The Jew of Malta : Biography
Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury c. February 26, 1564, the same year as Shakespeare’s birth, to John and Catherine Marlowe. John Marlowe was only a shoemaker, but Christopher was educated at King’s School in Canterbury and won a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he studied history, philosophy, and theology. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 1584, but in 1587 the University did not want to award Marlowe his Master’s Degree because of rumors that he was going to convert to Roman Catholicism. Lengthy absences from the university were spent abroad and attributed to his service to the English government, whether as a courier or a spy is not known. Elizabeth’s Privy Council intervened to get Marlowe his degree for his faithful service to the Queen. Some believe that Marlowe was working for Sir Francis Walsingham’s intelligence network.
His first play was Dido, Queen of Carthage (1586), but the first to be performed on a London stage was Tamburlaine in 1587, the story of the ruthless conqueror. It enjoyed great success, so he wrote Tamburlaine Part II (1588). The exact sequence of the plays is unknown, and even the texts have been recreated from actors’ memories since none was published in his lifetime except Tamburlaine in 1590. The Jew of Malta (1589) is probably his fourth play, a revenge tragedy. Edward II (1592)is a history play about the fall of that English king. The Massacre at Paris (c. 1593) depicts the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 of Protestants by Catholics. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (c. 1589) recounts the story of the necromancer Faust who sells his soul to the devil for more knowledge and power. Marlowe also wrote poetry: Hero and Leander (1598) and “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.” He translated Ovid’s Amores and Lucan’s Pharsalia.
Marlowe’s mysterious death at an early age is wrapped up with his legendary character as an underground figure, a violent brawler, a drinker, an atheist, and possibly a spy. He had been arrested and acquitted many times. In 1593, Marlowe was accused of being a heretic. Marlowe was arrested and kept under watch. During this time, he died at the age of 29 in a tavern brawl. Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave at Deptford on June 1, 1593. It is theorized that Marlowe’s death may have been an assassination because the men he was with were all connected with the state secret service. Marlowe left his mark as one of the great founders of English drama, and Shakespeare clearly built on his achievement.