Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury in 1564, the same year as his great rival William Shakespeare. Though his father was only a shoemaker, Marlowe was educated at King's School and awarded a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. While at Corpus Christi he studied philosophy, history, and theology.

At this point Marlowe disappeared from university, and later speculation was that he was recruited by the government for espionage work. When he returned to Cambridge, Marlowe was refused his M.A. degree due to suspected Catholic sympathies, until the Queen's Privy Council intervened on his behalf.

In 1587 Marlowe left Cambridge again, this time for the life of a London playwright. His first major work, Tamburlaine the Great, was performed in that year.

Christopher Marlowe was a quick-tempered man, quick to anger and quick to make enemies. He spent two weeks in Newgate Gaol in 1589, charged with murder, though he was later acquitted. Although suspected of a variety of crimes ranging from heresy to homosexuality, it seems clear that Marlowe's unknown government connections kept him out of serious trouble.

Marlowe's dramatic career was only to span six short years. In that time he wrote The Jew of Malta, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, The Queen of Carthage, Edward II, and The Massacre at Paris. His work ranged from tragedy to historical drama, but he also wrote popular poetry such as Hero and Leander, and The Passionate Shepherd ("Come live with me and be my love; and we shall all the pleasures prove...").

The difficulty in evaluating Marlowe's work is that so few good copies exist. None of his plays were ever properly published. His great contribution to English theatre must lie in his influential use of blank verse in writing his dramatic works. Marlowe was the first to use blank verse in drama, but William Shakespeare soon followed his example to great acclaim.

Christopher Marlowe's death in 1593 was as shrouded in mystery as his life was clouded by controversy. The long-accepted version is that he and a close friend, one Ingram Frizer, dined in a tavern in Deptford. The two men quarreled over paying the bill, and in the fight that followed, Marlowe grabbed Frizer's dagger and attacked him from behind. Frizer managed to wrest the dagger from Marlowe and stabbed the author fatally in the eye.

However, the truth may not be so straightforward. One week before his death, Marlowe's roommate Thomas Kyd was kidnapped and tortured by the Queen's Privy Council into implicating the author as a heretic and an atheist. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but death intervened.

Or did it? Marlowe's companions on his final night had close connections to Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's spymaster. Speculation has persisted that Marlowe's death was faked on Walsingham's orders, to put an end to the Privy Council's pursuit of his protégé. Even more outrageous theories have surfaced that the well-educated Marlowe was actually responsible for much of the work attributed to Shakespeare.

Web Resources:

Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe 1564-1593
The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe