Christopher Marlowe — The man, the myth, the mystery

Information assembled by Noelle Colant, dramaturgical student of director David R. Gammons.


Christopher Marlowe (a.k.a. Kit Marlowe) was born in the same year as Shakespeare and is said to have influenced some of his work. Here’s a look into his life to better understand the context–and significance–of Edward II:


February 26, 1564: Baptized in Canterbury.
Education: Attended Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, but took several leaves of absence.
Suspected spy: It is rumored that during his time away from school Marlowe was hired by Sir Francis Walsingham as a spy for the English government. He was once arrested for counterfeiting in the Netherlands which may have disrupted one of his secret missions for the British government.
Literary legacy: Marlowe is known for his plays and poems, including Dido, Queen of Carthage, Tamburlaine the Great, The Jew of Malta, The Massacre at Paris, Doctor Faustus, Hero and Leader, and, of course, Edward the Second.
Fascinating facts about Edward II:

  • First published in 1594, five weeks after Christopher Marlowe’s death, under the title, The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer.
  • The play was originally performed by the Earl of Pembroke’s men (the Earl of Pembroke is a minor character in the un-cut script).
  • Notable performances include Prospect Theatre Company’s 1970 production broadcast on BBC featuring Sir Ian McKellen in the title role, and Derek Jarman’s 1991 film.


Defying convention: Marlowe is believed to have been a professed atheist (an indication of criminal activity at the time) and a homosexual. He is reported to have once said “All they that love not Tobacco and Boys are fools.”
In Elizabethan England, homosexuality was not considered to be part of a person’s identity as it is now. In fact, the word “homosexual” didn’t even exist (it would appear in 1890s). Homosexual acts were considered to be a part of the sexually deviant acts grouped under the label of “sodomy,” which was a crime punishable by death in England.
However, in Elizabethan England, male relationships were often much more physically and emotionally intimate than they are today. “Masculine friendships,” in which two men cultivate a physical relationship within their friendship, were not uncommon.
Accusations of atheism and homosexuality only surfaced after Marlowe’s death and may have been exaggerations to implicate him during his arrest, though homosexual themes are apparent in many of his works, especially his poetry.
May 18, 1593: A warrant for Marlowe’s arrest was issued; two days later he was brought to court for questioning about a heretical document written in his style.
May 30, 1593: Stabbed to death in the eye by Ingram Frizer at the home of Dame Eleanor Bull, who often rented rooms to government agents.


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