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
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