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About Marlowe Synopsis Theme Art Text

Who is Marlowe?

Christopher Marlowe was born in 1564 in Canterbury, the son of a shoemaker. He gained his education through scholarships from charitable trusts, first going to Kings School in Canterbury, and then to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. University authorities were very reluctant to grant Marlowe his degree, citing his frequent absences. Marlowe was given his degree after a letter from the Privy Council stated that Marlowe’s absences were due to employment ‘on matters touching the benefit of his country.’ This is where speculation began that Marlowe had been working as a secret agent, investigating English Catholics at Rheims in Germany.

In 1587 Marlowe moved to London, and began to write for the theatre. His first play "Tamburlaine the Great’ was performed the same year by the Admiral’s Men, led by Edward Alleyn. This play became extremely popular, probably as a result of its power-hungry lead character and remarkable verse.

His next play, "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus’ was first performed in 1589, although it was not published until 1604. It was based on the legend of Johann Faust, a German scholar who sold his soul to the devil. Marlowe wrote another four plays, the most famous of which are "The Jew of Malta’ (c.1590) and "Edward II’ (c.1592).

Marlowe seems to have been a quarrelsome man. Though little is known of his life, it is recorded that he was once arrested on a charge of homicide, and once bound over to keep the peace. He also appears to have been a free-thinker, to the extent that he provoked the authorities to issue a warrant charging Marlowe with heresy and blasphemy.

Before it could be executed, in 1593 he was killed in a tavern in Deptford, London, apparently in a quarrel over who should pay the drinking bill. However, as the others involved in the brawl had also had a history in espionage, over the years great speculation has developed over the real reason for Marlowe’s death. Conspiracy theorists allege that the brawl may have been an assassination associated with Marlowe’s spying activities.

Whether or not this is the case, it is certain that Marlowe’s short writing career had a major influence on Elizabethan theatre, and his major plays continue to be performed all over the world.

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