The man who many see as the forerunner to playwright William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, died on this day (May 30) 1593, in Deptford, London.
Marlowe was born in Canterbury, Kent, England, sometime in mid to late February 1564. There is an extant record showing that he was baptised on February 26 of that year.
In those days babies were usually christened quite quickly because of high mortality rates among infants. Therefore Marlowe was probably born just two to three days before this date.
Although born to a cobbler, it would seem that young Christopher was quite a precocious child. He went to The King’s School in Canterbury.
It’s worth remembering that then, as still now, Canterbury is the seat of England’s premier archbishop, a very important place.
Later, though perhaps at a relatively late juncture in his early life, he went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge on a Parker scholarship.
In 1584 he got his BA degree and an MA in 1587, although the university was reluctant to award him the latter because of certain, irregular, though quite lengthy absences from the college.
Suffice it to say, that much has been written and speculated about these absences, as well as what he purportedly believed. Some say he was an atheist, despite spending years studying divinity.
Nevertheless, Marlowe went on to a meteoric literary career as a poet and playwright. He is often credited with inventing blank verse, poetry which doesn’t rhyme but written usually in iambic pentameter.
His play ‘Tamburlaine the Great’, was a huge success in London in 1587, so much so that he wrote a second part to it the following year.
There followed a string of ‘hit’ plays; ‘The Jew of Malta’, ‘Edward the Second’, ‘The Massacre at Paris’ and, probably his most famous play, ‘Doctor Faustus’.
The subject matter of his plays was often controversial, as was his apparent second career as a spy, or ‘intelligencer’ for the Elizabethan government. He seems to have been recruited for this whilst still at university.
Such controversy finally caught up with him in May 1593, when, after apparently being arrested on charges of ‘blasphemy’, released on bail, and then spending a whole day in an obscure house or pub with some rather shady ‘friends’ – he ended up being infamously murdered, during an argument about the bill, the ‘reckoning’.
The circumstances of this too are endlessly speculated on. Incredibly, the inquest of this murder was discovered as recently as 1925.
Even Shakespeare may allude to this in his play, ‘As You Like It’, where he seems to have known some of the details of Marlowe’s premature death.
So Marlowe’s meteoric rise and fame lasted about six years. After this, his reputation, maybe because of the controversy he courted, fell away dramatically.
Today, however, his reputation is back on the rise. He is seen as the true forerunner to Shakespeare, someone who ‘set the scene’ for The Bard’s longer career.
copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019
Soon I intend to do another piece speculating Marlowe’s birthdate and time for my ‘Astrology Musings’ section.
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