Christopher Marlowe, also known as Kit Marlowe, Elizabethan playwright, was baptized on this date. Like Shakespeare, we do not know his date of birth. Marlowe was born in Canterbury to shoemaker John Marlowe and his wife Catherine. He was baptized on 26th February 1564, so it is likely that he was born just a few days before. Thus, he was just two months older than his contemporary Shakespeare, who was baptized on 26th April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Marlowe attended King’s School in Canterbury (where a house is now named after him) and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he studied on a scholarship and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1584. In 1587, the university hesitated to award him his Master of Arts degree because of a rumor that he intended to go to the English college at Rheims, presumably to prepare for ordination as a Roman Catholic priest. However, his degree was awarded on schedule when the Privy Council intervened on his behalf, commending him for his “faithful dealing” and “good service” to the Queen. The nature of Marlowe’s service was not specified by the Council, but its letter to the Cambridge authorities has provoked much speculation, notably the theory that Marlowe was operating as a secret agent working for Sir Francis Walsingham’s intelligence service. No direct evidence supports this theory, although the Council’s letter is evidence that Marlowe had served the government in some secret capacity.
Of the dramas attributed to Marlowe, Dido, Queen of Carthage is believed to have been his first. It was performed by the Children of the Chapel, a company of boy actors, between 1587 and 1593. The play was first published in 1594 and the title page attributes the play to Marlowe and Thomas Nashe. Marlowe’s first play performed on the regular stage in London, in 1587, was Tamburlaine the Great, about the conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), who rises from shepherd to warlord. It is among the first English plays in blank verse, and, with Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, is generally considered the beginning of the mature phase of the Elizabethan theatre. Tamburlaine was a success, and was followed with Tamburlaine the Great, Part II. The two parts of Tamburlaine were published in 1590; all Marlowe’s other works were published posthumously. The sequence of the writing of his other four plays is unknown; all deal with controversial themes.
The Jew of Malta (first published as The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta), about the Jew Barabas’ barbarous revenge against the city authorities, has a prologue delivered by a character representing Machiavelli. It was probably written in 1589 or 1590, and was first performed in 1592. It was a success, and remained popular for the next 50 years. The play was entered in the Stationers’ Register on 17th May 1594, but the earliest surviving printed edition is from 1633. Edward the Second is an English history play about the deposition of king Edward II by his barons and the queen, who resented the undue influence that the king’s favorites had in court and state affairs. The play was entered into the Stationers’ Register on 6 July 1593, five weeks after Marlowe’s death. The full title of the earliest extant edition, of 1594, is The troublesome reigne and lamentable death of Edward the second, King of England, with the tragicall fall of proud Mortimer.
The Massacre at Paris is a short and luridly written work, the only surviving text of which was probably a reconstruction from memory of the original performance text, portraying the events of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, which English Protestants invoked as the blackest example of Catholic treachery. It features the silent “English Agent”, whom subsequent tradition has identified with Marlowe himself and his connections to the secret service. The Massacre at Paris is considered his most dangerous play, as agitators in London seized on its theme to advocate the murders of refugees from the low countries and, indeed, it warns Elizabeth I of this possibility in its last scene. Its full title is The Massacre at Paris: With the Death of the Duke of Guise.
Doctor Faustus (or The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus), based on the German Faustbuch, was the first dramatized version of the Faust legend of a scholar’s dealing with the devil. While versions of “The Devil’s Pact” can be traced back to the 4th century, Marlowe deviates significantly by having his hero unable to “burn his books” or repent to a merciful God in order to have his contract annulled at the end of the play. Marlowe’s protagonist is instead carried off by demons, and in the 1616 quarto his mangled corpse is found by several scholars. Doctor Faustus is a textual problem for scholars as two versions of the play exist: the 1604 quarto, also known as the A text, and the 1616 quarto or B text. Both were published after Marlowe’s death. Scholars have disagreed which text is more representative of Marlowe’s original, and some editions are based on a combination of the two. The latest scholarly consensus (fwiw) holds that the A text is more representative because it contains irregular character names and idiosyncratic spelling, which are believed to reflect a text based on the author’s handwritten manuscript, or “foul papers.” The B text, in comparison, was highly edited, censored because of shifting theater laws regarding religious words onstage, and contains several additional scenes which scholars believe to be the additions of other playwrights, particularly Samuel Rowley and William Bird (alias Borne).
Marlowe’s plays were enormously successful, thanks in part, no doubt, to the imposing stage presence of Edward Alleyn. Alleyn was unusually tall for the time, and the haughty roles of Tamburlaine, Faustus, and Barabas were probably written especially for him. Marlowe’s plays were the foundation of the repertoire of Alleyn’s company, the Admiral’s Men, throughout the 1590s.
Marlowe also wrote the poem Hero and Leander (published in 1598, and with a continuation by George Chapman the same year), the popular lyric The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, and translations of Ovid’s Amores and the first book of Lucan’s Pharsalia. In 1599, his translation of Ovid was banned and copies publicly burned as part of Archbishop Whitgift’s crackdown on offensive material.
As with other writers of the period, little is known about Marlowe. What evidence there is can be found in legal records and other official documents. This has not stopped writers of both fiction and non-fiction from speculating about his activities and character. Marlowe has often been described as a spy, a brawler, and a heretic, as well as a “magician”, “duelist”, “tobacco-user”, “counterfeiter”, and “rakehell”. It has sometimes been theorized that Marlowe was the “Morley” who was tutor to Arbella Stuart in 1589. If Marlowe was Arbella’s tutor it might indicate that he was there as a spy, since Arbella, niece of Mary, Queen of Scots, and cousin of James VI of Scotland, later James I of England, was at the time a strong candidate for the succession to Elizabeth’s throne. Marlowe had been party to a fatal quarrel involving his neighbors and the poet Thomas Watson in Norton Folgate and was held in Newgate Prison for a fortnight. In fact, the quarrel and his arrest were on 18th September, he was released on bail on 1st October, and he had to attend court – where he was cleared of any wrongdoing – on 3rd December, but there is no record of where he was for the intervening two months.
In 1592 Marlowe was arrested in the town of Flushing (Vlissingen) (then an English garrison town) in the Netherlands for his alleged involvement in the counterfeiting of coins, presumably related to the activities of seditious Catholics. He was sent to be dealt with by the Lord Treasurer (Burghley) but no charge or imprisonment resulted. This arrest may have disrupted another of Marlowe’s spying missions, perhaps by giving the resulting coinage to the Catholic cause. He was to infiltrate the followers of the active Catholic plotter William Stanley and report back to Burghley.
In early May 1593 several bills were posted about London threatening Protestant refugees from France and the Netherlands who had settled in the city. One of these, the “Dutch church libel”, written in rhymed iambic pentameter, contained allusions to several of Marlowe’s plays and was signed, “Tamburlaine”. On 11th May the Privy Council ordered the arrest of those responsible for the libels. The next day, Marlowe’s colleague Thomas Kyd was arrested. Kyd’s lodgings were searched and a 3-page fragment of a heretical tract was found. In a letter to Sir John Puckering, Kyd asserted that it had belonged to Marlowe, with whom he had been writing “in one chamber” two years earlier. In a second letter, Kyd described Marlowe as blasphemous, disorderly, holding treasonous opinions, being an irreligious reprobate, and ‘intemperate & of a cruel hart’. At that time they had both been working for an aristocratic patron, probably Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange. A warrant for Marlowe’s arrest was issued on 18th May, when the Privy Council apparently knew that he might be found staying with Thomas Walsingham, whose father was a first cousin of the late Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s principal secretary in the 1580s and a man more deeply involved in state espionage than any other member of the Privy Council. Marlowe duly presented himself on 20th May but, there apparently being no Privy Council meeting on that day, was instructed to “give his daily attendance on their Lordships, until he shall be licensed to the contrary”. On Wednesday, 30th May, Marlowe was killed.
Various accounts of Marlowe’s death were current over the next few years. In his Palladis Tamia, published in 1598, Francis Meres says Marlowe was “stabbed to death by a bawdy serving-man, a rival of his in his lewd love” as punishment for his “epicurism and atheism.” In 1917, in the Dictionary of National Biography, Sir Sidney Lee wrote that Marlowe was killed in a drunken fight, and this is still often stated as fact today. The official account came to light only in 1925 when the scholar Leslie Hotson discovered the coroner’s report of the inquest on Marlowe’s death, held two days later on Friday 1st June 1593, by the coroner of the Queen’s Household, William Danby. Marlowe had spent all day in a house in Deptford, owned by the widow Eleanor Bull, with three men: Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley. All three had been employed by one or other of the Walsinghams. Skeres and Poley had helped snare the conspirators in the Babington plot and Frizer would later describe Thomas Walsingham as his “master” at that time, although his role was probably more that of a financial or business agent as he was for Walsingham’s wife Audrey a few years later. These witnesses testified that Frizer and Marlowe had argued over payment of the bill (now famously known as the ‘Reckoning’) exchanging “divers malicious words” while Frizer was sitting at a table between the other two and Marlowe was lying behind him on a couch. Marlowe snatched Frizer’s dagger and wounded him on the head. In the ensuing struggle, according to the coroner’s report, Marlowe was stabbed above the right eye, killing him instantly. The jury concluded that Frizer acted in self-defense, and within a month he was pardoned.
Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Deptford immediately after the inquest, on 1st June 1593.
The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened was first published in 1669, so its recipe are slightly later than Elizabethan times, but it is chock full of recipes for making mead, ale, wine, cider, metheglin, posset . . . you name it. The recipes for alcoholic drinks outnumber those for main dishes, and almost certainly represent a variety of beverages that Marlowe drank freely of. His drinking habits are not speculation as are so many other things about his life. This recipe for metheglin, a variety of spiced mead, is the first recipe in the book (and the first of many for mead and metheglin).
A RECEIPT TO MAKE METHEGLIN AS IT IS MADE AT LIEGE, COMMUNICATED BY MR. MASILLON
Take one Measure of Honey, and three Measures of Water, and let it boil till one measure be boiled away, so that there be left three measures in all; as for Example, take to one Pot of Honey, three Pots of Water, and let it boil so long, till it come to three Pots. During which time you must Skim it very well as soon as any scum riseth; which you are to continue till there rise no scum more. You may, if you please, put to it some spice, to wit, Cloves and Ginger; the quantity of which is to be proportioned according as you will have your Meath, strong or weak. But this you do before it begin to boil. There are some that put either Yeast of Beer, or Leaven of bread into it, to make it work. But this is not necessary at all; and much less to set it into the Sun. Mr. Masillon doth neither the one nor the other. Afterwards for to Tun it, you must let it grow Luke-warm, for to advance it. And if you do intend to keep your Meathe a long time, you may put into it some hopps on this fashion. Take to every Barrel of Meathe a Pound of Hops without leaves, that is, of Ordinary Hops used for Beer, but well cleansed, taking only the Flowers, without the Green-leaves and stalks. Boil this pound of Hops in a Pot and half of fair water, till it come to one Pot, and this quantity isPage 6 sufficient for a Barrel of Meathe. A Barrel at Liege holdeth ninety Pots, and a Pot is as much as a Wine quart in England. (I have since been informed from Liege, that a Pot of that Countrey holdeth 48 Ounces of Apothecary’s measure; which I judge to be a Pottle according to London measure, or two Wine-quarts.) When you Tun your Meath, you must not fill your Barrel by half a foot, that so it may have room to work. Then let it stand six weeks slightly stopped; which being expired, if the Meath do not work, stop it up very close. Yet must you not fill up the Barrel to the very brim. After six Months you draw off the clear into another Barrel, or strong Bottles, leaving the dregs, and filling up your new Barrel, or Bottels, and stopping it or them very close.
The Meath that is made this way, (Viz. In the Spring, in the Month of April or May, which is the proper time for making of it,) will keep many a year.