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Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe Christopher Marlowe[1†]

Christopher Marlowe, also known as Kit Marlowe[1†], was an English playwright, poet, and translator of the Elizabethan era[1†][2†]. He was born in Canterbury, Kent, England and was baptized on February 26, 1564[1†][3†][1†]. Marlowe is considered to be the only playwright of the Elizabethan period whose talents were equal to those of William Shakespeare[1†][2†]. In fact, he is often regarded as Shakespeare’s most important predecessor in English drama[1†][3†].

Early Years and Education

Christopher Marlowe, born in Canterbury in 1564, was the eldest son of John Marlowe, a Canterbury shoemaker[5†][3†][6†][7†][8†]. His family originated in Ospringe, today part of Faversham[5†][6†]. Marlowe’s exceptional gifts were recognized early on, and he gained a scholarship to the prestigious King’s School[5†]. This was the ancient choir school administered by the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral[5†].

Marlowe’s education at King’s School began when he was around nine years old[5†]. The school day began at 6am with a Psalm and Litany, and ended at 5pm with a Psalm, a Litany, and a prayer[5†]. Besides instruction in Religion and Music, they were thoroughly grounded in Latin grammar[5†]. Both ancient and modern history were taught and boys were encouraged to compose Latin poetry, and regularly performed plays in Latin and Greek[5†]. The boys were supposed to speak only in Latin even when at play[5†].

At the age of sixteen and a half, Marlowe was awarded a second scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge[5†][8†]. For this, he was required to compose a Latin verse and to sing plain-song at sight and to demonstrate his mastery of Latin syntax and grammar[5†]. He graduated as Bachelor of Arts in 1584[5†][8†]. In 1587, the university hesitated about granting him the master’s degree due to his frequent absences from the university[5†][3†]. However, the Privy Council sent a letter declaring that he had been employed “on matters touching the benefit of his country”[5†][3†], apparently in Elizabeth I’s secret service[5†][3†].

Career Development and Achievements

After obtaining his master’s degree in 1587, Christopher Marlowe moved to London, where he began writing for the theatres[3†][1†]. He occasionally found himself in trouble with the authorities due to his violent and disreputable behavior[3†]. It is also believed that he was occasionally engaged in government service[3†].

Marlowe’s career as a dramatist was significant, albeit short. He gained a substantial reputation based on four dramas[3†][9†]. His first play, “Tamburlaine the Great”, was followed by “Doctor Faustus” in 1589 or 1592, “The Jew of Malta” in 1589, and “Edward II” in 1592[3†][9†]. His plays are distinguished by their overreaching protagonists[3†][1†]. Themes found within Marlowe’s literary works have been noted as humanistic with realistic emotions[3†][1†].

Marlowe was the first to achieve critical reputation for his use of blank verse, which became the standard for the era[3†][1†]. His influence was profound, and modern scholars consider him to have been the foremost dramatist in London in the years just before his mysterious early death[3†][1†]. Some scholars also believe that he greatly influenced William Shakespeare, who was baptized in the same year as Marlowe and later succeeded him as the pre-eminent Elizabethan playwright[3†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Christopher Marlowe’s works are renowned for their dramatic quality and poetic brilliance. His plays and poems have left an indelible mark on English literature[10†]. Here are some of his main works:

Each of these works showcases Marlowe’s mastery of blank verse and his ability to create compelling, complex characters[10†]. His works not only reflect the spirit of the Elizabethan era but also continue to influence English literature[10†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Christopher Marlowe’s works are renowned for their dramatic quality, poetic brilliance, and their influence on English literature[12†][11†][10†][13†]. His plays and poems have left an indelible mark on English literature. His works not only reflect the spirit of the Elizabethan era but also continue to influence English literature.

Marlowe’s plays are distinguished by their overreaching protagonists[12†][11†]. His heroes, often referred to as “overreachers” and “apostates,” are controversial, larger-than-life figures that many critics believe reveal the defiance and cynicism of Marlowe himself[12†]. In addition to introducing these controversial protagonists, Marlowe was instrumental in fusing the elements of classical—and especially Senecan—drama and native morality plays, thereby establishing a style that would be followed by many subsequent playwrights[12†][13†].

Marlowe’s blank verse was metrically precise, regular, and contained imagery not introduced in English poetry at that time[12†][10†]. His brilliant heroic couplets create a world, in Eugene Ruoff’s words, of “moonlight and mushrooms”; his lovers are the idealized figures of pastoral works, chanting lush and sensual hymns or laments[12†]. A sophisticated narrator—viewed by most critics as representing Marlowe’s satiric viewpoint—manages to balance the sentimentalism of the lovers, giving the poem an ironic quality that is sustained throughout[12†].

Without a doubt, Marlowe’s works, along with his mastery of blank verse and his ability to create compelling, complex characters, would have ensured his reputation as a major literary figure even if he had never written a work intended for the stage[12†][13†].

Personal Life

Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury in 1564 to a family that originated in Ospringe, today part of Faversham[6†]. His father, John, was a cobbler[6†]. He was the second child and eldest son of John Marlowe[6†][3†]. He was the oldest child after the death of his sister Mary in 1568[6†][1†].

Marlowe’s life was as extreme as the events found in his plays[6†][1†]. He was known for his violent and disreputable behavior[6†][3†]. He was described as a spy, a brawler, and a heretic, as well as a “magician”, “duellist”, “tobacco-user”, “counterfeiter” and "rakehell"[6†][1†].

There have been many conjectures as to the nature and reason for his death, including a vicious bar-room fight, blasphemous libel against the church, homosexual intrigue, betrayal by another playwright, and espionage from the highest level: the Privy Council of Elizabeth I[6†][1†]. An official coroner’s account of Marlowe’s death was discovered only in 1925[6†][1†], and it did little to persuade all scholars that it told the whole story[6†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Christopher Marlowe’s impact on British heritage is unquestionable[14†]. His innovative use of blank verse, complex characterizations, and exploration of profound themes left an indelible mark on the Elizabethan theater and influenced subsequent generations of playwrights and poets[14†]. His contributions to British heritage are multifaceted and far-reaching[14†]. He played a pivotal role in shaping the Elizabethan theater and elevating it to new heights[14†].

One of Marlowe’s most remarkable achievements was the popularization of blank verse, an unrhymed iambic pentameter, as a standard poetic and dramatic form[14†]. This innovation marked a departure from the conventional rhymed verse and enabled playwrights, including William Shakespeare, to experiment with language and storytelling[14†]. His pioneering work laid the foundation for the English Renaissance drama, influencing the development of subsequent playwrights[14†].

Marlowe’s dramatic techniques, complex characters, and exploration of human nature inspired generations of writers, contributing significantly to the flourishing literary tradition of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras[14†]. Despite his early demise in 1593 under mysterious circumstances, Marlowe’s literary legacy and contributions to British heritage remain undeniably significant[14†].

His tragic early death at the age of 29 left a void in the Elizabethan theater, and many scholars believe that his untimely demise deprived the world of further masterpieces that could have cemented his place as one of the greatest playwrights in history[14†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Christopher Marlowe [website] - link
  2. New World Encyclopedia - Christopher Marlowe [website] - link
  3. Britannica - Christopher Marlowe: English writer [website] - link
  4. LitPriest - Christopher Marlowe's Writing Style & Short Biography [website] - link
  5. The Marlowe Society - Marlowe’s Education [website] - link
  6. The Marlowe Society - Marlowe’s Life [website] - link
  7. JETIR May 2022, Volume 9, Issue 5 - CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE - The Morning Star of English Drama [document] - link
  8. Poetry Foundation - Christopher Marlowe [website] - link
  9. CliffsNotes - Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe Biography [website] - link
  10. Literary Devices - Christopher Marlowe [website] - link
  11. Britannica - Christopher Marlowe - Plays, Poetry, Influence [website] - link
  12. eNotes - Christopher Marlowe Analysis [website] - link
  13. eNotes - Christopher Marlowe Critical Essays [website] - link
  14. British Heritage - Christopher Marlowe [website] - link
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