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Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) was an English playwright during the golden age of Elizabethan theatre.

Short biography

It is often hard to believe that William Shakespeare was not the most famous playwright of his time. He was famous, rose to prominence, but came to be the symbol of English literature only in the nineteenth century.

The most famous playwright of his time (until his tragic death) was Christopher Marlowe.

He was born in February 1564 in Canterbury; his dad was a shoemaker. He attended the King's school in Canterbury, then Christi College at Cambridge.

It is believed his first play was “Dido, Queen of Carthage”, followed in 1587 by “Tamburlaine the Great”. Then in 1589 (presumably), there was “The Jew of Malta”, and “Edward the second” in 1593, then “The massacre of Paris”, loaded with controversial themes, and finally his most famous play, Doctor Faustus, the first famous adaptation of the trope of selling one's soul to the devil. He also wrote the renowned poem “Hero and Leander”, and translated Lucan, Ovid...

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A mysterious life

Speculations about his life and what he may have been hiding are countless. Firstly, some scholars believe he was a spy recruited during his University years in Cambridge.

Then, it is also thought he was a counterfeiter of coins, that he was arrested numerous times, that he had travelled to the Netherlands and other places. He has been called blasphemous, a heretic, and more recently his works have been criticized for being anti-Semitic (“The Jew of Malta”) or anti-Protestant (“The massacre of Paris”) in the same way he was a heretic four centuries before with Doctor Faustus.

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A mysterious death

A warrant for Marlowe's arrest was issued on the 18th of May 1593 for reasons which remain unclear. He then dies on the 30th of May. The “official” account of his death (only found in 1925...) states he was engaged in a drunken brawl with three men, including an Ingram Frizer, who stabbed him above the right eye and thereby killed him instantly.

But that is naturally disputed. Some scholars claim such a wound could not have caused an instantaneous death, while others challenge the credibility of the witnesses mentioned in the official account. The bottom-line is that no one knows, and there are so many theories about his death that it would take a book, not a preface, to cover them all. But it is clear that most scholars are keen on conspiracy theories, either because they believe he was spy, or a Catholic supporter, or a heretic, or an atheist...

It is often assumed Marlowe was a homosexual (same as Shakespeare. Scholars quote certain excerpts in order to justify this, which aren't entirely convincing in that describing masculine beauty, or evoking desire for a male body, did not necessarily mean one was homosexual.

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But the most important influence Marlowe had was on Shakespeare.

For example, “Anthony and Cleopatra” was influenced by “Dido, Queen of Carthage”, “The Merchant of Venice” by “The Jew of Malta”, “Macbeth” by “Doctor Faustus, and it goes on...

It goes on to the point that one of the most common theories (although widely denied by contemporary scholars) claims Marlowe did not die, that the official account is a forgery and the witnesses were bribed, and that Marlowe changed his identity and carried on writing under the pen name of William Shakespeare.

©2016-Les Editions de Londres

Livres publiés

  • Doctor Faustus

    par Christopher Marlowe

    ISBN : 978-1-910628-81-2
    Date de parution : 25 juin 2016
    Nombre de pages : 127 pages

    Doctor Faustus” or “The tragical history of the life and death of Doctor Faustus” is a play by Christopher Marlowe first performed in 1594 and later published in 1604. “Doctor Faustus” is adapted from the German “Faust”. Faustus is bored; he has reached the limits of knowledge (...)

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