Christopher Marlowe

Literary Biography

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) was born in 1564 as the son of John and Katherine Marlowe. Born in Canterbury just two months before William Shakespeare was born, Marlowe ended up living closely with this literary genius. John Marlowe, Christopher’s father, was a migrant worker that moved to Cathedral City of Canterbury in the mid 1550s. Canterbury was a church capital but also an area surrounded by fertile farm areas. Katherine Arthur married John Marlowe that following spring. Katherine bore nine children. Scholars believe only five or six survived into adulthood. Christopher was the second born out of his brothers and sisters. But after his older sister Mary died, he was left to be the eldest.

Christopher started studying grammar and Latin after age eight. He then went to the King’s School, a school for poor boys, in Canterbury in 1579-1580 on a scholarship he had won. Then, in 1580 Marlowe started residence at Corpus Christi College in Canterbury.

It is believed that Marlowe's first writings were started at College but weren’t completely composed till 1585. Marlowe left no first-person writing excerpts for critics, and there are few specific facts about his adult life. Only one of Marlowe’s works was published during his lifetime and all of his works were missing his name.

Marlowe got in trouble a couple times and was imprisoned once when a man was killed. Many believe that he was an angry individual that got into lots of trouble although critics only know this information from observations or reports from fellow people. It is hard to prove Marlowe as anything outside of the text. The atheist and tempered man he was thought to be can only be found within his writing.

There was concern with Marlowe’s absence from his school and how much this happened. However, at the same time he was going to school he was also serving on the Privy Council and his absence was a matter of loyal government service. The Privy Council backed Marlowe in these accusations saying that it was required service he was doing. Because of this many believe that Marlowe was a spy.

There were serious accusations made against Christopher Marlowe by the playwright, Thomas Kyd. There were documents that showed unordinary opinions, some showing homoeroticism, that were pinned to Marlowe. After this, he was required to report to the Privy Council every day.

Christopher Marlowe was killed instantaneously when he was wrestling with his friend, Ingram Frizer, and got stabbed above the right eye, into the brain after they had been drinking. Some believe this was an attempt to assassin Marlowe for his deviant behavior.

Literary Criticism

"The achievement of Christopher Marlowe, poet and dramatist, was enormous-surpassed by that of his exact contemporary, Shakespeare. A few months the elder, Marlowe was usually the leader, although Shakespeare was able to bring his art to a higher perfection. Most dramatic poets of the sixteenth century followed where Marlowe had led, especially in their use of language and the blank-verse line…English drama was never to be the same again.” (Cambridge Companion, 11)

Although Marlowe worked within a short period of time, he is a very famous writer. Thought to have seven major plays written in six years, from 1585-1593. None of Marlowe’s poems or plays exists in manuscript. Dido, Tamburlaine (Parts 1 & 2), The Jew, Edward II, The Massacre, and Doctor Faustus are Marlowe’s seven plays. The dates of these seven plays are not specific and there has been long debate about the true written publications. The above order is the most agreed upon order of Marlowe’s works. In addition to these plays, Marlowe wrote five poems; Ovid’s Elegies, The Passionate Shepard to His Love, Hero and Leander, Lucans First Booke, and The Passionate Pilgrim.

Marlowe’s style changed from audience to audience. Many Editors changed the ideas to exaggerate or to cater to the ideas or beliefs of the time. Since none of Marlowe’s works were published during his lifetime, it is impossible to know what he thinks should have been published. What Marlowe did himself is play with the words used within his works. He explored the art of the English language at a point in time where it was in its highest development. Within his writings it is evident that he enjoyed the use of diction. Christopher also adopted the idea of blank verse, thought to be first created by the Earl of Surrey. It wasn’t taken seriously however until Marlowe used it.

"Doctor Faustus": an English tragedy, is thought to be Christopher Marlowe’s greatest achievement. Although we are unsure when it was written, how much of it came from Marlowe himself or what the true meaning of this work is, it is thought to be written towards the very end of his career and/or life.

Faustus has been viewed as an agnostic protest against the limitations imposed by Christianity upon the normal aspirations of the human spirit, with Marlowe the apostle of an aspiring Renaissance humanism, as a pious moral exposition of the human potential for damnation in conventional Christian terms, and as a play whose moral ambiguity defies analysis.” Marlowe, Christopher, and Irving Ribner. Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus: Text and Major Criticism.

There are two copies of the texts, A and B, and it is believed that the A-Text is Marlowe’s own writing. There is proof that other writers added additions within Doctor Faustus and those are thought to be within the B-Test of Faustus.

"The Passionate Shepherd to his Love": a pastoral lyric, is another famous work of Marlowe’s. There is a response to this poem called "The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd" by Sir Walter Raleigh; these were printed together in England’s Helicon in 1600. "The Passionate Shepherd" gave the English people a voice and also proved a poem can still sound good even when using blank verse. Marlowe was a poetic innovator of the Renaissance and was characterized as an arrogant because of his ambitions to change the verse to something that had never been done before. These poems, including “The Passionate Shepherd”, deal with Marlowe’s fundamental preoccupations. It explores the heroic and lyric modes of Marlowe’s imagination.


1. Downie, J. A., and J. T. Parnell. Constructing Christopher Marlowe. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2000. Print.
2. Hopkins, Lisa. Christopher Marlowe: a Literary Life. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2000. Print.
3. Cheney, Patrick. The Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2004. Print.
4. Marlowe, Christopher, and Irving Ribner. Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus: Text and Major Criticism. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966. Print.
5. Braden, "Christopher Marlowe." Sixteenth-century Poetry: an Annotated Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005. 487-510. Print.
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