Christopher Marlowe


Christopher Marlowe: Born 26th February 1564 - 30th May 1593 [Image 13]

Christopher Marlowe (christened 26th February 1564- 30 May 1593) was an English dramatist and poet, at the forefront of the 16th century, whose works established him as an Elizabethan screenwriter. [6] As with many Elizabethans, the date on which he was born is unknown, but during this time babies were usually christened when they were only two or three days old; therefore, it is safe to say he was born the second half of February.

Marlowe wrote seven plays and four poems, while he led a life of violence and secrecy, which later cut his life short. Marlowe died at the age of twenty-nine due to a stab wound to his right eye endured in a fight. [1] Unfortunately Marlowe’s artistic profession lasted what was short of six years though his literary works guaranteed his enduring legacy. [1]

Early Years

The King's School in Canterbury [18]
Christopher Marlowe was born to John and Katherine Marlowe in Canterbury, 1564. Over the period of fourteen years, his mother bore nine children, which was common during that time. Marlowe was the second child and first son. [2] Marlowe's elder sister Mary died at the age of six. One of his brothers did not live long enough to be named, a second called Thomas, died at only a few days old, a third, also named Thomas, seems to disappear and may have died young as well. Similarly, another sister, Joan or Jane (name unknown), married and died age thirteen either during or after giving birth. Marlowe had three older sisters who survived to adulthood. All of the loss Marlowe endured and was surrounded by greatly impacted his later years. He appeared to have never married or have children of his own. [6]

Image: Norman Staircase, King’s School, Canterbury. [15]

Marlowe was recognized for his talent; therefore, he was granted a scholarship to attend the prestigious Kings School in Canterbury. [7] Here Marlowe received an outstanding education that was rated the best in his day. [2] It was here that Marlowe became a scholar a the age of fourteen. [8] Afterward Marlowe qualified for a scholarship to attend Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, which required him to take Holy Orders and enter the church. This scholarship was usually awarded to those who studied for ministry. [6] It was here that Marlowe spend the majority of his time translating Latin into English blank verses then into rhyming couplets, which was later shown in his works. [2] He internalized the basic principles of Latin prosody that later under laid his great contributions to the art of English poetry. [7] Marlowe composed verses and performed plays from the time he attended King. Marlowe's studies fashioned him to become the innovative genius he was. [2]

King's School .png
Image: King’s School, Canterbury [16]
Marlowe gained his bachelors in July 1584, and earned his masters in 1587. [2] Marlowe found school highly gratifying because the demands of the curriculum perfectly matched his talents. [8] He left Cambridge after years of study with the intent to become an ordained member of the Anglican Church. Marlowe disappeared frequently during his last years at school, exceeding the number of absences permitted. [2] He was away from his college for about half of the academic year (1584-1585), and the pattern of absences persisted until the end of his master’s course. [7] He went against the orders of his scholarship because he was to take Holy Orders, but instead began to work as an agent for the government. At Cambridge, he met a man named Thomas Watson. They became close friends and planned to live together. It was because of Watson Marlow led a life of secrecy and became a spy for the government’s secret service. [2] Due to his secrecy and number of absences Cambridge retained Marlowe’s Masters degree. It was not until the Queen’s Privy Council interceded on Marlowe’s behalf that Cambridge gave Marlowe his degree. The Privy Council settled the dispute by informing Cambridge he was helping the government during those times of absence. [2]

Secret Service

Due to the outbreak of war with Spain in 1585, the Jesuit mission to convert England, and threats posed by others, brought on a demand for messengers, spies, and undercover agents; therefore, Queen Elizabeth’s government recruited brilliant nationalistic young men to serve as secret executors. This was the first state-sponsored secret service in English history. [7] Due to the efficiency and commitment of the Secret Service that was brought together, Queen Elizabeth eluded assassination. [3]
Christopher Marlowe [20]

In 1587 the mystery of Marlowe’s absence continued to grow more and more skeptical. Marlowe’s constant absences from school and spread of rumors eventually reached Cambridge authorities that believed that he had gone beyond the seas to Rheims as a Catholic convert, therefore, they decided to retain his master’s degree. [7] Rheims was a Catholic Seminary that housed students who were not Catholic and some of Queen Elizabeth’s deadliest enemies. [7] Apparently Marlowe took on an important assignment for the Government that was in connection with uncovering the Babington Plot. The Babington plot was a plan to assassinate Queen Elizabeth in order to put Mary, Queen of Scots, on the English throne. Marlowe was sent to snoop around and keep watch on the seminars. [9]

Queen Elizabeth's Privy Council [19]

Marlowe appealed to a Privy Council once he was back in order to clear his name and fix the “misunderstanding”, and so they did. [3] On the 29th of June, the queen’s Privy Council informed the university officials, “Marlowe had done her Majesty good service…in matters of touching the benefit of his country”. [7] The statement from the council leaves the impression that Marlowe has carried out secret missions on the Councils behalf. [7] Most biographers tend to have different opinions when it comes to Marlowe going to Rheims. Some say it was a rumor that he had actually been to Rheims, and others say he had gone. Marlowe’s name appears nowhere in the Diary where the seminary kept its records; therefore, the records showed he intended on visiting Rheims but never did. [7]

Below is the text of the letter sent by the Privy Council to the Cambridge University authorities who was withholding Marlowe’s master’s degree.


"Whereas it was reported that Christopher Morley was determined to have gone beyond the seas to Reames and there to remaine, Their Lordships thought good to certefie that he had no such intent, but that in all his accions he had behaved him selfe orderlie and discreetlie wherebie he had done her Majestie good service, & deserved to be rewarded for his fathfull dealinge: Their Lordships request that the rumor thereof should be allaied by all possible meanes, and that he should be furthered in the degree he was to take this next Commencement: Because it was not her Majesties pleasure that anie one emploied as he had been in matters touching the benefitt of his Countrie should be defamed by those that are ignorant in th'affaires he went about."

To this are appended the titles of the Lord Archbishop (John Whitgift), Lord Chancelor (Christopher Hatton), Lord Thr[easur]er (William Cecil), Lord Chamberlaine (Henry Carey) and Mr. Comptroler (James Crofts). [14]

Arrest and Death of Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe [21]

Marlowe was a rebellious and impulsive character; therefore, it led him into a great deal of misfortunes. September of 1589, he was involved in an altercation with a man named William Bradley. Marlow was involved in the duel on behalf of his friend, Thomas Watson. Bradley had an existing feud with Watson’s brother-in-law and owed him money, but for what is unknown. It is said to believe that Bradley was the aggressor calling out, “Art thou now come? Then I will have a bout with thee,” which led Watson to stab and kill Bradley. There is no evidence that Marlowe contributed to the altercation. Marlowe fled the scene, yet Watson was arrested. Marlowe was eventually arrested and held for a few nights, as for Watson was detained until February, when he was discharged for self-defense. This form of fighting appeared to be a duel, which was considered a ritualistic form of violence. This was not only socially acceptable amongst gentlemen but sometimes considered essential for defending one’s reputation. [18]

In May of 1593, Marlowe was arrested on a charge of atheism due to the fact his roommate Thomas Kyd framed him. Kyd had “suspicious writings” in his room that were found, and blamed on Marlowe. During this time atheism was a genuine offense, for which he could have been punished or arrested for. [11] Shortly after Marlowe was granted bail, and was discharged on the condition that he reported daily to a court officer. [3] They only reliable sources and or documents, during that time, are those written by others. Here is a transcript of accusations written by Kyd in response to tell what he knows about “Marlowe’s wrongdoings”: [12]


On May 30th, 1593 Marlowe was killed. It is unsure if Marlowe was killed in self-defense during an altercation, in the house of Dame Eleanor Bull, or murdered in order to silence him based on case information he may have known. [4] At the time of his murder there were four agents in Bull’s home, Robert Poley, Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres, and Christopher Marlowe himself. It was unusual that Marlowe was murdered when surrounded by all experienced secret service agent. [10] Marlowe had apparently lost his temper over the issue of a payment of some kind and attacked Frizer, who, in self-defense, then stabbed Marlowe leaving a deadly incision over his right eye that was the cause of his death. [4] The claim that Frizer murdered Marlowe “to spare his own life,” falters on several counts. Pummeling was not taken to be life threatening. If Frizer was so constrained, “that he could not in any way get away”, when and how did he gain the mobility to repossess his dagger and plunge it into Marlowe’s eye socket? [11] Poley was obligated to keep the queen’s peace, but he and Skeres apparently vanished once the fight started, however it is unknown if they just sat there and watched. [11] There are numerous debates and theories about the death of Marlowe and if it was planned. [3]

Drawing of what could have occurred on the 30th of May. [17]

Marlowe’s death was known to all the day he was stabbed. There was no attempt to hide Marlowe’s death, but as to how it happened, and why, there was yet no defined information and will remain unknown. Christopher Marlowe was buried the same day he had died at the church of St Nicholas, Deptford. [13]

List Of Works

  • Dido, Queen of Carthage (written 1585-1587, first printed 1594)
  • Tamburlaine, Part 1 and 2 (Part 1: written – 1586-1587, first printed - 1590) Part 2: written – 1587-1588, first printed – 1590)
  • The Jew of Malta (written- 1589, first printed-1633)
  • Doctor Faustus (written-1589, first printed-1604)
  • Edward the Second (written-1592, first printed- 1594)
  • The Massacre at Paris (written-1592-1593, first printed-1594)

  • Hero and Leander (written-1593, unfinished; completed by George Chapman, first printed- 1598)
  • Ovid’s Elegies/ Amores (written-1582, first printed-1600)
  • The First Book of Luncan’ (written-1582, first printed-1600)
  • The passionate Shepherd to his Love (written 1593, first printed 1599, six years after Marlowe’s death.)

Christopher Marlowe - Mini Biography

This video goes on to talk about Marlowe and his writing. It discusses Christopher Marlowe’s short career and his well-known plays he produced. [19]



1. Baird, S. (n.d.). Christopher Marlowe. Christopher Marlowe. Retrieved October 27, 2014, from Christopher Marlowe By: Shuman, R. Baird, Dictionary of World Biography: The Renaissance.
2. Blake, R. (n.d.). Christopher Marlowe. Christopher Marlowe By: Blake, Robert G., Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition,. Retrieved
October 26, 2014, from Literary Reference Center.
3. Robison, C. (2009). Christopher Marlowe. Magill’s Survey Of World Literature, Revised Edition, 1-7.
4. Erne, L. (2005). Biography, Mythography, and Criticism: The Life and Works of Christopher Marlowe. Biography, Mythography, and Criticism: The Life and Works of Christopher Marlowe,103(1), 28-50. Retrieved October 26, 2014, from JSTOR.
5. Briggs, J. (1983). Marlowe's Massacre at Paris: A Reconsideration. The Review of English Studies, New Series, 34. Retrieved October 26, 2014, from JSTOR.
6. Hopkins, Lisa. "Christopher Marlowe, Renaissance Dramatist." Google Books. 1 Jan. 2008. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
7. "The Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe." Google Books. Ed. Patrick Cheney. Cambridge University, 1 Jan. 2004. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
8. Kuriyama, Constance Brown. "Christopher Marlowe: A Renaissance Life." Google Books. 9 May 2002. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
9. Hutchinson, Robert. "Elizabeth's Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War That Saved England." Google Books. N.p., 2007. Web. Nov. 2014.
10. Nicholl, Charles. "The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe." Google Books. N.p., 1992. Web. Nov. 2014.
11. Riggs, David. "The World of Christopher Marlowe." Google Books. N.p., Jan.-Feb. 2006. Web. Nov. 2014.
12. Farey, Peter. "Marlowe." TEXTS and DOCUMENTS. N.p., 1997-2014. Web. Nov. 2014.
13. Marlowe-Portrait-1585. Digital image. Wikimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. Nov. 2014.
14. Pennington, Tom. Norman Staircase, King's School, Canterbury. Digital image. Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. Nov. 2014.
15. Historical Articles and Illustrations. Digital image. Google Images. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
16. Scott, D. (Ed.). (n.d.). Christopher Marlowe the Craftsman. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
17. Christopher Marlowe - Mini Biography [Motion picture]. (2013).
18. The King's School in Canterbury.
19. Privy Council of the United Kingdom. 1837.
20. Christopher Marlowe : The Poetry Foundation.
21. Cambridge Authors » Christopher Marlowe.