Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe’s Life

A famous poet, playwright, and translator of the Elizabethan era, Christopher Marlowe holds a prominent place among the famous Elizabethan playwrights. Yet there are aspects of his life that are still shrouded in mystery. According to some literary biographers, he was baptized on February 26, 1564 in Canterbury, England, but they are not certain about his date of birth. It is certain, though, that he was born a few days prior to this date. He was thus just a few months older than Shakespeare.

Son of John Marlowe, a cobbler, Marlowe studied in Canterbury’s King School. Later he attended Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, after winning a scholarship. He completed his Bachelor of Arts in 1584, and subsequently completed his Masters. Initially, the University hesitated to award him Master of Arts, for there were rumors that he wanted to go to the English college at Rheims, and was preparing for ordination to become a Roman Catholic Priest.

However, Marlowe was awarded the Master of Arts when the Privy Council intervened on his behalf, and praised Marlowe for his “good services” to the Queen. It, however, did not clearly state the nature of his services, though it sent a letter to the authorities of Cambridge about this connection. This led to speculations about Marlowe being a spy working for Sir Francis Walsingham, a famous intelligence network operator at that time. Although there was no direct evidence available to corroborate this theory, the letter of Council is stated to be enough evidence to prove that Marlowe served for the government in some secret capacity.

Marlowe was assumed an atheist, but modern historians are of the opinion that his apparent atheism was a pretense to serve as a government spy. He is also described as a homosexual, though some scholars report that this was a rumor meant to paint him in a bad light.

In 1589, Francis Kett, an Anglican, was burnt alive for heretic views. This may have left a deep impact on Marlowe and influenced his thoughts about religious issues. Marlowe came under fire for these beliefs. He faced charges in 1592 in the Netherlands for counterfeiting coins, and was subsequently arrested. However, this arrest did not deter him from his literary pursuits, and he was released later.

Marlowe died at very young age of 29 in Deptford, Kent in England and was buried in the St. Nicholas graveyard. Though no one knows the real circumstances of his death, it is said that he was killed on account of his atheistic views and rejection of orthodoxy.

Christopher Marlowe’s Works

Christopher Marlowe wrote his first drama “Dido, Queen of Carthage”; the Children of the Chapel, a troupe of boy actors, performed it from 1587 to 1593. It was published  later, in 1594. In 1587, his second play “Tamburlaine the Great” was performed on a London stage. This was the first English play written in blank verse, and was based on the story of a conqueror, Tamburlaine, who rose from being a shepherd to being a warlord. It was a resounding success and Marlowe followed it with another popular play “The Jew of Malta,written from 1589 to 1590. It was performed in 1592 before the publication of “Dido, Queen of Carthage.” Later, Marlowe published “Edward the Second,” “The Massacre at Paris,” and his masterpiece “Dr. Faustus” in quick succession.

Marlowe’s plays received a great deal of success during the Elizabethan period. Though he wrote poetry too, Marlowe is considered a greater playwright than poet.

Christopher Marlowe’s Style and Popular Poems

Marlowe was a real source of guidance for Shakespeare for writing great plays in blank verse. His works contained music that was in harmony with Milton’s works. His blank verse was metrically precise, regular, and contained imagery not introduced in English poetry at that time. He also introduced genuine blank verse and tragedy in literature and paved the way for Shakespeare to follow.

Critics considered Marlowe to be the father of English tragedy and blank verse. It is said that his works contained the true spirit of Elizabethan era. His most popular poems are “Hero and Leander,” “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” and “Elegies.”

More about Him

Marlowe was a highly influential and admired artist. Shakespeare paid tribute to Marlowe in “As You like It,” where he quotes some lines from Marlowe’s poem “Hero and Leander.” Shakespeare also borrowed several themes from Marlowe for his plays.

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