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Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe

The English dramatist Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) was the first English playwright to reveal the full potential of dramatic blank verse and the first to exploit the tragic implications of Renaissance humanism.

Although a number of English dramatists before Christopher Marlowe had achieved some notable successes in the field of comedy, none had produced a first-rate tragedy. It was Marlowe who made the first significant advances in tragedy. In each of his major plays he focuses on a single character who dominates the action by virtue of his extraordinary strength of will. Marlowe's thundering blank verse, although for the most part lacking the subtlety of Shakespeare's mature poetry, proved a remarkably effective medium for this kind of drama.

Marlowe was born in February 1564, about 2 months before Shakespeare. His father was a prosperous middle-class merchant of Canterbury. Christopher received his early education at King's School in Canterbury and at the age of 17 went to Cambridge, where he held a scholarship requiring him to study for the ministry. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1584 and a master of arts degree in 1587. Toward the end of his stay at Cambridge he evidently aroused the suspicions of the university authorities, who threatened to withhold his degree. The Queen's Privy Council intervened, however, and assured the authorities that Marlowe "had done Her Majesty good service." The nature of this service is still a mystery, but it is likely that Marlowe was involved in a secret espionage mission abroad.

Shortly after receiving his master's degree, Marlowe went to London. He soon became known for his wild, bohemian ways and his unorthodox thinking. In 1589, for example, he was imprisoned for a time in connection with the death of a certain William Bradley, who had been killed in a violent quarrel in which Marlowe played an important part. He was several times accused of being an "atheist" and a "blasphemer," most notably by his fellow playwright Thomas Kyd. These charges led to Marlowe's arrest in 1593, but he died before his case was decided.

Literary Career

Marlowe's career as a poet and dramatist spanned a mere 6 years. Between his graduation from Cambridge in 1587 and his death in 1593 he wrote only one major poem (Hero and Leander, unfinished at his death) and six or seven plays (one play, Dido Queen of Carthage, may have been written while he was still a student). Since the dating of several plays is uncertain, it is impossible to construct a reliable history of Marlowe's intellectual and artistic development.

Tamburlaine the Great, a two-part play, was first printed in 1590 but was probably composed several years earlier. The famous prologue to the first part announces a new poetic and dramatic style: "From jigging veins of rhyming mother wits,/ And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay/ We'll lead you to the stately tent of war,/ Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine/Threat'ning the world with high astounding terms/ And scourging kingdoms with his conquering sword./ View but his picture in this tragic glass,/ And then applaud his fortunes as you please." The play itself is a bold demonstration of Tamburlaine's rise to power and his singleminded, often inhumanly cruel exercise of that power. The hero provokes awe and wonder but little sympathy.

Although written sometime between 1588 and 1592, The Jew of Malta was not printed until 1633. The chief figure, the phenomenally wealthy merchant-prince Barabas, is one of the most powerful Machiavellian figures of the Elizabethan drama. Unlike Tamburlaine, who asserts his will openly and without guile, Barabas is shrewd, devious, and secretive.

Doctor Faustus, which is generally considered Marlowe's greatest work, was probably also his last. Its central figure, a scholar who feels he has exhausted all the conventional areas of human learning, attempts to gain the ultimate in knowledge and power by selling his soul to the devil. The high point comes in the portrayal of the hero's final moments, as he awaits the powers of darkness who demand his soul.

His Death

The circumstances of Marlowe's death first came to light in the 20th century. On May 30, 1593, Marlowe dined at Deptford with a certain Ingram Frizer and two others. In the course of an argument over the tavern bill, Marlowe wounded Frizer with a dagger, whereupon Frizer seized the same dagger and stabbed Marlowe over the right eye. According to the coroner's inquest, from which this information is drawn, Marlowe died instantly.

Despite the unusual wealth of detail surrounding this fatal episode, there has been much speculation about the affair. It has been suggested, for example, that the deed was politically motivated and that Frizer (who was subsequently judged to have acted in self-defense) was simply acting as an agent for a more prominent person. In any case, within 3 or 4 years of his death, Marlowe's career was being cited by contemporary moralists as a classic illustration of the workings of divine retribution against a blasphemous atheist. But he was also recognized as a remarkable dramatic genius who, if he had lived longer, would certainly have rivaled Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.

Further Reading

Among the best of the many full-length studies of Marlowe's life are Frederick S. Boas, Christopher Marlowe: A Biographical and Critical Study (1940); John E. Bakeless, The Tragicall History of Christopher Marlowe (2 vols., 1942); and Paul H. Kocher, Christopher Marlowe: A Study of His Thought, Learning, and Character (1946). The facts of Marlowe's death were discovered by Leslie Hotson and set forth in his The Death of Christopher Marlowe (1925; repr. 1967).

Among the critical studies that take in all of Marlowe's works are Harry Levin, The Overreacher: A Study of Christopher Marlowe (1952), and J. B. Steane, Marlowe: A Critical Study (1964). An important critical study is Roy W. Battenhouse, Marlowe's Tamburlaine: A Study in Renaissance Moral Philosophy (1941). For an interesting aspect of Renaissance drama see Eugene M. Waith, The Herculean Hero in Marlowe, Chapman, Shakespeare and Dryden (1962).

Additional Sources

Bakeless, John Edwin, Christopher Marlowe, New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1975.

Henderson, Philip, Christopher Marlowe, New York: Barnes &Noble Books, 1974.

Hilton, Della, Christopher Marlowe and the new London theatre, Edinburgh: Pentland Press, 1993.

Hilton, Della, Who was Kit Marlowe?: The story of the poet and playwright, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977.

Ingram, John Henry, Marlowe & his poetry, Philadelphia: R. West, 1977.

Lewis, J. G., Christopher Marlowe: outlines of his life and works, Philadelphia: R. West, 1977.

Pinciss, G. M., Christopher Marlowe, New York: Ungar, 1975.

Urry, William, Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury, London; Boston: Faber and Faber, 1988. □

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Marlowe, Christopher (1564–1593)

MARLOWE, CHRISTOPHER (15641593)

MARLOWE, CHRISTOPHER (15641593), English dramatist and poet. Marlowe lived an exciting, if short, lifepart writer of renown and partit is claimedgovernment agent. The son of a Canterbury shoemaker named John Marlowe, he obtained a scholarship to the King's School in Canterbury; from 1580 he attended Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, receiving his B.A. in 1584. Although he remained at Cambridge, completing his M.A. in 1587, documents show that his attendance became sporadic, and there is much speculation concerning his activities from 1584 to 1587, the year he left. A Privy Council letter written to the college and dated 29 June 1587 indicates that prior to that date he had been engaged in government business, possibly as an agent spying on the Roman Catholic seminary at Rheims.

What is most discussed about the writer's life is to what extent he was a spy, an atheist, and a homosexual. In 1593, the year of his death, another government agent called Richard Baines reported that Marlowe had uttered heresies against the teachings of the church. He quoted Marlowe as saying that "Moyses was but a jugler," and that religion only evolved in order to control nations. According to Baines's testimony, Marlowe had said: "all they that love not Tobacco & Boies were fooles."

Marlowe arrived in London soon after he left Cambridge, but not much is known about this time. His first play, Dido, Queen of Carthage, was written in collaboration with his Cambridge associate Thomas Nashe (15671601), and may have been completed c. 1586, though it was not published until 1594. It was first performed by the Children of the Queen's Chapel. However, the Admiral's Men, an adult company under the management of Philip Henslowe, certainly performed his famous work for the stagethe highly successful Tamburlaine the Great, about a pagan leader, which appeared in 1587 and was published in 1590. This play along with its sequel, The Second Part of Tamburlaine, has been cited as marking "the beginning of modern drama" (Wiggins and Lindsey). The Admiral's Men went on producing Marlowe's plays into the late 1580s and early 1590s, with Edward Alleyn, the actor-manager of the company, taking the main role in all productions. These included The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus (published in 1604), The Jew of Malta (1633), The Massacre at Paris (1594?), and Edward II (1594).

Marlowe's poetry, in particular his Hero and Leander, is also defined as distinctively ground-breaking work of the English Renaissance. All his verse, including Hero and Leander, "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," and his translations of Ovid and Lucan, were reputedly written during his Cambridge years, although there is no real evidence of this. It was all published during the period 1598 to 1600, with two endings penned by other writers for the unfinished Hero and Leander of 1598.

The traces we have of Marlowe's life indicate a personality of violent temperament. In 1589 he was arrested after a duel with one William Bradley, and he was put into Newgate Prison in London. In 1592, having been sent back from the Lowlands by Sir Robert Sidney, the governor of Flushing, he was bound over to keep the peace after fighting with two city constables, and in September of the same year he was accused of assaulting a Canterbury tailor. He is known to have shared a lodging with another dramatist of the age, Thomas Kyd, who was to say of Marlowe (in 1593) that he was "intemperate and of a cruel heart," possessing "monstrous opinions" and given to "attempting sudden privy injuries to men." However, Kyd was himself arrested at the time, and doubt may be thrown onto his motives for this description. Marlowe's death makes a bloody end to a colorfully interpreted life. He was killed by Ingram Friser in a brawl that ostensibly concerned a "reckoning" or bill; however, because of the shady people involved, including Friser, who was employed by Thomas Walsingham, the nephew of Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's secretary of state, the doubt has persisted that Marlowean early, eloquent, and powerful user of the English languagewas assassinated on the orders of a high-ranking official.

See also Drama: English ; English Literature and Language ; Shakespeare, William .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Marlowe, Christopher. The Complete Plays. Edited by J. B. Steane. Harmondsworth, U.K., 1986.

. Edward the Second. Edited by Martin Wiggins and Robert Lindsey. London and New York, 1997.

Secondary Sources

Healy, Thomas. Christopher Marlowe. Plymouth, U.K., 1994.

Hopkins, Lisa. Christopher Marlowe: A Literary Life. Basingstoke, U.K., and New York, 2000.

Sales, Roger. Christopher Marlowe. Basingstoke, U.K., and New York, 1991.

Eva Griffith

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Marlowe, Christopher (1564–1593)

Marlowe, Christopher (15641593)

English playwright and contemporary of William Shakespeare who wrote moving, tragic plays in the new medium of blank verse. Born in Canterbury, he prepared for the ministry at the University of Cambridge. Some historical documents indicate that Marlowe was engaged by the minister Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's secretary of state, to serve as a spy in France. After earning a master's degree at Cambridge, he moved to London, where he joined the Lord Admiral's Company and soon ran into trouble with the law. He was arrested and jailed in 1589 for taking part in a deadly brawl. In 1593, he was arrested again under the charge of atheism.

Historians are still piecing together the obscure details of Marlowe's life and writing career. In the course of his short life, he wrote only one extended poem and six plays. His earliest work, Tamburlaine the Great, was written in two parts and printed in 1590. The play describes the career of a cruel Mongol tyrant. This play was followed by Dido, Queen of Carthage; The Massacre at Paris; Edward, II ; and The Jew of Malta, which presents a deviously ambitious central character presented quite sympathetically among a hostile milieu of Christians. All of Marlowe's works involves a powerful man who is laid low by his own outlandish personality and ambition. His best-known play is Doctor Faustus, which recounts the familiar story of a brilliant scholar who sells his soul to the devil.

Marlowe died in the town of Deptford on May 30, 1593, during a brawl in a private home. The circumstances of his murder are shrouded in mystery, and some historians believe it is connected to his shadowy double life as a spy and government agent. According to some accounts, his killer, Ingram Frizer, was working on instructions of a more powerful man or on the government's wishes for Marlowe's death. Others believe Marlowe's own fiery temperament and penchant for physical assault brought about his death at the hands of Frizer, who was judged by the authorities to have acted in self-defense.

See Also: drama; England; Shakespeare, William

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Marlowe, Christopher

Christopher Marlowe, 1564–93, English dramatist and poet, b. Canterbury. Probably the greatest English dramatist before Shakespeare, Marlowe, a shoemaker's son, was educated at Cambridge and he went to London in 1587, where he became an actor and dramatist for the Lord Admiral's Company. His most important plays are the two parts of Tamburlaine the Great (c.1587), Dr. Faustus (c.1588), The Jew of Malta (c.1589), and Edward II (c.1592). Marlowe's dramas have heroic themes, usually centering on a great personality who is destroyed by his own passion and ambition. Although filled with violence, brutality, passion, and bloodshed, Marlowe's plays are never merely sensational. The poetic beauty and dignity of his language raise them to the level of high art. Most authorities detect influences of his work in the Shakespeare canon, notably in Titus Andronicus and King Henry VI. Of his nondramatic pieces, the best-known are the long poem Hero and Leander (1598), which was finished by George Chapman, and the beautiful lyric that begins "Come live with me and be my love." In 1593, Marlowe was stabbed in a barroom brawl by a drinking companion. Although a coroner's jury certified that the assailant acted in self-defense, the murder may have resulted from a definite plot, due, as some scholars believe, to Marlowe's activities as a government agent.

See his Works and Life (6 vol., 1949–55); biographies by F. S. Boas (1940), C. Norman (rev. ed. 1971), C. Kuriyama (2002), and P. Honan (2006); studies by J. E. Bakeless (1942), P. H. Kocher (1946), H. Levin (1952, repr. 1964), W. Sanders (1969), J. B. Steane (1964, repr. 1970), R. Erikson (1987), C. Nicholl (1992), and D. Riggs (2004).

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Marlowe, Christopher

Marlowe, Christopher (1564–93). English playwright, poet, and spy, reportedly an atheist and probably homosexual. Born in Canterbury (Kent), he was educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, possibly beginning his brief career as a spy on the continent while still enrolled there, and receiving his degree only after intervention by the Privy Council. His plays, beginning with Dido, Queen of Carthage (c.1587), are energetic, restless, generically daring explorations of selfhood. Success came with his two-part epic of ambition and war, Tamburlaine (1587–8), and between 1588 and 1593 he wrote four more plays: The Massacre at Paris, The Jew of Malta, Doctor Faustus, and Edward II. The last two are generally considered his masterpieces, the former a deceptively simple tale of aspiration and damnation, which reconfigures the morality play tradition for the early modern stage, the latter a remarkably frank account both of a homosexual king's relations with his favourite and of the bleak outworkings of realpolitik. Shortly after a warrant for his arrest was issued in May 1593 on charges of atheism (and before he had completed his narrative poem Hero and Leander), Marlowe was killed, apparently in a pub brawl.

Gordon Macmullan

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Marlowe, Christopher

Marlowe, Christopher (1564–93) English playwright and poet. Marlowe helped make blank verse the vehicle of Elizabethan drama. Much of his success derives from his ability to humanize his heroes, such as Tamburlaine the Great (1590), The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1604), and The Jew of Malta (1633). His masterpiece is the tragedy Edward II (1592). His greatest poems are Hero and Leander (1598) and The Passionate Shepherd (1599). Marlowe served as a spy in Francis Walsingham's intelligence service.

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Texts/Marlowe.html

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