Christopher Marlowe was an English dramatist, the so-called “father of English tragedy”, and the “inventor” of dramatic blank verse. Marlowe’s career as a dramatist lies between the years 1587 and 1593, with four great plays, notably: Tamburlaine the Great, an heroic epic in dramatic form (1587, printed in 1590); Dr Faustus (1588, entered at Stationers’ Hall 1601); The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta (dating perhaps from 1589, acted in 1592, printed in 1633); and Edward II (printed 1594).
Christopher Marlowe was the eldest son of a shoemaker at Canterbury and was born in that city on the 6th of February 1564. His father survived by a dozen years or so his illustrious son. Christopher received the rudiments of his education at the King’s School, Canterbury. He later on went to Cambridge and the Benet (Corpus Christi) College. Francis Kett, the mystic, burnt in 1589 for heresy, was a fellow and tutor of his college, and may have had some share in developing Marlowe’s opinions in religious matters.
Before 1587, Marlowe seems to have quitted Cambridge for London, where he attached himself to the Lord Admiral’s Company of Players. He began almost at once writing for the stage.
Of Marlowe’s career in London, apart from his four great theatrical successes, we know hardly anything. But he evidently knew the well known dramatist Thomas Kyd, who shared his unorthodox opinions. His verse was criticized and his atheism and homosexuality brought him in great danger. Fortunately, Marlowe was intimate with Sir Francis Walsingham, a personal friend of Sir Walter Raleigh. The dramatist is said to have been friends with the poetical earl of Oxford also.
The licentious character of some of the young dramatist’s tirades and his morals that left “everything to be desired”, as nineteenth century poet Algernon Swinburne says it, have set hem “outside the pale of civilized humanity”.
As the result of some depositions made by Thomas Kyd under the influence of torture, the Privy Council were upon the eve of investigating some serious charges against Marlowe when his career was abruptly and somewhat scandalously terminated. The order had already been issued for his arrest, when he was slain in a quarrel by a man variously named Archer or Ingram. It all happened in Deptford, at the end of May 1593. Christopher Marlowe was buried on the 1st of June in the churchyard of St Nicholas at Deptford.
The following September he was referred to as “dead of the plague.” The disgraceful particulars attached to the tragedy of Marlowe in the popular mind appeared only four years later. Thomas Beard, the Puritan author of The Theatre of God’s Judgements, used the death of this playmaker and atheist as one of his warning examples of the vengeance of God. There were made also some embellishments of this story: someone stated that Marlowe came to be “stabbed to death by a bawdy servingman, a rival of his in his lewde love”, and another man said that when the poet tried to prevent an assault upon an innocent man, his dagger was thrust into his own eye. But we don’t really know the circumstances of Marlowe’s death for sure. There is for example some evidence that Marlowe worked as a spy and it is even possible that his death was a set-up.
A few months before the end of his life, Marlowe transferred his services from the Lord Admiral’s to Lord Strange’s Company, and may have been brought into communication with Shakespeare, who in such plays as Richard II and Richard III owed not a little to the influence of his romantic predecessor. Some say that Shakespeare could not have possibly written all those magnificent plays… and Christopher Marlowe in fact, who survived his “death”, was writing under his name.