Christopher ("Kit") Marlowe (baptised 26 February, 1564 – 30 May, 1593) was an England dramatist, poet, and translator of the Elizabethan era. Perhaps the foremost Elizabethan tragedian before Shakespeare, he is known for his magnificent blank verse, his overreaching protagonists, and his own untimely death.
Born in Canterbury, KentThis is commemorated by the name of the town's main theatre, the Marlowe Theatre, and by the town museums. However St George's, the church in which he was christened, was gutted by fire in the Baedeker raids and was demolished in the post-war period - only the tower is left, at the south end of Canterbury's High Street.http://www.digiserve.com/peter/cant-sgm1.htm, Marlowe attended The King's School, Canterbury and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge on a scholarship and received his bachelor of arts degree in 1584. In 1587 the university hesitated to award him his master's degree because of a rumour that he had converted to Catholicism and gone to the English college at Rheims to prepare for the priesthood. However, his degree was awarded on schedule when the Privy Council of the United Kingdom intervened on his behalf, commending him for his "faithful dealing" and "good service" to Elizabeth I of EnglandFor a full transcript, see Peter Farey's Marlowe page. The nature of Marlowe's service was not specified by the Council, but their letter to the Cambridge authorities has provoked much speculation, notably the theory that Marlowe was operating as a secret agent working for Sir Francis Walsingham's intelligence service. No direct evidence supports this theory, although Marlowe obviously did serve the government in some capacity.
Dido, Queen of Carthage seems to be Marlowe's first extant dramatic work, possibly written at Cambridge with Thomas Nashe. Marlowe's first known play to be performed on the London stage was Tamburlaine (play) (1587), a story of the conqueror Timur. It was one of the first popular English plays to use blank verse, and, with The Spanish Tragedy, it is generally considered the beginning of the mature phase of the Elizabethan theatre. Tamburlaine was a smash success, and Tamburlaine Part II soon followed. The sequence of his remaining plays is unknown. All were written on controversial themes. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, based on the recently published German Faustbuch, was the first dramatic version of the Faust legend of a scholar's dealing with the devil. The Jew of Malta, depicting a Maltese Jew's barbarous revenge against the city authorities, features a prologue delivered by a character representing Niccolò Machiavelli. Edward the Second is an English history play about the dethronement of Edward II of England by his dissatisfied barons and his French queen. The Massacre at Paris is a short, sketchy play portraying the events surrounding the Saint Bartholomews Day Massacre in 1572, an event that English Protestants frequently invoked as the blackest example of Catholic treachery. Marlowe's plays were enormously successful, thanks in part, no doubt, to the imposing stage presence of Edward Alleyn. He was unusually tall for the time, and the haughty roles of Tamburlaine, Faustus, and Barabas were probably written especially for him. Marlowe's plays were the foundation of the repertoire of Alleyn's company, the Admiral's Men, throughout the 1590s. Marlowe also wrote poetry, including an unfinished minor epic, Hero and Leander (Marlowe's poem) (published with a continuation by George Chapman in 1598), the popular lyric The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, and translations of Ovid's Amores and the first book of Lucan (poet)'s Pharsalia. The two parts of Tamburlaine (play) were published in 1590; all Marlowe's other works were published posthumously. In 1599, his translation of Ovid was banned and copies publicly burned as part of John Whitgift's crackdown on offensive material.
The Marlowe legend
As with other writers of the period, such as Shakespeare, little is known about Marlowe. Most of the evidence is legal records and other official documents that tell us little about him. This has not stopped writers of both fiction and non-fiction from speculating about his activities and character. Marlowe has often been regarded as a spy, a brawler, a heretic, and a homosexual, as well as a "magician", "duelist", "tobacco-user", "counterfeiter", and "rakehell". The evidence for most of these claims is slight. The bare facts of Marlowe's life have been embellished by many writers into colourful, and often fanciful, narratives of the Elizabethan underworld.
Spying and Death
Marlowe is often alleged to have been a government spy. Marlowe was killed in a pub in Deptford in an apparent dispute between him and his acquaintances over the tab. It is said that he was stabbed just above his left eye.
Possible evidence of spying
As noted above, in 1587 the Privy Council ordered Cambridge University to award Marlowe his MA, denying rumours that he had been to the English Catholic college in Rheims, saying instead that he had been engaged in unspecified "affaires" in the Queen's service. It has sometimes been theorized that Marlowe was the "Morley" who was tutor to Arbella Stuart in 1589, described by Arbella's mother as "much damnified by leaving the University" BL Landdowne MS 71,f.3.
. This possibility was first raised in a TLS letter by E. St John Brooks in 1937; in a letter to Notes and Queries,
John Baker has added that only Marlowe could be Arbella's tutor due to
the absence of any other known "Morley" from the period with an MA and
not otherwise occupiedJohn Baker, letter to Notes and Queries
44.3 (1997), pp. 367-8. This possibility has not been acknowledged in
any Marlowe biographies; some consider the "Morley" in question to have
been a son of the musician Thomas MorleyConstance Kuriyama, Christopher Marlowe: A Renaissance Life (2002), p. 89. Also Handover and Nicholl, The Reckoning,
p. 342., although Thomas Morley (who was born 1558) could not have had
a son old enough to attend university at this time. If Marlowe was
Arbella's tutor, it might indicate that he was a spy, since Arbella was
at the time a possible successor to the English throne.
In 1592, Marlowe was arrested in the Dutch town of Flushing for
attempting to counterfeit coins. He appeared before the Privy Council
but was not charged.
Arrest and death
In early May 1593 several bills were posted about London threatening Protestant refugees from France and the Netherlands who had settled in the city. One of these, the "Dutch church libel"http://www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/libell.htm, written in blank verse, contained allusions to several of Marlowe's plays and was signed "Tamburlaine." On 11 May the Privy Council of the United Kingdom ordered the arrest of those responsible for the libels. The next day, Marlowe's colleague Thomas Kyd was arrested. Kyd's lodgings were searched and a fragment of a heretical tract was found. Kyd asserted, possibly under torture, that it had belonged to Marlowe. Two years earlier they had both been working for an aristocratic patron, probably Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby, Lord Strange, and Kyd suggested that at this time, when they were sharing a workroom, the document had found its way among his papers. Marlowe's arrest was ordered on 18 May. Marlowe was not in London, but was staying with Thomas Walsingham, the cousin of the late Sir Francis Walsingham, who was known as Elizibeth I's spymaster. However, he duly appeared before the Privy Council on 20 May and was instructed to "give his daily attendance on their Lordships, until he shall be licensed to the contrary." On 30 May, Marlowe was murdered. Various versions of Marlowe's death were current at the time. Francis Meres says Marlowe was "stabbed to death by a bawdy serving-man, a rival of his in his lewd love" as punishment for his "epicurism and atheism". In 1917, in the Dictionary of National Biography, Sir Sidney Lee wrote that Marlowe was killed in a drunken fight, and this is still often stated as fact today. The facts only came to light in 1925 when the scholar Leslie Hotson discovered the coroner's report on Marlowe's death in the Public Record Office http://www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/inquis~2.htm. Marlowe had spent all day in a house (not a tavern) in Deptford, London, owned by the widow Eleanor Bull, along with three men, Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley. All three had been employed by the Walsinghams. Skeres and Poley had helped snare the conspirators in the Babington plot. Frizer was a servant of Thomas Walsingham. Witnesses testified that Frizer and Marlowe had earlier argued over the bill, exchanging "divers malicious words." Later, while Frizer was sitting at a table between the other two and Marlowe was lying behind him on a couch, Marlowe snatched Frizer's dagger and began attacking him. In the ensuing struggle, according to the coroner's report, Marlowe was accidentally stabbed above the left eye, killing him instantly. The coroner concluded that Frizer acted in self-defense, and he was promptly pardoned. Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Deptford, on 1 June, 1593. Marlowe's death is alleged by some to be an assassination for the following reasons: # The three men who were in the room with him when he died all had links to the intelligence service as well as to the London underworld. Frizer and Skeres also had a long record as loan sharks and con-men, as shown by court records. # Their story that they were on a day's pleasure outing to Deptford is considered implausible. In fact, they spent the whole day closeted together, deep in discussion. Also, Robert Poley was carrying confidential despatches to the Queen, who was at Greenwich nearby, but instead of delivering them, he spent the day with Marlowe and the other two. # It seems too much of a coincidence that Marlowe's death occurred only a few days after his arrest for heresy. # Marlowe's arrest for heresy was handled by the Privy Council in an unusual way. He was released in spite of prima facie evidence, and even though the charges implicitly connected Sir Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Northumberland with the heresy. This suggests to some that the Privy Council considered the heresy charge to be a set-up, and/or that it was connected with a power struggle within the Privy Council itself. # The various incidents that hint at a relationship with the Privy Council (see above), and by the fact that his patron was Thomas Walsingham, Sir Francis Walsingham' second cousin, who was actively involved in intelligence work. For these reasons and others, some believe there was more to Marlowe's death than emerged at the inquest. However, on the basis of our current knowledge, it is not possible to draw any firm conclusions about what happened or why. There are many different theories, of varying degrees of probability, but no solid evidence. Since there are only written documents on which to base any conclusions, and since it is probable that the most crucial information about his death was never committed to paper at all, it is unlikely that the full circumstances of Marlowe's death will ever be known.
Marlowe had a reputation for atheism. The only contemporary evidence for this is from Marlowe's accuser in Flushing, an informer called Richard Baines. The governor of Flushing had reported that both men had accused one another of instigating the counterfeiting and of intention to go over to the Catholic side (considered atheism by Protestants), "both as they say of malice one to another". Following Marlowe's arrest on a charge of atheism in 1593, Baines submitted to the authorities a "note containing the opinion of one Christopher Marly concerning his damnable judgment of religion, and scorn of God's word"http://www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/baines1.htm. Baines attributes to Marlowe ideas such as, "Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest unchaste", "the woman of Samaria and her sister were whores and that Christ knew them dishonestly" and, "St John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned always in his bosom" (cf. John 13:23-25) and "that he used him as the sinners of Sodom". He also claims that Marlowe had Catholic sympathies. Other passages are merely skeptical in tone: "he persuades men to atheism, willing them not to be afraid of bugbears and hobgoblins". Similar statements were made by Thomas Kyd after his imprisonment and possible torturehttp://www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/kyd1.htmhttp://www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/kyd2.htm(see below); both Kyd and Baines connect Marlowe with the mathematician Thomas Harriot and Walter Raleigh's circle. Another document claims that Marlowe had read an "atheist lecture" before Raleigh. Baines ends his "note" with the ominous statement: "I think all men in Christianity ought to endeavour that the mouth of so dangerous a member may be stopped". Some critics believe that Marlowe sought to disseminate these views in his work and that he identified with his rebellious and iconoclastic protagonists. However, plays had to be approved by the Master of the Revels before they could be performed, and the censorship of publications was under the control of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Presumably these authorities did not consider any of Marlowe's works to be unacceptable (apart from the Amores).
Marlowe is often described today as homosexuality, although the evidence for this is inconclusive. Some believe that the question of whether an Elizabethan was 'gay' or 'homosexual' in a modern sense is anachronistic; for the Elizabethans, what is often today termed homosexual or bisexual was more likely to be recognised as simply a sexual act, rather than an exclusive sexual orientation and identity (see Homosexuality#History).
Two documents suggest that Marlowe may have been homosexual, though all are clearly circumstantial, or reported by people of questionable motives.
Marlowe's writing is also notable for its homosexual themes.
Whatever the particular focus of modern critics, biographers and novelists, for his contemporaries in the literary world, Marlowe was above all an admired and influential artist. Within weeks of his death, George Peele remembered him as "Marley, the Muses' darling"; Michael Drayton noted that he "Had in him those brave translunary things/That the first poets had", and Ben Jonson wrote of "Marlowe's mighty line". Thomas Nashe wrote warmly of his friend, "poor deceased Kit Marlowe". So too did the publisher Edward Blount, in the dedication of Hero and Leander to Sir Thomas Walsingham. The only contemporary dramatist to say anything negative about Marlowe was the anonymous author of the Cambridge University play Parnassus plays (1598) who wrote, "Pity it is that wit so ill should dwell, Wit lent from heaven, but vices sent from hell." The most famous tribute to Marlowe was paid by Shakespeare in his only dramatic reference to a contemporary writer, in As You Like It, where he not only quotes a line from Hero and Leander (Dead Shepherd, now I find thy saw of might, "Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?") but also gives to the clown Touchstone the words "When a man's verses cannot be understood, nor a man's good wit seconded with the forward child, understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room." This appears to be a reference to Marlowe's murder (which involved a fight over the 'reckoning' - the bill).
Recent Marlowe controversies
In November 2005, a production of Tamburlaine (play) at the Barbican Arts Centre in London was accused of deferring to Islam sensibilities by amending a section of the play in which the title character burns the Koran and excoriates the prophet Muhammad; the sequence was changed so that Tamburlaine instead defiles books representing all religious texts. The director denied censoring the play, stating that the change was a "purely artistic" decision "to focus the play away from anti-Turkish pantomime to an existential epic". This however shifts a considerable degree of focus from a number of anti-theist (and specifically anti-Muslim) points within the play and changes, significantly, the tone and tenor of the work. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1887902,00.html http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/comment/story/0,16472,1650659,00.html
Marlowe as Shakespeare
Given the murky inconsistencies concerning the account of Marlowe's death, an ongoing conspiracy theory has arisen centred on the notion that Marlowe may have faked his death and then continued to write under the assumed name of William Shakespeare. Authors who have propounded this theory include:
The dates of composition are approximate.