Christopher Marlowe

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Marlowe, Christopher,

1564–93, English dramatist and poet, b. Canterbury. Probably the greatest English dramatist before Shakespeare, Marlowe, a shoemaker's son, was educated at Cambridge and he went to London in 1587, where he became an actor and dramatist for the Lord Admiral's Company. His most important plays are the two parts of Tamburlaine the Great (c.1587), Dr. Faustus (c.1588), The Jew of Malta (c.1589), and Edward II (c.1592). Marlowe's dramas have heroic themes, usually centering on a great personality who is destroyed by his own passion and ambition. Although filled with violence, brutality, passion, and bloodshed, Marlowe's plays are never merely sensational. The poetic beauty and dignity of his language raise them to the level of high art. Most authorities detect influences of his work in the Shakespeare canon, notably in Titus Andronicus and King Henry VI. Of his nondramatic pieces, the best-known are the long poem Hero and Leander (1598), which was finished by George ChapmanChapman, George,
1559?–1634, English dramatist, translator, and poet. He is as famous for his plays as for his poetic translations of Homer's Iliad (1612) and Odyssey (1614–15).
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, and the beautiful lyric that begins "Come live with me and be my love." In 1593, Marlowe was stabbed in a barroom brawl by a drinking companion. Although a coroner's jury certified that the assailant acted in self-defense, the murder may have resulted from a definite plot, due, as some scholars believe, to Marlowe's activities as a government agent.


See his Works and Life (6 vol., 1949–55); biographies by F. S. Boas (1940), C. Norman (rev. ed. 1971), C. Kuriyama (2002), and P. Honan (2006); studies by J. E. Bakeless (1942), P. H. Kocher (1946), H. Levin (1952, repr. 1964), W. Sanders (1969), J. B. Steane (1964, repr. 1970), R. Erikson (1987), C. Nicholl (1992), and D. Riggs (2004).

Marlowe, Christopher


Born February 1564, in Canterbury; died June 1, 1593, in Deptford. English poet and playwright.

Marlowe was the son of a cobbler. He graduated from the University of Cambridge and received a bachelor’s degree, and later a master’s degree. Rejecting an ecclesiastical career, Marlowe left for London in 1587. There he became an actor and a playwright in the circle called the University Wits. In his works, Marlowe combined humanistic views and learning with the traditions of the English popular theater. During the last years of his life, Marlowe was under surveillance by the secret police, which had received reports about his atheistic and republican views. He was killed in a tavern brawl under suspicious circumstances.

Marlowe’s first tragedy, Tamburlaine the Great (1587-88, published 1590), is a dramatized biography of Timur, in whose mouth Marlowe placed bold tirades against god. The central figure of his second play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (according to recent data, written 1592, published 1604), is a sorcerer, a learned doctor for whom knowledge is more important than all else and who rebels against religion for the sake of knowledge.

Titanism characterizes the hero of the tragedy The Jew of Malta (written about 1588, published 1633). In his depiction of the usurer Barabas, Marlowe overcame the static quality of his earlier heroes. He became more critical of the unrestrained individualism and amoralism of “strong” people. In this play, Marlowe abandoned the free composition of his earlier tragedies and introduced a plot line determined by the hero’s development.

In the historical chronicle play Edward II (1593, published 1594), Marlowe’s heroes are denied exceptional qualities and are more lifelike than characters of his previous plays; there is no rhetoric in their speech. In Marlowe’s historical dramas, as later in Shakespeare’s, current political problems were discussed.

Marlowe’s plays mark a new stage in the development of tragedy. Tragedy ceases to be a conglomeration of horrors and bloody crimes and begins to focus on important social issues. Paving the way for Shakespeare, Marlowe rejected rhyme, dropped the traditional caesura, and made the entire utterance instead of the phrase, serve as the unit of expression of poetic thought. Marlowe enriched the language of tragedy with the intonations, imagery, and phraseology of lyric poetry.


The Works, vols. 1-6. London, 1930-33.
Plays and Poems. London, 1955.
In Russian translation:
Sochineniia. Introductory article by A. Parfenov. Moscow, 1961.


Storozhenko, N. I. “Predshestvenniki Shekspira” .” In Ocherk istorii zapadnoevropeiskoi literatury. Moscow, 1916.
Morozov, M. M. “Kristofer Mario.” In Izbr. start iperevody. Moscow, 1954.
Parfenov, A. Kristofer Mario. Moscow, 1964.
Bakeless, J.Christopher Marlowe: The Man in His Time. New York, 1937.
Boas, F. Marlowe and His Circle. London, 1931.
Boas, F. Christopher Marlowe: A Biographical and Critical Study. Oxford, 1940.
Knoll, R. E. Christopher Marlowe. New York, 1969.
Marlowe. Doctor Faustus: A Casebook. London, 1969. (With bibliography.)


References in periodicals archive ?
Harry Levin quotes a Marlovian concept that is not mentioned in other works, although in the speech of "Orcanes, the noble infidel (renegade) used a similar expression to affirm a belief in a god who is not circumscriptible" (Jump 1967:98).
It is within this overarching category of the "aesthetic" that Logan considers the customary markers of Marlovian influence which can be defined as concretely as the "mighty line" and villain-hero or rendered as ethereal as "epic grandeur" or "majestic amplitude" (176).
Riggs centers his exploration of the Marlovian legend on several key factors, including Marlowe's early years, his family's poverty, and Marlowe's resulting self-consciousness about social status; his Cambridge education with its religious emphasis; the sixteenth-century meaning of the word "atheist" and how it relates to Marlowe and his peers; and a detailed examination of the political plots of the day and how Marlowe and his acquaintances (Richard Baines, for example) figured in these intrigues.
Whatever sprang up in place of Marlovian irony" Greenblatt writes, "was not tolerance--the play, after all, stages a forced conversion as the price of a pardon--but rather shoots of a strange, irrepressible imaginative generosity" (286).
But Shepard, who is acutely sensitive to Marlovian ambiguities, seems clearly conscious of these possibilities, and he makes an interesting and carefully nuanced case for his point of view.
Aeneas's vacillation, however, borders on the comic and is the forerunner of the typical Marlovian blend of comedy in Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, and The Jew of Malta.
Any reader still wanting to find a definitive "method" and style for a specific actor--in spite of what we think we know about a blustering Alleyn in Marlovian parts--will finally have their hopes dashed in chapter 4, "Playing many parts.
For an exciting account--just possibly related to the analysis in this essay--of other Marlovian seizures in Richard II, see Harry Berger, Jr.
Chapter three, "The Agency of Quotation in Shakespearean Comedy," then surveys such Marlovian "controlling figures" as Portia, Vincentio, Prospero, and Theseus and Oberon: unlike the Plautine slave, "[t]hese figures often come from the aristocracy and bring about the drama's denouement by discovering and controlling information" about "familial or romantic relations" obtained through "disguise and deception" (88).
Genre theory suggests that all genres are always in a state of transformation; to imply that tragicomedy is intrinsically more self-reflexive than, say, Marlovian tragedy, seems a stretch.
She then connects these "disembodied markers of collective military might" (173) with Marlowe's Tamburlaine, and offers a new, convincing reading of how early modern subjectivity--a marked if nascent form of individualism associated with Marlovian "overreachers"--might look different when the unitary figure is oppressed by the weight of number.
For a Marlovian example, finally, we may turn to the Folger fragment of what must be an early text of Marlowe's Massacre at Paris and the in some way derivative printed octavo edition of this play (undated, "by E.