On Wednesday 30th May 1593 Christopher Marlowe was famously killed under mysterious circumstances at the young age of 29. This Thursday 30th May 2013 is the 420th anniversary of his death, and to commemorate this we have delved into Marlowe’s short life – find out more about this enigmatic figure, from when he was born, to who killed him and why…
For more information read the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on Marlowe, free to view until 30th June 2013.
- Christopher Marlowe was baptized exactly 2 months before William Shakespeare on 26 February 1564, at St George's, Canterbury.
- The spelling of Marlowe’s family name was incredibly fluid. His father (John Marlowe) was often called Marley and Marle, while Christopher appears as Marlowe, Marlow, or Marlo on his title-pages, Marley in his only existing signature, Marlin or Merling in his university records, and Morley in the coroner's inquest on his death.
- Though (along with Kyd and Shakespeare) one of the founding fathers of English drama, Marlowe wrote only seven plays – Tamburlaine the Great Parts I and II, The Massacre at Paris, Tragedy of Dido Queen of Carthage, Edward II, Doctor Faustus, and The Jew of Malta.
- Marlowe wrote the first surviving English history play (Edward II) and Ovidian narrative verse in English, seen in Hero and Leander.
- The circumstances of Marlowe’s death are generally described as a ‘tavern brawl’, yet there is no evidence that the house he died in was a tavern, or that Marlowe’s death could be described as within a ‘brawl’! Instead, it occurred in a private room in a house in Deptford Strand, London, which belonged to the respectable Eleanor Bull, a widow of an ancient family.
- The three other men at the scene of Marlowe’s death were Nicholas Skeres and Ingram Frizer (both swindlers) and Robert Poley (an espionage figure). The coroner of the day ruled that Frizer killed Marlowe in self-defence, after Marlowe attacked him during an argument over the bill. Frizer received a royal pardon on 28th June 1593.
- Does Shakespeare refer to Marlowe's death in As You Like It, when Touchstone speaks of "a great reckoning in a little room"? Read the scene to find out.
- Marlowe was buried on 1st June 1593 at St Nicholas's in Deptford. However, did you know that the exact location of his grave is still unknown?
- Various rumours around Marlowe’s death included that he was: killed in a street fight, stabbed by a rival lover, or murdered to keep him quiet. Some even believed that he faked his own death to escape the charges of heresy hanging over him. Three centuries of these rumours were squashed when, in 1925, Leslie Hotson, discovered the inquest into his death (read her entry in Who’s Who, freely available until 25th June 2013).
- However, even though this inquest has been found, and its authenticity verified, it is believed that it still does not tell the full truth of what happened on that famous evening. The nature and connections of the three other men in that room raises questions about their reliability, indicating that the story is much more complex under the surface.
Now you've read the facts test your knowledge on the Marlowe quiz!
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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Marlowe, free to view until 30th June 2013