Reading A Tip for the Hangman in your book club? First of all, thank you!!
Second, feel free to use the resources below to jumpstart your discussion. I’ve also provided a list of relevant content warnings here, should you like to reference it.
Third, if you’d like me to join your virtual book club meeting and chat with you about the book, I would almost certainly love to do that, schedule and time zones permitting. (No, like, I’ll be really jazzed. I’ll text all my friends and family to brag about how I got to show up at a book club.)
Drop me a note on my Contact page, and we’ll figure something out!
Book Club Discussion Questions
1. Kit originally enters the world of espionage with enthusiasm, believing it will be an adventure and a chance to prove himself. As events unfold, it quickly becomes something far more dangerous. Do you think there was a point where Kit could have made a choice that would have altered his fate? At what point was he “in too far”?
2. Religion plays a big role in the political landscape of A Tip for the Hangman. What was your reaction to this while reading? Did one side of the conflict’s rationale resonate more with you, or did you see all sides of the argument?
3. Kit’s background and identity sets him apart different from other students at Cambridge, and from the queen’s other spies, in many ways. Discuss how Kit’s personal history shaped his life and influenced his choices. How does this differ from other characters in the novel, especially those from a higher social class?
4. A Tip for the Hangman is set more than 400 years ago, but many of the issues it deals with—intolerance, sectarianism, nationalism, bigotry, disinformation—are still painfully with us today. Were there any resonances with the present moment that struck you? Conversely, were there any issues that felt distinctly foreign or “of the time”?
5. It’s impossible to deny that in the Elizabethan theater scene, Shakespeare is the biggest name. What experience do you have with the plays of Shakespeare or his contemporaries? Have you seen a live production or read a play in class? How did the depiction of the theater scene in A Tip for the Hangman confirm or challenge any opinions you might already have had?
6. Some scholars and historians speculate that Marlowe might have faked his own death in Deptford and gone on to live and write under a false name. Many other novels about Marlowe expand on these theories. Why do you think the author chose to end A Tip for the Hangman the way she did? What are the pros and cons of that choice, both in terms of history and of your experience of the book?
7. If you could read about the events in A Tip for the Hangman from the perspective of any other character, who would it be? Why? How would this perspective have changed the way events were represented?
8. Was there a particular character or event in the book that made you want to do further research? How did the events of A Tip for the Hangman connect with or diverge from what you might have already known about the time period?
9. What did you think about the style of the book? How was it similar to or different from other historical fiction novels you might have read about the period? How was it similar to or different from other spy novels you’ve read or spy films you’ve seen?
10. If you could invite three characters from A Tip for the Hangman over for dinner, who would you choose? What would you serve? What questions would you ask them? What questions do you think they’d have for you?
Want to find out more about Kit Marlowe, Elizabethan England, early modern theater, or any of the other people and events in A Tip for the Hangman? These are a few of the books I leaned on during my research, as well as some that I just love.
- Elizabeth’s London. Liza Picard.
- Christopher Marlowe: A Renaissance Life. Constance Brown Kuriyama.
- The Complete Plays. Christopher Marlowe. Penguin Classics.
- English Renaissance Drama. W.W. Norton & Company, ed. David Bevington.
- Mary Queen of Scots. Antonia Fraser.
- The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival. Kate Williams.
- Will in the World. Stephen Greenblatt.
- A Dead Man in Deptford. Anthony Burgess.
- The Marlowe Papers. Ros Barber.
You can also find a slightly longer list with buy links on my Bookshop page, if that tickles your fancy.
For those who like to read with a soundtrack, I give you a couple options.
1. The 50-song playlist of early modern music I listened to on repeat while writing A Tip for the Hangman, and which absolutely demolished my Spotify Wrapped yearly listening summary. (Note I play a little fast and loose with “early modern” here.)
2. The chapter-by-chapter breakdown playlist. These are the songs I had in mind while writing each chapter, in order. Please do not judge me for the surprise appearance of a number from “Oliver!” the musical.
3. Kit’s character playlist, consisting of songs I feel like he personally would enjoy.
Other Resources and Fun Things
Cast of Characters (I know there are a lot of them!)
Interactive Map of Elizabethan London
A Tip for the Hangman Characters as John Mulaney quotes
A Tip for the Hangman Characters as Grey’s Anatomy characters
Dream Cast for a Film Adaptation