Christopher Marlowe, a British spy for the Queen’s secret service, homosexual, atheistic and seditious speaker, was stabbed with a dagger through the eye in a tavern brawl over a bill. According to accounts the stab wound was “in such sort that his brains were coming out at the dagger point, he shortly after died.” Marlowe was born in Canterbury n February 26, 1564, the eldest son of a shoemaker. Marlowe was a contemporary to William Shakespeare. Marlowe’s personality was pugnacious and quarrelsome, and involved in violent affrays and in other more dangerous confrontations with authority. Marlowe’s untimely death came on the fateful day of May 30, 1593 in the tavern with a dagger, spilling his brains out upon the floor.
In the tavern, the four men dined together, and in the afternoon walked in the garden. At six o’clock, they returned to the tavern, and had supper. After supper Marlowe lay down on a bench; his companions were seated at the table. There was an argument over the bill: Frizer and Malowe uttered no to the other diners malicious words because they could not agree about the sum of pence. Marlowe moved with anger, leapt from the bench, snatched Frizer’s dagger from its sheath and struck him twice about the head: The wounds were shallow, and were perhaps inflicted with the hilt of the dagger. A struggle ensued:
“And so it befell, in that affray, that the said Ingram, in defence of his life, with the dagger aforesaid over the value of twelve pence, gave the said Marlowe a mortal wound above his right eye, of the depth of two inches and of the width of one inch.” (PRO, C 260/174, no. 27; translated in Hotson 28-34)
Marlowe’s most beautiful epitaph was written by Michael Drayton’s: “Marlowe … Had in him those brave translunary things that the first poets had; his raptures were all ayre and fire” (“Of Poets and Posey, 1627).
In 1578 Marlowe became a student at King’s School, Canterbury. It was there that he received a scholarship dedicated to poor boys in the amount of four pounds per year. In 1580, Marlowe was awarded a scholarship to Corpus Christi College in Cambridge on a Parker scholarship. In 1584 Marlowe passed his bachelor’s examination, and remained on scholarship at Cambridge for another two years. In 1587, Cambridge University refused Marlowe his master’s degree. However, the Queen’s Privy Council intervened, ordering the university to give Marlowe his degree. The Queen’s Privy Council informed Cambridge University that Marlowe had been “engaged … in matters touching the benefit of his country.”
While Christopher Marlowe was a student at Cambridge, he wrote Tamburlaine the Great, the Second Part of Tamburlaine, and The Jew of Malta. Around 1591 Marlowe wrote Edward II, and perhaps Doctor Faustus. Thomas Kyd, Marlowe’s roommate in college described Marlowe as “intemperate and of a cruel heart.”
The play, “Doctor Faustus” due to a deal he makes with the Devil, has Faustus the magician imposing his will on the material world. Faustus was an applied scientist, rejoicing in power rather than in contemplation, making Faustus a symbol of the Renaissance. The Renaissance is depicted as the age of enlightenment, freeing the mind from dogma by means of reason and experimentation. The Renaissance goal was to understand a phenomenon in terms of cause and effect.
Marlowe remains an exalted poet, yet an elusive and troubled character: One senses his personal flair as being both magnetic and dangerous. Marlowe was learned, sardonic, aggressive and reckless, and the questioning temper of his plays disposition suggests that this biography accurately portrays the life and times of Christopher Marlowe.
Marlowe, Christopher, “Doctor Faustus,” Ed by Barnet, Sylvan. New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 1969, Print.
Steane, J.B. “Marlowe: A Critical Study,” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964, Print.
“Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,” Volume 36, Ed. Matthew, H.C.G. and Brian Harrison, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 2004, Print.
“Oxford English Dictionary Online,” 2nd ed. 1989. Lane Library, Ripon College, Ripon, WI. http://dictionary.oed.com/