled with true crime dramas that seem to offer both. They are essentially factual – ‘based on real events’ – but they have the feel of...

Picture in Little: Hilliard’s Trajectory

Charles Nicholl, 19 December 2019

The house​ was ‘at the sign of the Maidenhead’ in an alley off Cheapside called Gutter Lane. The address sounds disreputable but those who visited were not in search of bawdy pleasures: they came to have their portraits painted ‘in little’ by the Elizabethan miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, who lived and worked on Gutter Lane for 35 years. If you were very posh or very...

On the Sixth Day: Petrarch on the Move

Charles Nicholl, 7 February 2019

Images of the author nestle in historiated initial letters, reading in a garden or writing in his study, typically with a dreamy, abstracted air. Marginal illustrations depict, with faintly comic Ladybird book fidelity, the metaphorical events of the adjoining poem: Petrarch shot through the heart by an arrow; Petrarch metamorphosing into a laurel tree; Petrarch shipwrecked. Another genre of illustration shows him reading or discoursing to a group of listeners. His cat is often present.

This latest reprint​ of Iris Origo’s The Merchant of Prato celebrates it as a ‘modern classic’, though it can’t have seemed very modern when it first appeared in 1957. Various books published that year had some kind of finger on the pulse – On the Road, Room at the Top, The Uses of Literacy – but a biography of a medieval Italian businessman written by a...

That Wild Mercury Sound: Dylan’s Decade

Charles Nicholl, 1 December 2016

This process of invention on the hoof is palpable in the sessions, and required a lot from the musicians who played with Dylan. He comes in with a buzz of ideas, half-formed songs and sound qualities, and everyone on both sides of the glass has to play catch-up as best they can. ‘His intent was very strong,’ one of the musicians on the session, the guitarist Bruce Langhorne, said.

What with all those Henrys being succeeded by all those other Henrys in the histories, and all those worryingly ghostly patriarchs looming over the tragedies – Julius Caesar, Old Hamlet,...

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Delirium: Arthur Rimbaud

Jeremy Harding, 30 July 1998

Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud, poet and ex-poet, took a 41 shoe – about a seven and a half in British sizes, an American eight. We have his own word on this, in a letter written shortly...

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Behind the Waterfall

Lorna Scott Fox, 16 November 1995

He was a middle-aged had-been, returning in a flurry from his entrada into the Spanish Main with a crop of tall stories and a bag of glittery sand, to the yawns of Queen and country. More...

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Blame it on the Belgians

Hilary Mantel, 25 June 1992

‘You don’t want to see him,’ said the porter at Corpus, when Charles Nicholl went to Cambridge to look at the portrait that is probably Christopher Marlowe. ‘He died in a tavern brawl.’

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Turning down O’Hanlon

Mark Ford, 7 December 1989

In The Orators W.H. Auden classified bird buffs as ‘excessive lovers of self’: they illustrate the psychological type who is ‘unable to taste pleasure unless through the rare...

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