Christopher Marlowe

Biography of Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe remained the most mysterious figure of English literature. His life, as well as his death, contains missing links that the scholars are still busy filling up.

Christopher Marlowe was an English playwright, poet, and translator. He was a widely known literary figure of the Elizabeth era. Marlowe remained the foremost dramatist in London before the literary success of William Shakespeare. Even Shakespeare was influenced by his use of blank verse in dramatic works. Marlowe’s use of blank verse form became the standard for the Elizabethan period.

Marlowe was born in Canterbury, England in 1564. He was the eldest son born to his parents John Marlowe and Katherine. Marlowe was likely to have been born a few days before his actual birthday. Besides, he was two months older than Shakespeare who was baptized on 26 April 1564. Very little is known of his life up until he was enrolled in school by age 14.


Marlowe at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

At the age of 14, he attended The King’s School and was later awarded a scholarship to study at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He graduated from the college in 1584, gaining a Bachelor of Arts degree. He intended to continue on to receive his masters, but the university required the convincing of the Privy Council to finally award it to him in 1587. They declared any absences he might have occurred were due to his service to Queen Elizabeth I.

It is still unclear today what it was that Marlowe was doing for his country, or what involvement he may have had with the intelligence service. It is possible that he held a job with the service, in some kind of capacity as a spy, but there is no convincing evidence one way or the other.

Literary Career

Dramatic Works

After graduating from school he moved to London and began his writing career.

  • Marlowe’s first play, Dido, Queen of Carthage, was published in 1594 but was written much earlier in 1585-1587.
  • It was followed by the two-part, Tamburlaine the Great. This play was performed on stage and is part of the greatest era of Elizabethan theatre.
  • In 1589-1590, he composed The Jew of Malta.
  • Then appeared his literary masterpiece Doctor Faustus or The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. It was composed between 1588-1592 and first appeared in print in 1604.
  • In 1592, Marlowe composed Edward II, one of his historical plays.
  • The last play which is attributed to Christopher Marlowe is The Massacre at Paris. It was printed in 1594.

These were just a few of the plays that served to build Marlowe’s reputation as a master playwright.

Poetic Works

Christopher Marlowe’s poems were posthumously published. His poetic works include:

  • Translation of Ovid’s elegiac works, Amores, was one of Marlowe’s notorious poetic works. It was burned publicly as offensive work in print.
  • Later, he published one of his best-known poetic works of all time ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’.
  • Marlowe’s unfinished poetic work Hero and Leander was printed in 1598.

Marlowe’s Philosophy

Throughout his life, mostly due to the subject matter of some of his written material, Marlowe was rumored to be an atheist. Atheism had dangerous implications as it opposed both God and the state. According to some historians, Marlowe’s professed atheism is confused with his support for Catholicism. An informer Richard Baines produced supportive documents containing Marlowe’s own words regarding his atheism. Similar specimens were shown by his contemporary playwright Thomas Kyd. Whatsoever, Marlowe’s dramatic works do not reveal whether he was a true atheist or not.

Life as a Spy

Marlowe’s service to his nation was not specified by the Privy Council. The letters sent to Cambridge provoked speculation concerning Marlowe being a spy. It was speculated that he was working for the intelligence service of Sir Francis Walsingham. Later, in 1592, Marlowe was arrested for seditious charges. However, no charge or imprisonment resulted after his arrest. It might have disrupted one of Marlowe’s spying missions.

Marlowe, a Homosexual?

Some scholars claimed that Marlowe was a homosexual. They argue that homosexuality applied to sexual acts rather than sexual orientation or identity during the Elizabethan era. Rumors revolved around Marlowe’s homosexual activities were produced after his death. Some scholars even argue that Marlowe was not a homosexual at all. Though his works explore homosexual themes, there are no such historical facts proving his homosexuality.

Arrest and Death

Marlowe was finally arrested on May 20, 1593, on the charge of heresy. Oddly for the times, he was soon released by the court with the stipulation that he returned regularly to report to an officer of the law.

His freedom and good luck did not last long as he was killed ten days later by Ingram Frizer after a fight broke out in a lodging house. Marlowe died instantly after being stabbed by Frizer in the forehead. The reason for the playwright’s death is not thought to be this simple though, some believe it was a result of his service as an alleged spy or perhaps to the previous charge of atheism.

Murder Theories

The most crucial information of Marlowe’s death was never committed to paper. Hence the full details of his death will never be known. However, there are a few theories regarding his murder. These include:

  • Audrey Walsingham arranged for Marlowe to be murdered, being jealous of the relationship of her husband and Marlowe.
  • His murder was an accidental incident. Frizer and Skeres were actually pressuring him to repay the money he owed them.
  • Queen Elizabeth, I ordered his assassination for his atheistic beliefs.
  • There was also a theory regarding Marlowe’s fake death. His death was faked to save him from trial and execution.


Is Christopher Marlowe William Shakespeare?

Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare were two different playwrights from the Elizabethan period. Marlowe collaborated in some of Shakespeare’s works. For example, Henry VI is now credited as the collaborative work of Marlowe and Shakespeare.

Why is Christopher Marlowe important?

Christopher Marlowe was one of the greatest dramatists of the Elizabethan period. He was the foremost playwright in London after Shakespeare. According to scholars, Marlowe was the first to popularize blank verse in English drama and he greatly influenced William Shakespeare.

How many plays were written by Marlowe?

Marlowe wrote a total of six dramas either alone or in collaboration with other writers. His dramatic works include Dido, Queen of Carthage, Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta, Doctor Faustus, Edward II, and The Massacre at Paris.

Did Shakespeare and Marlowe know each other?

Shakespeare and Marlowe were contemporaries. Marlowe was only two months older than Shakespeare. Shakespeare was greatly influenced by Marlowe’s works. In his play As You Like It, he paid tribute to Marlowe. According to some scholars, Marlow collaborated in some of Shakespeare’s plays. Therefore, Shakespeare and Marlowe definitely knew each other.

Who killed Kit Marlowe?

Ingram Frizer killed Kit Marlowe in the hoke of Eleanor Bull on 30 May 1593. He was an English gentleman and businessman.

Discover the Essential Secrets

of Poetry

Sign up to unveil the best kept secrets in poetry,

brought to you by the experts

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap