Christopher Marlowe, also known as Kit Marlowe (; baptised
26 February 156430 May 1593), was an English playwright
of the Elizabethan era
. Modern scholars
count Marlowe among the most famous of the Elizabethan
playwrights; based upon the "many imitations" of his play ''Tamburlaine
,'' they consider him to have been the foremost dramatist
in the years just before his mysterious early death. Some scholars also believe that he greatly influenced William Shakespeare
, who was baptised
in the same year as Marlowe and later succeeded him as the pre-eminent Elizabethan
playwright. Marlowe was the first to achieve critical notoriety for his use of blank verse
, which became the standard for the era. His plays are distinguished by their overreaching protagonist
s. Themes found within Marlowe's literary
works have been noted as humanistic
with realistic emotions, which some scholars find difficult to reconcile with Marlowe's "anti-intellectualism
" and his catering to the taste of his Elizabethan
audiences for generous displays of extreme physical violence, cruelty, and bloodshed.
Events in Marlowe's life were sometimes as extreme as those found in his dramas. Reports of Marlowe’s death in 1593 were particularly infamous in his day and are contested by scholars today due to a lack of good documentation
. Traditionally, the playwright’s death has been blamed on a long list of conjectures
, including a bar-room fight, blasphemous libel
against the church, homosexual
intrigue, betrayal by another playwright
, and espionage
from the highest level: Elizabeth I of England's Privy Council
. An official coroner
's account of Marlowe's death was only revealed in 1925,
[For a full transcript, se]
Peter Farey's Marlowe page
(Retrieved 30 April 2015).
but it did little to persuade all scholars that it told the whole story nor did it eliminate the uncertainties present in his biography
Christopher Marlowe was born to Canterbury
shoemaker John Marlowe and his wife Katherine, daughter of William Arthur of Dover
He was baptised on 26 February 1564 at St. George's Church,
Canterbury. Marlowe's birth was likely to have been a few days before, making him about two months older than William Shakespeare
, who was baptised on 26 April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon
By age 14, Marlowe attended The King's School
, Canterbury on scholarship and two years later Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
, where he also studied on scholarship and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1584.
Marlowe mastered Latin
during his schooling; reading and translating the works of Ovid
. In 1587, the university hesitated to award his Master of Arts degree because of a rumour that he intended to go to the English seminary at Rheims
in northern France
, presumably to prepare for ordination as a Roman Catholic
If true, such an action on his part would have been a direct violation of royal edict issued by Queen Elizabeth I
in 1585 criminalising any attempt by an English citizen to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church.
on the European continent has been cited by scholars as the impetus for the Protestant English Queen's
defensive anti-Catholic laws
issued from 1581 until her death in 1603.
Despite the dire implications for Marlowe, his degree was awarded on schedule when the Privy Council
intervened on his behalf, commending him for his "faithful dealing" and "good service" to the Queen
. The nature of Marlowe's service was not specified by the Council, but its letter to the Cambridge authorities has provoked much speculation by modern scholars, notably the theory that Marlowe was operating as a secret agent for Privy Council member Sir Francis Walsingham
. The only surviving evidence of the Privy Council's correspondence is found in their minutes, the letter being lost. There is no mention of espionage
in the minutes, but its summation of the lost Privy Council letter is vague in meaning, stating that "it was not Her Majesties pleasure" that persons employed as Marlowe had been "in matters touching the benefit of his country should be defamed by those who are ignorant in th'affaires he went about." Scholars agree the vague wording was typically used to protect government agents, but they continue to debate what the "matters touching the benefit of his country" actually were in Marlowe's case and how they affected the 23-year-old writer as he launched his literary career in 1587.
Six dramas have been attributed to the authorship of Christopher Marlowe either alone or in collaboration with other writers, with varying degrees of evidence. The writing sequence or chronology of these plays is mostly unknown and is offered here with any dates and evidence known. Among the little available information we have, ''Dido'' is believed to be the first Marlowe play performed, while it was ''Tamburlaine'' that was first to be performed on a regular commercial stage in London in 1587. Believed by many scholars to be Marlowe's greatest success, ''Tamburlaine'' was the first English play written in blank verse and, with Thomas Kyd
's ''The Spanish Tragedy
'', is generally considered the beginning of the mature phase of the Elizabethan theatre
(The dates of composition are approximate).:
* ''Dido, Queen of Carthage
'' (''c''. 1585–1587; possibly co-written with Thomas Nashe
; printed 1594)
''; Part I (''c''. 1587), Part II (''c''. 1587–1588; printed 1590)
* ''The Jew of Malta
'' (''c''. 1589–1590; printed 1633)
* ''Doctor Faustus
'' (''c''. 1588–1592; printed 1604 & 1616)
* ''Edward II
'' (''c''. 1592; printed 1594)
* ''The Massacre at Paris
'' (''c''. 1593; printed ''c.'' 1594)
The play ''Lust's Dominion
'' was attributed to Marlowe upon its initial publication in 1657, though scholars and critics have almost unanimously rejected the attribution. He may also have written or co-written ''Arden of Faversham
Poetry and translations
Publication and responses to the poetry and translations credited to Marlowe primarily occurred posthumously, including:
'', first book of Latin elegiac couplets
by Ovid with translation by Marlowe (''c''. 1580s); copies publicly burned as offensive in 1599.
* ''The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
'', by Marlowe. (''c.'' 1587-1588); a popular lyric of the time.
* ''Hero and Leander
'', by Marlowe (''c.'' 1593, unfinished; completed by George Chapman
, 1598; printed 1598).
'', Book One, by Lucan
with translation by Marlowe. (''c.'' 1593; printed 1600)
Modern scholars still look for evidence of collaborations between Marlowe and other writers. In 2016, one publisher was the first to endorse the scholarly claim of a collaboration between Marlowe and the playwright William Shakespeare:
* ''Henry VI
'' by William Shakespeare is now credited as a collaboration with Marlowe in the New Oxford Shakespeare
series, published in 2016. Marlowe appears as co-author of the three ''Henry VI
'' plays, though some scholars doubt any actual collaboration.
Marlowe's plays were enormously successful, possibly due to the imposing stage presence of his lead actor, Edward Alleyn
. Alleyn was unusually tall for the time and the haughty roles of Tamburlaine, Faustus and Barabas were probably written for him. Marlowe's plays were the foundation of the repertoire of Alleyn's company, the Admiral's Men
, throughout the 1590s. One of Marlowe's poetry translations did not fare as well. In 1599, Marlowe's translation of Ovid
was banned and copies were publicly burned as part of Archbishop Whitgift
's crackdown on offensive material.
There are at least two major modern scholarly editions of the collected works of Christopher Marlowe:
* ''The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe'', (edited by Roma Gill in 1986; Clarendon Press published in partnership with Oxford University Press)
* ''The Complete Plays of Christopher Marlowe'', (edited by J. B. Steane
in 1969; edited by Frank Romany and Robert Lindsey, Revised Edition, 2004, Penguin)
There are also notable scholarly collections of essays concerning the collected works of Christopher Marlowe, including:
* ''The Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe'', (edited by Patrick Cheney
in 2004; Cambridge University Press)
Chronology of dramatic works
This is a ''possible chronology of composition'' for the dramatic works of Christopher Marlowe based upon dates previously cited. The dates of composition are approximate. There are other chronologies for Marlowe, including one based upon dates of printing, as was used in the 2004 ''Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe'', edited by Patrick Cheney.
''Dido, Queen of Carthage'' (''c.'' 1585–1587)
:''First official record'': 1594.
:''First published'': 1594; posthumously.
:''First recorded performance'': between 1587 and 1593 by the Children of the Chapel
, a company of boy actors in London.
:''Additional information (title and synopsis)'': Full title ''The Tragedie of Dido, Queen of Carthage
''; 17-character cast plus other additional Trojans, Carthaginians, servants and attendants. In this short play, believed to be based on books 1, 2 and 4 of Virgil's
'', the Trojan soldier Aeneas leaves the fallen city of Troy to the conquering Greeks and finds shelter for his fellow Trojan survivors with Dido, Queen of Carthage. The gods interfere with the love lives of Dido and Aeneas, with Venus using Cupid to trick Dido into falling in love with Aeneas, rather than Iarbas, her Carthaginian suitor. Dido and Aeneas pledge their love to each other, but the Trojans warn Aeneas that their future is in Italy, which is also where Mercury and the other gods order Aeneas to go. The play ends when Aeneas leaves for Italy with the Trojans and as Dido sets off a triple suicide by throwing herself on a funeral pyre in despair, followed by her despairing suitor Iarbus and then by Anna, who loves Iarbus.
:''Additional information (significance)'': This play is believed by many scholars to be the first play by Christopher Marlowe to be performed.
:''Additional information (attribution)'': The title page attributes the play to Marlowe and Thomas Nashe
, yet some scholars question how much of a contribution Nashe made to the play.
:''Evidence'': No manuscripts by Marlowe exist for this play.
''Tamburlaine, Part I'' (''c.'' 1587); ''Part II'' (''c.'' 1587–88)
:''First official record'': 1587, Part I.
:''First published'': 1590, Parts I and II in one octavo
. No author named.
:''First recorded performance'': 1587, Part I, by the Admiral's Men
:''Additional information (title and synopsis)'': Full title, as it appears on the 1590 octavo
for Part I, ''[[Tamburlaine|Tamburlaine the Great. Who, from a Scythian Shephearde, by his rare and woonderfull Conquests, became a most puissant and mightye Monarque. And (for his tyranny, and terrour in Warre) was tearmed, The Scourge of God.'', and for Part II, ''[[Tamburlaine|The Second Part of The bloody Conquests of mighty Tamburlaine. With his impassionate fury, for the death of his Lady and loue faire Zenocrate; his fourme of exhortacion and discipline to his three sons, and the maner of his own death.'';
large 26-character cast for each of the two parts. Part I concerns the conqueror Timur
(Tamerlane), as he rises from nomadic shepherd and bandit to warlord and emperor of Persia
, conquering the Persia
ns, the Turks
, the Egyptians
, and all of Africa in the process. Part II concerns Tamerlaine as he raises his sons to become conquerors like himself through acts of extreme and heartless savagery against everyone, including the killing of one of his own sons who disappoints him. After he visits extraordinary barbarism upon the Babylon
ians, Tamerlaine burns the Quran
with contempt and later falls ill and dies.
:''Additional information (significance)'': ''Tamburlaine
'' is the first example of blank verse
used in the dramatic literature
of the Early Modern English theatre
:''Additional information (attribution)'': Author name is missing from first printing in 1590. Attribution of this work by scholars to Marlowe is based upon comparison to his other verified works. Passages and character development in ''Tamburlane'' are similar to many other Marlowe works.
:''Evidence'': No manuscripts by Marlowe exist for this play. Parts I and II were entered into the Stationers' Register on 14 August 1590. The two parts were published together by the London printer, Richard Jones, in 1590; a second edition in 1592, and a third in 1597. The 1597 edition of the two parts were published separately in quarto by Edward White; part I in 1605, and part II in 1606.
''The Jew of Malta'' (''c.'' 1589–1590)
:''First official record'': 1592.
:''First published'': 1592; earliest extant edition, 1633.
:''First recorded performance'': 26 February 1592, by Lord Strange's acting company.
:''Additional information (title and synopsis)'': First published as ''The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta
''; a large 25-character cast plus other additional citizens of Malta, Turkish janizaries, guards, attendants and slaves. The play begins with the ghost of a fictionalized Machiavelli
, who introduces Barabas, the Jew of Malta, in his counting house. The Governor of Malta has seized the wealth of all Jewish citizens to pay the Turks not to invade. As a consequence, Barabas designs and executes a homicidal tirade of events in retaliation against the governor and is assisted by his slave, Ithamore. Barabas’ murderous streak includes: the governor’s son dying in a duel; frightening his own daughter, who joins a nunnery for safety but is afterward poisoned by her father; the strangling of an old friar and the framing of another friar for the murder; and, the death of Ithamore, a prostitute and her friend, who had threatened to expose him. Finally, Barabas betrays Malta by planning another invasion by the Turks, but is outwitted when the Christians and Turks resolve the conflict and leave him to burn alive in a trap he has set for others, but has mistakenly fallen into himself.
:''Additional information (significance)'': The performances of the play were a success and it remained popular for the next fifty years. This play helps to establish the strong theme of "anti-authoritarianism" that is found throughout Marlowe's works.
:''Evidence'': No manuscripts by Marlowe exist for this play. The play was entered in the Stationers' Register
on 17 May 1594 but the earliest surviving printed edition is from 1633.
''Doctor Faustus'' (''c.'' 1588–1592)
:''First official record'': 1594-1597.
:''First published'': 1601, no extant copy
; first extant copy
, 1604 (A text) quarto
; 1616 (B text) quarto
:''First recorded performance'': 1594-1597; 24 revival performances occurred between these years by the Lord Admiral's Company
, Rose Theatre
; earlier performances probably occurred around 1589 by the same company.
:''Additional information (title and synopsis)'': Full title, ''The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus
''; a very large 35-character cast, plus other additional scholars, cardinals, soldiers, and devils. Based on the German ''Faustbuch
'', which itself can be traced to a fourth-century tale known as "The Devil's Pact,"
Marlowe's play opens with a Prologue, where the Chorus introduces Doctor Faustus
and his story. Faustus is a brilliant scholar who leaves behind the study of logic, medicine, law and divinity to study magic and necromancy
, the art of speaking to the dead. When he is approached by a Good and Bad Angel, it is the Bad Angel who wins his attentions by promising that he will become a great magician. Faustus ignores his other scholarly duties and attempts to summon a devil. By revoking his own baptism he attracts the attention of Lucifer
and other devils. Faustus strikes a pact with Lucifer, allowing him 24-years with Mephistopheles as his assistant, but after the pact begins Mephistopheles will not answer Faustus' questions. The two angels return, but even though Faustus waffles, coercion from the devils has him again swear allegiance to Lucifer. Faustus achieves nothing worthwhile with his pact, warns other scholars of his folly, and the play ends with Faustus dragged off to Hell
by Mephistopheles as the Chorus attempts a moral summation of events with an Epilogue.
:''Additional information (significance)'': This is the first dramatised version of the Faust
legend of a scholar's dealing with the devil. Marlowe deviates from earlier versions of "The Devil's Pact"
significantly: Marlowe's protagonist is unable to "burn his books" or repent to a merciful God to have his contract annulled at the end of the play; he is carried off by demons; and, in the 1616 quarto
, his mangled corpse is found by the scholar characters.
:''Additional information (attribution)'': The 'B text' was highly edited and censored partly due to the shifting theatre laws regarding religious words onstage during the seventeenth-century. Because it contains several additional scenes believed to be the additions of other playwrights, particularly Samuel Rowley
and William Bird (''alias'' Borne), a recent edition attributes the authorship of both versions to "Christopher Marlowe and his collaborator and revisers." This recent edition has tried to establish that the 'A text' was assembled from Marlowe's work and another writer, with the 'B text' as a later revision.
:''Evidence'': No manuscripts by Marlowe exist for this play. The two earliest printed extant versions
of the play, A and B, form a textual problem for scholars. Both were published after Marlowe's death and scholars disagree which text is more representative of Marlowe's original. Some editions are based on a combination of the two texts. Late twentieth-century scholarly consensus identifies 'A text' as more representative because it contains irregular character names and idiosyncratic
spelling, which are believed to reflect the author's handwritten manuscript or "foul papers
". In comparison, 'B text' is highly edited with several additional scenes possibly written by other playwrights.
''Edward the Second'' (''c.'' 1592)
:''First official record'': 1593.
:''First published'': 1590; earliest extant edition 1594 octavo
:''First recorded performance'': 1592, performed by the Earl of Pembroke's Men.
:''Additional information (title and synopsis)'': Full title of the earliest extant edition, ''The troublesome reigne and lamentable death of Edward the second, King of England, with the tragicall fall of proud Mortimer
''; a very large 35-character cast plus other additional lords, monks, poor men, mower, champion, messengers, soldiers, ladies and attendants. An English history play partly based on ''Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland
'' (1577; revised 1587) about the deposition of King Edward II
by his barons and the Queen, who resent the undue influence the king's favourites have in court and state affairs.
:''Additional information (significance)'': Considered by recent scholars as Marlowe's "most modern play" due to its probing treatment of the private life of a king and unflattering depiction of the power politics of the time. The 1594 editions of ''Edward II'' and of ''Dido'' are the first published plays with Marlowe's name appearing as the author.
:''Additional information (attribution)'': Earliest extant edition of 1594.
:''Evidence'': The play was entered into the Stationers' Register
on 6 July 1593, five weeks after Marlowe's death.
''The Massacre at Paris'' (''c.'' 1589–1593)
:''First official record'': ''c.'' 1593, alleged foul sheet
by Marlowe of "Scene 15"; although authorship by Marlowe is contested by recent scholars, the manuscript is believed written while the play was first performed and with an unknown purpose.:
:''First published'': undated, ''c.'' 1594 or later, octavo
while this is the most complete surviving text, it is near half the length of Marlowe's other works and possibly a reconstruction. The printer and publisher credit, "E.A. for Edward White," also appears on the 1605/06 printing of Marlowe's ''Tamburlaine
:''First recorded performance'': 26 Jan 1593, by Lord Strange's Men
, at Henslowe's Rose Theatre
, London, under the title ''The Tragedy of the Guise''; 1594, in the repertory of the Admiral's Men
:''Additional information (title and synopsis)'': Full title, ''The Massacre at Paris: With the Death of the Duke of Guise
''; very large 36-character cast, plus other additional guards, Protestants, schoolmasters, soldiers, murderers, attendants, etc. A short play that compresses the events prior to and following the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre
in 1572, into a "curious comic strip history" that reduces seventeen years of religious war into twelve. Considered by some to be Protestant propaganda, English Protestants of the time invoked these events as the blackest example of Catholic treachery. Generally, the extant text is in two parts: the Massacre; and the murder of the Duke of Guise. The prelude to the Massacre begins with a wedding between the sister of France’s Catholic king, Charles IX, to the Protestant King of Navarre, which places a Protestant in line for the crown of France. Navarre knows Guise “seeks to murder all the Protestants” in Paris for the wedding, but he trusts the protections promised by Charles IX and the Queen Mother, Catharine (de Medici). The Queen Mother, however, is secretly funding the homicidal plots of Guise, shown to us in murder vignettes executed by Guise henchman. In a soliloquy, Guise tells how all Catholics—even priests—will help murder Protestants. After the first deaths, Charles IX is persuaded to support Guise out of fear of Protestant retaliation. Catholic killers at the Massacre will wear visored helmets marked with a white cross and murder Protestants until the bells cease ringing. Charles IX feels great guilt for the Massacre. As the bells toll, Protestants are chased by soldiers, murder vignettes reveal cruelties and offstage massacres are retold by their killers. • The death of Guise is a series of intrigues. Queen Mother Catherine vows to kill and replace her unreliable son Charles IX, with her son Henry. When Charles IX dies of a broken heart (historically, of tuberculosis), a series of events unfold: Henry III is crowned king of France, but his Queen Mother will replace him as well if he dares to stop the killing of “Puritans”; Henry III makes Duke Joyeux the General of his army against Navarre, whose army is outside Paris and will later slay Joyeux; meanwhile, Guise becomes an unhinged, jealous husband who brings his army and popularity to Paris, whereupon the King has him assassinated for treason; with Guise gone, Navarre pledges his support to Henry III; the Queen Mother mourns the loss of Guise as his brother, the Cardinal, is assassinated; and finally, Henry III is stabbed with a poisoned knife by a friar sent by Guise’s other brother, the Duke of Dumaine. The final scene is of the death of Henry III and the rise of Navarre as the first Protestant King of France.
:''Additional information (significance)'': ''The Massacre at Paris'' is considered Marlowe's most dangerous play, as agitators in London seized on its theme to advocate the murders of refugees from the low countries
of the Spanish Netherlands
, and it warns Elizabeth I
of this possibility in its last scene. It features the silent "English Agent", whom tradition has identified with Marlowe and his connexions to the secret service. Highest grossing play for Lord Strange's Men
:''Additional information (attribution)'': A 1593 loose manuscript sheet of the play, called a foul sheet
, is alleged to be by Marlowe and has been claimed by some scholars as the only extant play manuscript by the author. It could also provide an approximate date of composition for the play. When compared with the extant printed text and his other work, other scholars reject the attribution to Marlowe. The only surviving printed text of this play is possibly a reconstruction from memory
of Marlowe's original performance text. Current scholarship notes that there are only 1147 lines in the play, half the amount of a typical play of the 1590s. Other evidence that the extant published text may not be Marlowe's original is the uneven style throughout, with two-dimensional characterizations, deteriorating verbal quality and repetitions of content.
:''Evidence'': Never appeared in the Stationer's Register.
Adult life and legend
As with other Elizabethans, little is known about Marlowe's adult life. All available evidence, other than what can be deduced from his literary works, is found in legal records and other official documents. This has not stopped writers of fiction and non-fiction from speculating about his professional activities, private life and character. Marlowe has often been described as a spy, a brawler and a heretic, as well as a "magician", "duellist", "tobacco-user", "counterfeiter" and "rakehell
". While J. A. Downie and Constance Kuriyama have argued against the more lurid speculations, it is the usually circumspect J. B. Steane
who remarked, "it seems absurd to dismiss all of these Elizabethan rumours and accusations as 'the Marlowe myth.
To understand his brief adult life, from 1587 to 1593, much has been written, including speculation of: his involvement in royally sanctioned espionage; his vocal declaration as an atheist; his private, and possibly same-sex, sexual interests; and the puzzling circumstances surrounding his death.
Marlowe is alleged to have been a government spy.
and Charles Nicholl
speculate that this was the case and suggest that Marlowe's recruitment took place when he was at Cambridge. In 1587, when the Privy Council ordered the University of Cambridge to award Marlowe his degree as Master of Arts, it denied rumours that he intended to go to the English Catholic college in Rheims, saying instead that he had been engaged in unspecified "affaires" on "matters touching the benefit of his country". Surviving college records from the period also indicate that, in the academic year 1584–1585, Marlowe had had a series of unusually lengthy absences from the university which violated university regulations. Surviving college buttery
accounts, which record student purchases for personal provisions, show that Marlowe began spending lavishly on food and drink during the periods he was in attendance; the amount was more than he could have afforded on his known scholarship income.
It has been speculated that Marlowe was the "Morley" who was tutor to Arbella Stuart
in 1589. This possibility was first raised in a ''Times Literary Supplement
'' letter by E. St John Brooks in 1937; in a letter to ''Notes and Queries
'', John Baker has added that only Marlowe could have been Arbella's tutor due to the absence of any other known "Morley" from the period with an MA and not otherwise occupied. If Marlowe was Arbella's tutor, it might indicate that he was there as a spy, since Arbella, niece of Mary, Queen of Scots
, and cousin of James VI of Scotland, later James I of England
, was at the time a strong candidate for the succession to Elizabeth's throne
Frederick S. Boas
dismisses the possibility of this identification, based on surviving legal records which document Marlowe's "residence in London between September and December 1589". Marlowe had been party to a fatal quarrel involving his neighbours and the poet Thomas Watson
in Norton Folgate
and was held in Newgate Prison
for a fortnight. In fact, the quarrel and his arrest occurred on 18 September, he was released on bail on 1 October and he had to attend court, where he was acquitted on 3 December, but there is no record of where he was for the intervening two months.
In 1592 Marlowe was arrested in the English garrison town
(Vlissingen) in the Netherlands, for alleged involvement in the counterfeiting
of coins, presumably related to the activities of seditious Catholics. He was sent to the Lord Treasurer (Burghley
), but no charge or imprisonment resulted. This arrest may have disrupted another of Marlowe's spying missions, perhaps by giving the resulting coinage to the Catholic cause. He was to infiltrate the followers of the active Catholic plotter William Stanley
and report back to Burghley.
Marlowe was reputed to be an atheist
, which held the dangerous implication of being an enemy of God and the state, by association. With the rise of public fears concerning The School of Night
, or "School of Atheism" in the late 16th century, accusations of atheism were closely associated with disloyalty to the Protestant monarchy of England.
Some modern historians consider that Marlowe's professed atheism, as with his supposed Catholicism, may have been no more than a sham to further his work as a government spy. Contemporary evidence comes from Marlowe's accuser in Flushing
, an informer called Richard Baines
. The governor of Flushing had reported that each of the men had "of malice" accused the other of instigating the counterfeiting and of intending to go over to the Catholic "enemy"; such an action was considered atheistic by the Church of England
. Following Marlowe's arrest 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". Baines attributes to Marlowe a total of eighteen items which "scoff at the pretensions of the Old
and New Testament
" such as, "Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest nchaste
, "the woman of Samaria and her sister were whores and that Christ knew them dishonestly", "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 implied that Marlowe had Catholic sympathies. Other passages are merely sceptical in tone: "he persuades men to atheism, willing them not to be afraid of bugbear
s and hobgoblins
". The final paragraph of Baines's document reads:
Similar examples of Marlowe's statements were given by Thomas Kyd
after his imprisonment and possible torture (see above); Kyd and Baines connect Marlowe with the mathematician Thomas Harriot
's and Sir Walter Raleigh
Another document claimed about that time that "one Marlowe is able to show more sound reasons for Atheism than any divine in England is able to give to prove divinity, and that ... he hath read the Atheist lecture to Sir Walter Raleigh and others".
Some critics believe that Marlowe sought to disseminate these views in his work and that he identified with his rebellious and iconoclastic protagonists. 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 other than the ''Amores''.
It has been claimed that Marlowe was homosexual. Some scholars argue that the identification of an Elizabethan as gay or homosexual in a modern sense is "anachronistic," claiming that for the Elizabethans the terms were more likely to have been applied to sexual acts rather than to what we understand to be exclusive sexual orientations and identities. Other scholars argue that the evidence is inconclusive and that the reports of Marlowe's homosexuality may be rumours produced after his death. Richard Baines reported Marlowe as saying: "all they that love not Tobacco & Boies were fools". David Bevington
and Eric C. Rasmussen
describe Baines's evidence as "unreliable testimony" and "These and other testimonials need to be discounted for their exaggeration and for their having been produced under legal circumstances we would regard as a witch-hunt".
J. B. Steane
remarked that he considered there to be "no evidence for Marlowe's homosexuality at all".
Other scholars point to homosexual themes in Marlowe's writing: in ''Hero and Leander
'', Marlowe writes of the male youth Leander: "in his looks were all that men desire..." ''Edward the Second
'' contains the following passage enumerating homosexual relationships:
Marlowe wrote the only play about the life of Edward II
up to his time, taking the humanist
literary discussion of male sexuality much further than his contemporaries. The play was extremely bold, dealing with a star-crossed love story between Edward II and Piers Gaveston
. Though it was a common practice at the time to reveal characters as gay to give audiences reason to suspect them as culprits in a crime, Christopher Marlowe's Edward II is portrayed as a sympathetic character.
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", written in rhymed iambic pentameter
, contained allusions to several of Marlowe's plays and was signed, "Tamburlaine
". On 11 May the Privy Council
ordered the arrest of those responsible for the libels. The next day, Marlowe's colleague Thomas Kyd
was arrested, his lodgings were searched and a three-page fragment of a heretical
tract was found. In a letter to Sir John Puckering
, Kyd asserted that it had belonged to Marlowe, with whom he had been writing "in one chamber" some two years earlier.
[For a full transcript of Kyd's letter, se]
Peter Farey's Marlowe page
(Retrieved 30 April 2015).
In a second letter, Kyd described Marlowe as blasphemous, disorderly, holding treasonous opinions, being an irreligious reprobate and "intemperate & of a cruel hart".
[ They had both been working for an aristocratic patron, probably Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange.] [Mulryne, J. R. "Thomas Kyd." ''Oxford Dictionary of National Biography''. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.] A warrant for Marlowe's arrest was issued on 18 May, when the Privy Council apparently knew that he might be found staying with Thomas Walsingham, whose father was a first cousin of the late Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's principal secretary in the 1580s and a man more deeply involved in state espionage than any other member of the Privy Council. Marlowe duly presented himself on 20 May but there apparently being no Privy Council meeting on that day, was instructed to "give his daily attendance on their Lordships, until he shall be licensed to the contrary". On Wednesday, 30 May, Marlowe was killed.
Various accounts of Marlowe's death were current over the next few years. In his ''Palladis Tamia'', published in 1598, 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 official account came to light only in 1925, when the scholar Leslie Hotson discovered the coroner's report of the inquest on Marlowe's death, held two days later on Friday 1 June 1593, by the Coroner of the Queen's Household, William Danby. Marlowe had spent all day in a house in Deptford, owned by the widow Eleanor Bull and together with three men: Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley. All three had been employed by one or other of the Walsinghams. Skeres and Poley had helped snare the conspirators in the Babington plot and Frizer would later describe Thomas Walsingham as his "master" at that time, although his role was probably more that of a financial or business agent, as he was for Walsingham's wife Audrey a few years later. These witnesses testified that Frizer and Marlowe had argued over payment of the bill (now famously known as the 'Reckoning') exchanging "divers malicious words" 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 wounded him on the head. In the ensuing struggle, according to the coroner's report, Marlowe was stabbed above the right eye, killing him instantly. The jury concluded that Frizer acted in self-defence and within a month he was pardoned. Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Deptford immediately after the inquest, on 1 June 1593.
The complete text of the inquest report was published by Leslie Hotson in his book, ''The Death of Christopher Marlowe'', in the introduction to which Prof. George Kittredge said "The mystery of Marlowe's death, heretofore involved in a cloud of contradictory gossip and irresponsible guess-work, is now cleared up for good and all on the authority of public records of complete authenticity and gratifying fullness" but this confidence proved fairly short-lived. Hotson had considered the possibility that the witnesses had "concocted a lying account of Marlowe's behaviour, to which they swore at the inquest, and with which they deceived the jury" but came down against that scenario. Others began to suspect that this was indeed the case. Writing to the ''TLS'' shortly after the book's publication, Eugénie de Kalb disputed that the struggle and outcome as described were even possible and Samuel A. Tannenbaum insisted the following year that such a wound could not have possibly resulted in instant death, as had been claimed. Even Marlowe's biographer John Bakeless acknowledged that "some scholars have been inclined to question the truthfulness of the coroner's report. There is something queer about the whole episode" and said that Hotson's discovery "raises almost as many questions as it answers". It has also been discovered more recently that the apparent absence of a local county coroner to accompany the Coroner of the Queen's Household would, if noticed, have made the inquest null and void.
One of the main reasons for doubting the truth of the inquest concerns the reliability of Marlowe's companions as witnesses. As an ''agent provocateur'' for the late Sir Francis Walsingham, Robert Poley was a consummate liar, the "very genius of the Elizabethan underworld" and is on record as saying "I will swear and forswear myself, rather than I will accuse myself to do me any harm". The other witness, Nicholas Skeres, had for many years acted as a confidence trickster, drawing young men into the clutches of people in the money-lending racket, including Marlowe's apparent killer, Ingram Frizer, with whom he was engaged in such a swindle. Despite their being referred to as "generosi" (gentlemen) in the inquest report, the witnesses were professional liars. Some biographers, such as Kuriyama and Downie, take the inquest to be a true account of what occurred but in trying to explain what really happened if the account was ''not'' true, others have come up with a variety of murder theories.
* Jealous of her husband Thomas's relationship with Marlowe, Audrey Walsingham arranged for the playwright to be murdered.
* Sir Walter Raleigh arranged the murder, fearing that under torture Marlowe might incriminate him.
* With Skeres the main player, the murder resulted from attempts by the Earl of Essex to use Marlowe to incriminate Sir Walter Raleigh.
* He was killed on the orders of father and son Lord Burghley and Sir Robert Cecil, who thought that his plays contained Catholic propaganda.
* He was accidentally killed while Frizer and Skeres were pressuring him to pay back money he owed them.
* Marlowe was murdered at the behest of several members of the Privy Council who feared that he might reveal them to be atheists.
* The Queen ordered his assassination because of his subversive atheistic behaviour.
* Frizer murdered him because he envied Marlowe's close relationship with his master Thomas Walsingham and feared the effect that Marlowe's behaviour might have on Walsingham's reputation.
* Marlowe's death was faked to save him from trial and execution for subversive atheism.
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, it is unlikely that the full circumstances of Marlowe's death will ever be known.
Reputation among contemporary writers
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," as did the publisher Edward Blount in his dedication of ''Hero and Leander'' to Sir Thomas Walsingham. Among the few contemporary dramatists to say anything negative about Marlowe was the anonymous author of the Cambridge University play ''The Return from Parnassus'' (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 ''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 lov'd that lov'd 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, as well as to a line in Marlowe's ''Jew of Malta''; "Infinite riches in a little room".
Shakespeare was much influenced by Marlowe in his work, as can be seen in the use of Marlovian themes in ''Antony and Cleopatra'', ''The Merchant of Venice'', ''Richard II'' and ''Macbeth'' (''Dido'', ''Jew of Malta'', ''Edward II'' and ''Doctor Faustus'', respectively). In ''Hamlet'', after meeting with the travelling actors, Hamlet requests the Player perform a speech about the Trojan War, which at 2.2.429–32 has an echo of Marlowe's ''Dido, Queen of Carthage''. In ''Love's Labour's Lost'' Shakespeare brings on a character "Marcade" (three syllables) in conscious acknowledgement of Marlowe's character "Mercury", also attending the King of Navarre, in ''Massacre at Paris''. The significance, to those of Shakespeare's audience who were familiar with ''Hero and Leander'', was Marlowe's identification of himself with the god Mercury.
Shakespeare authorship theory
An argument has arisen about the notion that Marlowe may have faked his death and then continued to write under the assumed name of William Shakespeare. Academic consensus rejects alternative candidates for authorship of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, including Marlowe.
A Marlowe Memorial in the form of a bronze sculpture of ''The Muse of Poetry'' by Edward Onslow Ford was erected by subscription in Buttermarket, Canterbury in 1891.
In July 2002, a memorial window to Marlowe, a gift of the Marlowe Society, was unveiled in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. Controversially, a question mark was added to the generally accepted date of death. On 25 October 2011 a letter from Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells was published by ''The Times'' newspaper, in which they called on the Dean and Chapter to remove the question mark on the grounds that it "flew in the face of a mass of unimpugnable evidence". In 2012, they renewed this call in their e-book ''Shakespeare Bites Back'', adding that it "denies history" and again the following year in their book ''Shakespeare Beyond Doubt''.
The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, Kent, UK, was named after the town’s “most famous” resident in 1949. Originally housed in a former 1920s cinema on St. Margaret’s Street, the Marlowe Theatre later moved to a newly converted 1930’s era Odeon Cinema in the city. After a 2011 reopening with a newly enhanced state-of-the-art theatre facility, the Marlowe now enjoys some of the country’s finest touring companies including, Glyndebourne Opera, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre as well as many major West End musicals.
Marlowe in fiction
Marlowe has been used as a character in books, theatre, film, television and radio.
Works of Marlowe in performance
Modern productions of the plays of Christopher Marlowe have increased in frequency throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including the following notable productions:
:Broadcast of all six Marlowe plays, May to October, 1993.
*Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-on-Avon
:''Dido, Queen of Carthage'', directed by Kimberly Sykes, with Chipo Chung as Dido, Swan Theatre, 2017.
:''Tamburlaine the Great'', directed by Terry Hands, with Anthony Sher as Tamburlaine, Swan Theatre, 1992; Barbican Theatre (London), 1993.
::directed by Michael Boyd, with Jude Owusu as Tamburlaine, Swan Theatre, 2018.
:''The Jew of Malta'', directed by Barry Kyle, with Jasper Britton as Barabas, Swan Theatre, 1987; People's Theatre (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) and Barbican Theatre (London), 1988.
::directed by Justin Audibert, with Jasper Britton as Barabas, Swan Theatre, 2015.
:''Edward II'', directed by Gerard Murphy, with Simon Russell Beale as Edward, Swan Theatre, 1990.
:''Doctor Faustus'', directed by John Barton, with Ian McKellen as Faustus, Nottingham Playhouse (Nottingham) and Aldwych Theatre (London), 1974; Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 1975.
::directed by Barry Kyle with Gerard Murphy as Faustus, Swan Theatre and Pit Theatre (London), 1989.
::directed by Maria Aberg with Sandy Grierson and Oliver Ryan sharing the roles of Faustus and Mephistophilis, Swan Theatre and Barbican Theatre (London), 2016.
*Royal National Theatre, London
:''Tamburlaine'', directed by Peter Hall, with Albert Finney as Tamburlaine, Olivier Theatre premier production, 1976.
:''Dido, Queen of Carthage'', directed by James McDonald with Anastasia Hille as Dido, Cottesloe Theatre, 2009.
:''Edward II'', directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, with John Heffernan as Edward, Olivier Theatre, 2013.
*Shakespeare’s Globe, London
:''Dido, Queen of Carthage'', directed by Tim Carroll, with Rakie Ayola as Dido, 2003.
:''Edward II'', directed by Timothy Walker, with Liam Brennan as Edward, 2003.
*Other noteworthy productions
:''Tamburlaine'', performed at Yale University, New Haven, US, 1919;
::directed by Tyrone Guthrie, with Donald Wolfit as Tamburlaine, Old Vic, London, 1951.
:''Doctor Faustus'', co-directed by Orson Welles and John Houseman, with Welles as Faustus and Jack Carter as Mephistopheles, New York, 1937;
::directed by Adrian Noble, Royal Exchange, Manchester, 1981.
:''Edward II'' directed by Toby Robertson, with John Barton as Edward, Cambridge, 1951;
::directed by Toby Robertson, with Derek Jacobi as Edward, Cambridge, 1958;
::directed by Toby Robertson, with Ian McKellen as Edward, Assembly Hall, Edinburgh International Festival, 1969;
::directed by Jim Stone, Washington Stage Company, US, 1993;
::directed by Jozsef Ruszt, Budapest, 1998;
::directed by Michael Grandage, with Joseph Fiennes as Edward, Sheffield Crucible Theatre, UK, 2001.
:''The Massacre in Paris'', directed by Patrice Chéreau, France, 1972.
:''Edward II'', Phoenix Society, London, 1923.
:''Leben Eduards des Zweiten von England'', by Bertolt Brecht, (the first play he directed), Munich Chamber Theatre, Germany, 1924.
:''The Life of Edward II of England'', by Marlowe and Brecht, directed by Frank Dunlop, National Theatre, UK, 1968.
:''Edward II'', adapted as a ballet, choreographed by David Bintley, Stuttgart Ballet, Germany, 1995.
:''Doctor Faustus'', additional text by Colin Teevan, directed by Jamie Lloyd, with Kit Harington as Faustus, Duke of York's Theatre London, 2016.
:''Faustus, That Damned Woman'' by Chris Bush, directed by Caroline Byrne, at Lyric Theatre (Hammersmith), London, 2020.
:''Doctor Faustus'', based on Nevill Coghill’s 1965 production, adapted for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, 1967.
:''Edward II'', directed by Derek Jarman, 1991.
:''Faust'', with some Marlowe dialogue, directed by Jan Švankmajer, 1994.
* Bevington, David, and Eric Rasmussen, eds. ''Doctor Faustus and Other Plays''. Oxford English Drama. Oxford University Press, 1998.
* Brooke, C. F. Tucker. "The Life of Marlowe and 'The Tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage,'" ''The works and life of Christopher Marlowe''. Vol. 1, ed. R.H. Case, London: Methuen, 1930. (pp. 107, 114, 99, 98)
* Chambers, E. K. ''The Elizabethan Stage''. 4 Volumes, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923.
* Conrad, B. ''Der wahre Shakespeare: Christopher Marlowe''. (German non-Fiction book) 5th Edition, 2016.
* Cornelius R. M. ''Christopher Marlowe's Use of the Bible''. New York: P. Lang, 1984.
* Downie J. A.; Parnell J. T., eds. ''Constructing Christopher Marlowe'', Cambridge 2000.
* Honan, Park. ''Christopher Marlowe Poet and Spy''. Oxford University Press, 2005.
* Kuriyama, Constance. ''Christopher Marlowe: A Renaissance Life''. Cornell University Press, 2002.
* Logan, Robert A. ''Shakespeare's Marlowe: The Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakespeare's Artistry''. Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate, 2007.
* Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. ''The Predecessors of Shakespeare: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama.'' Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1973.
* Marlowe, Christopher. ''Complete Works''. Vol. 3: ''Edward II.'', ed. R. Rowland. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. (pp. xxii–xxiii)
* Nicholl, Charles. ''The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe'', Vintage, 2002 (revised edition).
* Oz, Avraham, ed. ''Marlowe''. New Casebooks. Houndmills, Basingstoke and London: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2003.
* Parker, John. ''The Aesthetics of Antichrist: From Christian Drama to Christopher Marlowe''. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007.
* Riggs, David. ''The World of Christopher Marlowe'', Henry Holt and Co., 2005.
* Shepard, Alan. ''Marlowe's Soldiers: Rhetorics of Masculinity in the Age of the Armada'', Ashgate, 2002.
* Sim, James H. ''Dramatic Uses of Biblical Allusions in Marlowe and Shakespeare'', Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1966.
* Trow, M. J., and Taliesin Trow. ''Who Killed Kit Marlowe?: a contract to murder in Elizabethan England'', Stroud: Sutton, 2002.
* Wraight A. D.; Stern, Virginia F. ''In Search of Christopher Marlowe: A Pictorial Biography'', London: Macdonald, 1965.
The Marlowe Society
The works of Marlowe at Perseus Project
The complete works
with modernised spelling, on Peter Farey's Marlowe page.
BBC audio file
''In Our Time'' Radio 4 discussion programme on Marlowe and his work
The Marlowe Studies
an online library of books claiming that Marlowe was Shakespeare
Marlowe Bibliography Online
is an initiative of th
Marlowe Society of America
University of Melbourne
Its purpose is to facilitate scholarship on the works of Christopher Marlowe by providing a searchable annotated bibliography of relevant scholarship.
* The only true Shakespeare: Christopher Marlowe (German Non-Fiction Book:
Category:16th-century English dramatists and playwrights
Category:16th-century English poets
Category:Alumni of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Category:Deaths by stabbing in England
Category:17th-century English poets
Category:17th-century male writers
Category:English Renaissance dramatists
Category:People educated at The King's School, Canterbury
Category:People from Canterbury
Category:People murdered in England
Category:People of the Elizabethan era
Category:English male dramatists and playwrights
Category:English male poets
Category:English murder victims