The Marlowe Theatre takes its name from Christopher Marlowe, a dramatist with an extraordinary history.
Poet, brawler, spy and Shakespeare’s rival – Christopher Marlowe lived an intriguing and often dangerous life.
He was born in Canterbury in early 1564 – his exact date of birth is not known but records show that he was baptised at St George’s Church on February 26.
Marlowe won a scholarship to King’s School, Canterbury, in 1579. He studied Latin, Greek, history, mathematics and music until he was 15 when he left for Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, to study theology, again on a scholarship. At Cambridge, he met Thomas Watson and they became close friends and planned to live together.
Through Watson, Marlowe became a spy for the government’s secret service, in one of the many lengthy periods he spent away from his studies, he went to Rheims where he spied on a Roman Catholic seminary.
Marlowe graduated with an MA in 1587 and moved to London where he began to write seriously. Although the details are sketchy as to when any of his known works were actually written, Tamburlaine the Great: Part One had its first public performance that year.
He continued his work for the Crown as a highly trusted intelligence agent and in 1588 was on board one of Francis Drake’s ships when Drake when out to meet the Spanish Armada. His report on the battle is the only first-hand account of the campaign.
Other famous plays written and performed between 1588 and 1593 included Edward the Second, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta and The Massacre of Paris.
Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare and perhaps a competitor. They mixed in the same circles and Marlowe is believed to have contributed to several of Shakespeare's works. Some also say he was their original author.
Marlowe had several brushes with the law and was involved in an affray which, after he had left, ended in a death. In 1592 while in Flushing, he was arrested on a charge of arranging the counterfeit of some coins. It was a capital offence, but thanks to his connections and his previous work for the state, he walked away a free man.
That same year he was fined £20 for failing to keep the peace and later, in Canterbury, he was involved in a fracas involving a stick (possibly a walking stick) and dagger, with a tailor. It was settled out of court.
The following year, an anti-immigrant poem was posted on the wall of a London church and Marlowe was thought to be responsible. His playwright friend Thomas Kyd was also implied and he was arrested. Kyd’s rooms were searched and heretical papers were found. Kyd was tortured and accused Marlowe of atheism.
Marlowe was arrested and was due to be charged with treason but before this happened he went to a house or a tavern in Deptford with three other men. He got involved in a row over the bill with one of the men, Ingram Frizer, and was stabbed by a dagger in the head, killing him instantly.
An inquest later found Frizer had acted in self-defence. Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Deptford.
To find out more visit The Marlowe Society.