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ENGL 3020
Andrew Bretz

Who was Christopher Marlow and why do we care?  He is the atheist spy who got stabbed in the eye at a bar brawl. He was born the same year as Shakespeare, 1564. Slightly different backgrounds. He was born in Kent, he was the son of a shoemaker, Marlow had the opportunity to go to school. Marlow’s schooling, he was exceptional at. He got scholarships to Cambridge. BA when he was 20, MA when he was 23. At this point he was already a noted poet and translator. He had already produced his translation of ancient Roman writings. Ovid and the Amores. At this point he had already written his play Dido the Queen of Carthage. o He was a controversial figure however. In 1587 at 23 years old, at Cambridge University. They wanted to deny him his MA because he was a little bit too Catholic for their interests. Cambridge was actually Protestant. If he was a secret Catholic, that means he wouldn’t be able to go to school at Cambridge. He had spent some time at a French Seminary, where they would train in Catholicism. Just as Cambridge was about to ban him, the Privy Council intervened. They are essential the form of government, they said he was working for the Queen, and they didn’t want them to look bad because Cambridge shouldn’t be poking around in his business.  May have been a spy in the Scottish court.  In 1592 he was arrested in Holland. He was trying to pass counterfeit coins. This may have been a mission to infiltrate rebellious English Catholics. In 1593, he was in London. He starts to take rooms with Thomas Kyd. Kyd is arrested under suspicion of posting up violently xenophobic texts about people coming in from the Netherlands. He was believed to have put up the posters. Under torture Kyd denounces Marlow, his room mate, as an atheist and blames him for the posters.  If he was a spy, then he was reporting to people on the Privy Council. They were starting not to trust him. It’s possible the Council members got him to write the pamphlets in the first place. It’s also possible that he was just going rogue, and they needed a new way to control him. He starts to be accused of being addicted to tobacco and boys.  In 1593, he spends awhile at a pub with a shady group of people. Marlow was stabbed ”just over the eye” over the bill after a long day of drinking. Some agree that the most basic intuition was that Marlow’s death was a politically motivated murder. The people at the pub this day all had connections to London’s underworld, and the halls of power, whether it be the Privy Council or the Mafia. He had ceased to be useful to them, and they must have known that.  Most people carried knives. o We’ll never know exactly what happened, because there will never be more evidence. But it’s thought to have been an assassination. If Marlow had died of the plague in 1588, never written anything that we’re studying, we would still be talking about him in this course. Why? Because his first play, Tamburlaine, was a watershed moment in early modern theatre.  It was the first time in early modern drama, that drama used
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