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Christopher Marlowe
Birth: Feb., 1564
Death: May 30, 1593

Dramatist, Poet, Translator. England's greatest playwright before Shakespeare, he raised Renaissance tragedy from its stilted origins into a powerful and emotionally compelling art. His pioneering mastery of blank verse made it the standard medium for English dramatic and epic poetry. Marlowe's most famous play, "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" (c.1589), was the first dramatization of the Faust legend. The unsettling complexities of his work, combined with a mysterious life and violent death at the age of 29, have made him a legendary figure. His other plays are "Dido, Queen of Carthage" (c.1586), "Tamburlaine the Great, Parts I and II" (1587, 1588), "The Jew of Malta" (c.1590), "Edward II" (c.1591), and "The Massacre at Paris" (c.1592). The son of a shoemaker, Marlowe was baptised in Canterbury on February 26, 1564. Following studies at Canterbury's King's School (1578 to 1580) he went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge on an Archbishop Matthew Parker scholarship, suggesting he was expected to become a minister. At first he was a diligent student, attaining his BA degree in 1584, but over the next three years his attendance was marked by long absences and lavish spending he could hardly have afforded on his scholarship stipend. Rumors spread that he was secretly studying at the new English Catholic College in Rheims, France, where missionary priests were being trained to covertly re-establish Catholicism in England (an act of high treason). When Cambridge administrators threatened to withhold Marlowe's MA in 1587, the government Privy Council intervened with a letter on his behalf, stating he had "done her Majesty good matters touching the benefit of his country". The nature of this service is unknown but many are convinced he was indeed at Rheims - as a spy, having been recruited into espionage by Queen Elizabeth's spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. His degree was awarded on schedule. He may have left more than questions behind at Cambridge. In 1953 an anonymous 16th Century portrait was discovered at Corpus Christi that is popularly believed to be a likeness of Marlowe. It shows a stylishly dressed and coiffed young man with a calm, confident gaze. The Latin inscription at top reads, "Aged 21 years in 1585" - Marlowe's age at that time - followed by a portentious motto: "That which nourishes me destroys me". Arriving in London after his graduation, Marlowe won immediate fame with the first and second parts of "Tamburlaine". These and his subsequent plays were written for the Admiral's Men, all starring the great Edward Alleyn in the lead roles. He took his place as the leader of the "University Wits", a group of young scholars who had gone to London to pursue literary careers; they included fellow Cambridge alumni Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe, and John Lyly, Thomas Lodge, George Peele, and Thomas Watson from Oxford. Later he became a friend and roommate of playwright Thomas Kyd. Of Marlowe's personal life, just about all we know with certainty is his history of run-ins with the law. In September 1589 he was arrested for murder near his home in Norton Folgate, following a brawl on Hog Lane in which Thomas Watson killed tavern keeper William Bradley. He was cleared of the charge, while the court ruled Watson had acted in self-defense after coming to Marlowe's aid. In January 1592 he was deported from Flushing, Netherlands (then under English control) after an informer named Richard Baines accused him of counterfeiting coins. He was brought before Lord High Treasurer William Cecil but no action was taken. Four months later he was issued an injunction to keep the peace after allegedly assaulting two constables in Shoreditch. With London's theatres closed due to the plague Marlowe retreated to his native Kent, living primarily at the Scadbury home of his patron Sir Thomas Walsingham (a cousin of Sir Francis) - though he still managed to get into trouble. In Canterbury that September he was taken to court for maliciously damaging property, after which he counter-sued the plaintiff for assault. Both cases were dropped. During the night of May 5, 1593, an anonymous provocateur posted a vicious screed on the wall of the Dutch Churchyard in London, inciting mob violence against the city's immigrant population. It alluded to Marlowe's plays and was signed "Tamberlaine" [sic]. Royal commissioners launched an investigation, and on May 12 Thomas Kyd was taken into custody after heretical papers were found in his room. Under torture Kyd claimed the papers belonged to Marlowe, whom he also described as a violent man given to making atheistic and blasphemous statements. On the basis of this coerced testimony a warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on May 18. He turned himself in on May 20, but as the Privy Council did not convene he was released on bail under orders to report daily until the case was heard. Ten days later he was dead. According to the coroner's inquest, Marlowe spent most of May 30 with Robert Poley, Nicholas Skeres, and Ingram Frizer at the private dining house of Eleanor Bull in Deptford. A dispute arose over who would pay the bill (the "reckoning"), leading to a fight in which Frizer killed Marlowe by stabbing him above his right eye. Frizer was quickly pardoned on grounds of self-defense. The inquest left many details unexamined, including the reason for Marlowe's meeting with the three men, two of whom (Poley and Skeres) belonged to the secret service; Frizer was a shady business agent for Thomas Walsingham. Since Leslie Hotson's discovery of the coroner's report in 1925, academics and conspiracy theorists have interpreted Marlowe's death as a political assassination or even a hoax, but the full circumstances will likely remain a mystery. The author was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of St Nicholas in Deptford. In 2002 a memorial window panel was dedicated to him in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. Rebel, spy, atheist, homosexual, flamboyant wastrel, forger, street-fighter - the veracity of these assertions about Marlowe the man is still a subject of heated debate. There can be little doubt that in his lifetime he had a reputation for unorthodox religious views. In his pamphlet "Greene's Groatsworth of Wit" (1592) the dying Robert Greene addressed Marlowe as the "famous gracer of Tragedians" and urged him to repent: "Why should thy excellent wit, [God's] gift, be so blinded, that thou shouldst give no glory to the giver?" In the wake of his demise Puritans painted him as a heathen who got what he deserved, taking their cue from his old enemy Richard Baines, whose June 1593 denunciation of Marlowe to the Privy Council is the source of many charges that were posthumously leveled at him. Beyond question is the esteem with which he was held by his literary peers. George Peele remembered him as "Marley, the Muses' darling for thy verse"; Thomas Nashe lamented his friend "poor deceased Kit Marlowe". Ben Jonson celebrated "Marlowe's mighty line". Shakespeare paid tribute to him as the "Dead Shepherd" in "As You Like It" (c. 1599), which probably alluded to his death in the line "it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room". Michael Drayton offered a beautiful eulogy: "Marlowe...had in him those brave translunary things that the first poets had; his raptures were all air and fire". The plays of Christopher Marlowe, along with Kyd's immensely popular "The Spanish Tragedy" (c. 1586), heralded the Golden Age of Elizabethan drama. Before then the prevailing models were the Ancient Roman tragedies of Seneca, first translated into English in the 1560s, which were originally intended to be read rather than performed. Despite plots filled with horror, mayhem and the supernatural, they were all talk and the "action" was relayed by messengers. Kyd put the action on the stage and the audience response was overwhelming. From there Marlowe broke open the genre with brilliant innovations in style and form. Seeking to create heightened speech without resorting to rhyme, he hit upon little-used blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) as a flexible alternative ideally suited to his gifts as a dramatic poet. His stage works are diverse, exciting, and imbued with a dangerously probing humanism. The archetypal Marlovian protagonists - Tamburlaine, Faustus, and Barabas in "The Jew of Malta", all men of humble origins like the playwright - are driven by boundless ambitions that challenge concepts of morality and religious piety. While ruthlessly conquering most of Asia, Tamburlaine comes to believe he is above God and expresses disdain for the written word by burning a copy of the Koran; he is left incredulous by the one foe he cannot defeat, his dreary mortality. In "Doctor Faustus", Mephistophilis informs us that Hell is anywhere evil flourishes, and the main conflict is within Faustus himself. He sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge, which only brings him to the self-realization that "The God thou servest is thine own appetite". In the end he is damned because stubborn pride prevents him from accepting salvation. The ghost of Machiavelli introduces "The Jew of Malta" with the cynical statement "I count religion but a childish toy, And hold there is no sin but ignorance", setting the tone for what follows - Jewish moneylender Barabas wreaks vengeance on an entire country for being victimized by Christians and Muslims alike, before literally falling into a trap of his making. For all their flaws and villainy, these characters are so charismatic in their striving - and Marlowe gives them dialogue of such rhetorical grandeur - we feel the author is inviting us to admire them, or at least not to judge them too harshly. "The Jew of Malta" marked a stage in Marlowe's development in which he abandoned episodic structure for skillful plotting. He took it further in the history play "Edward II", chronicling the overthrow of the 14th Century English monarch. No superhuman figure dominates the action here: Edward is a weak ruler who heedlessly acquires enemies, including his neglected wife Isabella. While lacking the poetic intensity that is Marlowe's most attractive trait, the drama has a broader range of characterization and a deeper understanding of human limitations. Modern performances tend to stress the homoeroticism implicit in Edward's relations with his "favorites" Gaveston and Spencer. "Dido, Queen of Carthage", based on episodes of Virgil's "Aeneid", may have been written while Marlowe was still at Cambridge and privately performed in the mid-1580s by the Children of the Chapel Royal. When it was published in 1594 Thomas Nashe was listed as co-author, but this is widely disputed. It is the only one of Marlowe's plays with a female protagonist and a "conventional" romantic formula. "The Massacre at Paris" dealt with the 1572 Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre and recent political events in France. It survives only as a garbled fragment, probably reconstructed from memory by a cast member. Marlowe's remaining works are the unfinished long poem "Hero and Leander", completed by George Chapman and published in 1598; the lyric "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" with its famous opening "Come live with me and be my love"; and translations of Ovid's "Elegies" and Book One of Lucan's "Pharsalia". The early loss of Marlowe's genius is one of the great tragedies of world literature. We will never know how he would have matured as an artist and rival of Shakespeare, who took what he learned from him and ran with it. His influence was still being felt by the 19th Century English Romantics and early Victorians. Looking back at Elizabethan drama, Alfred, Lord Tennyson declared, "If Shakespeare is the dazzling sun of this mighty period, Marlowe is certainly the morning star". (bio by: Bobb Edwards) 
St Nicholas Churchyard
London Borough of Lewisham
Greater London, England
Plot: Actual burial site is unmarked but he is commemorated in a plaque on west wall of churchyard [unmarked]
GPS (lat/lon): 51.48212, -0.02239
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Record added: Jan 08, 2000
Find A Grave Memorial# 8017
Christopher Marlowe
Added by: Bobb Edwards
Christopher Marlowe
Added by: Iain MacFarlaine
Christopher Marlowe
Added by: Iain MacFarlaine
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Marlowe, the morning star...
- Marjolaine
 Added: May. 2, 2016

- Ernest Sharpe Jr
 Added: Apr. 23, 2016

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