About the Author

Elizabethan poet, dramatist, and William Shakespeare's predecessor in English drama, whose reputation in his lifetime wasn't as good as Shakespeare's. Marlowe was killed at the age of 29 in a tavern broil by Ingram Frizer, and buried at St. Nicholas, Deptford. His dramatic career lasted only six years. And as we all know, English-born mystery writer Raymond Chandler lent Marlowe's name to his own hero Philip Marlowe.

Come live with me, and be my love;
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.

(from 'The Passionate Shepherd to His Love', c. 1589)

Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury as the son of a shoemaker. He attended the King's School and was awarded a scholarship from the foundation of Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. Marlowe studied the Bible and the Reformation theologians as well as philosophy and history at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. In 1584 he took a degree of A.B. Instead of continuing in Cambride, Marlowe left his studies to carry out a secret mission for the government. In 1587 he took the degree of M.A. University authorities, believing he had been converted to Catholicism, were first unwilling to grant his degree. It did not help him either, that he had been away too much from his studies. When the Queen's Privy Council interceded on Marlowe's behalf, the dispute was settled.

Instead of taking holy orders, Marlowe went to London and became a dramatist. He made important friends, including Sir Walter Raleigh, who had started the first colony in Virginia, and who was contending with the Earl of Essex of Queen's favours. Most likely Marlowe began writing plays on leaving Cambridge. His first dramas were composed in in blank verse. It is assumed that the first part of his Tamburlaine the Great was acted in London in 1587. In the play Tamburlaine burns the Koran and after conquering the world wants to conquer the heavens. In 1589 he was charged with the murder of William Bradley and sent to Newgate Prison, but acquitted after two weeks. It was not the last time when the quick tempered author was arrested and jailed. In 1592 an injunction was brought against him because of a street fight, in which a man was killed. Marlowe was also deported from Netherlands for counterfeiting gold coins.

Numerous plays have been assigned to Marlowe. Unfortunately, Marlowe neglected to publish authoritative texts, and his literary remnants consist much of incomplete works. However, his blank verse, written with great intensity, and villain-heroes, a new type on the English stage, influenced deeply the theatre of his time. The poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) observed of Marlowe that "the father of English tragedy and the creator of English blank verse was therefore also the teacher and the guide of Shakespeare." Shakespeare and Marlowe both wrote plays for Lord Strange's acting company and influenced each other's work. The blank verse was also Shakespeare's instument.

Marlowe's major plays were written between 1585 and 1593, among them Tamburlaine, Parts I and II, and The Jew of Malta, a tragedy and parody about statesmanship and betrayal. "If one takes The Jew of Malta not as a tragedy, or as a "tragedy of blood," but as a farce, the concluding act becomes intelligible; and if we attend with a careful ear to the versification, we find that Marlowe develops a tone to suit this farce, and even perhaps that this tone is his most powerful and mature tone." (T.S. Eliot in Selected Essays, new edition, 1960) The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus was based on the medieval legend of the bargain with the Devil. Edward II was a historical tragedy in blank verse. Marlowe's plays were produced by the Earl of Nottingham's Company. He also wrote poetry, including Hero and Leander, based on the Greek of Musaeus (5th century AD), The Passionate Shepherd, and translated Ovid's Amores.

"Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, like Goethe's Faust, finds himself before the specter of Helen (the idea that Helen of Troy was a ghost or apparition is already present in the ancients) and says to her, "Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss." And then, "O thou art fairer than the evening air clad in the beauty of a thousand stars." He does not say "evening sky," but "evening air." All of Copernican space is present in that word air, the infinite space that was one of the revelations of the Renaissance, the space in which we still believe, despite Einstein, that space that came to supplant the Ptolomaic system which presides over Dante's triple comedy." (Jorge Luis Borges in The Total Library, 1999)

Marlowe's mysterious death in the tavern, Eleanor Bull's house - nominally about who should pay the bill - may have had a political cause. Accusations of atheism, blasphemy, subversion and homosexuality, also burdened his public image. When he died, he was under a shadow of charges of atheism on the evidence of his former roommate and fellow dramatist, Thomas Kyd, who declared under torture that a document denying the divinity of Christ belonged to Marlowe. Marlowe's connections saved him from imprisonment. The author might have worked as a government's secret agent according to Anthony Burgess. Possibly while still at university, he became an agent of Sir Francis Walsingham (c. 1530-90), a statesman and a Puritan sympathizer, in the secret service of Elisabeth I and a favorite of Walsingham's brother, Thomas.

Research suggests he was murdered by an agent of Francis Walsingham, for reasons unknown. According to Charles Nicholl (The Reckoning The Murder of Christopher Marlowe, 1994), supporters of the Earl of Essex could have been behind the death. Scholars are still attempting to reconstruct the events. In the common version it is concluded, that after eating and drinking together in a tavern in Deptford, on Wednesday, May 30, 1593, Marlowe and his friend Ingram Frizer began to wrangle over payment of the bill. Marlowe wrenched Frizer's dagger from its sheath, but in the struggle Frizer got the dagger and struck a blow in Marlowe's eye that was lethal. A week earlier a warrant had been issued for the author's arrest. Marlowe was buried two days later in an unmarked grave. His killer pleaded self-defense and received a pardon from the Queen.

Marlowe's violent death was not something that exceptional among writers. In 1599 the playwright John Day apparently killed the playwright Henry Porter, and the famous dramatist Ben Jonson killed the well-known actor Gabriel Spencer in a duel . As a spy and a writer Marlowe is an early link in a long tradition through Ben Jonson and Daniel Defoe to modern day writers Graham Greene, John Le Carré, John Dickson Carr, Somerset Maugham, Alec Waugh and Ted Allbeury.

Most author biographies courtesy of Author's Calendar. Used with permission.