The Tragical History of Christopher Marlowe February 1564-May 30, 1593
Of “Common Stock”
Parents John and Katherine Marlowe
Corpus Christi College,
Education & Religion
B. A. in 1584; M. A. in 1587
Scholarships were with understanding that he would take holy orders in Anglican church
Cambridge battlefield for Calvinists and anti-Calvinists in 1580s;
difference was damnation
Anglican? Catholic? Atheist?
Arrests for Fights & Religion
Arrested 1589, brawl resulted in homicide; poet Thomas Watson self-defense; both released
1593 his roommate, dramatist Thomas Kyd arrested for inciting riots against Flemish Protestants; officers found papers denying deity of Christ; Kyd said they were Marlowe’s; Marlowe had to report daily to Privy Council--like house arrest
More on Marlowe’s “Reputation”
Kyd reported on Marlowe’s “monstrous opinions,” saying he would “gybe at praiers, & stryve in argument to frustrate & confute what hath byn spoke or wrytt by prophets & such holie men.”
Bains, a former fellow prisoner and possible informer, accused Marlowe of “Damnable Judgement of Religion, and scorn of gods word” and of saying “the first beginning of Religion was only to keep men in awe.”
More on Reputation
Bains also accused Marlowe of saying that if there is “any god or religion, then it is in the papistes. . . . [A]ll protestantes are Hypocritical asses . . . .”
Why would this be alarming in 1593?
What reasons would Kyd and Bains have had for lying about Marlowe’s beliefs?
1587 Cambridge first refused to grant his master’s because of Marlowe’s absences from college, but Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council sent a letter stating “that in all his accions he had behaved him selfe orderlie and discreetlie wherebie he had done her Majestie good service, & deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealinge. . . .”
Frequent trips to Rheims, France--to visit or spy on Catholics?
Work History, cont.
Other unexplained absences
Espionage for Sir Thomas Walsingham, head of Elizabeth’s secret service?
1592 letter from prison governor describes Marlowe as “by his profession a scholar.”
Performance of Plays
Dido Queen of Carthage (1586)
Tamburlaine, I and II (1587-88)
The Jew of Malta (1590)
The Massacre at Paris
Edward II (1592-93)
Dr. Faustus (1594)
Translations of Latin Poetry & Writing English Lyric Poetry
Certain of Ovid’s Elegies & Amores (1595 with John Davies)
Lucan’s First Booke (1600)
“ Hero and Leander”
“ Passionate Shepherd
to His Love” (1600)
Importance to Poetry
A. C. Swinburne, critic: Marlowe was “the father of English tragedy and the creator of English blank verse.”
Tamburlaine Prologue shows Marlowe’s contempt for stage verse of the period: “jygging vaines of riming mother wits” presented the “conceits [which] clownage keepes in pay.”
Dramatic poets of 16 th c followed where Marlowe led; lyric poets of 17 th c imitated him.
Importance to Tragedy
Episodic treatment of events
that parallel larger themes
Death as Reported at Inquest
Died May 30, 1593 at age of 29, before all reports got to authorities.
Spent day with 3 men in a house leased for meetings
Fight over “le recknynge”; Marlowe pulled his dagger, Ingram Frazir got it away and stabbed Marlowe over right eye 2” deep and 1” wide; died instantly.
Cover up or not?
Some scholars argue that the Earl of Essex ordered murder of Marlowe because he was an associate of Sir Walter Raleigh, Essex’s rival.
Walsingham ordered murder because Marlowe was becoming a liability to the privy Council?
Just typical Marlowe “rashness in attempting sudden privy injuries to men”?
Marlovians assert that Marlowe really didn’t die in 1593 but lived to write Shakespeare’s plays, which couldn’t have been written by someone who wasn’t university-educated!!
Or that Marlowe was a nom de guerre assumed by Shakespeare during the “lost years”!
Changes in Dramatic Productions
Professional actors who attached to powerful patron for protection from vagrancy laws
Professional theatres move outside London to avoid official sanctions
Universities produce Latinate comedies: Ralph Roister Doister , Grammar Gurton’s Needle (1550s)
Humor & Subplots
Parts modeled on Roman comedies of Terence and Plautus.
Puns, slapstick, irony—it’s got it all!
Action of the comic characters parallels the action in the main plot.
Example: Faustus gets a servant; Wagner gets a servant. Faustus learns to conjure; Wagner learns to conjure and teaches his servant. This also develops the themes of power and submission and knowledge.
Attitudes toward Witchcraft
To Elizabethans, witchcraft was very real.
Burnings; religious persecutions
What replaces scientific cause and effect when disease and natural disaster strike?
Distrust of vernacular languages because wanted eternal fame for writings; English too changeable—who could read in 200 years? Latin and Greek eternal(?!)
National pride eventually legitimizes vernacular English.
Martin Luther originally intended simply
to pose questions for discussion (1517).
Issue: Bible translated into vernacular so people could decide for themselves.
Issue: individual should believe and do what his personal reading of Bible and personal enlightened conscience tell him to—not what church leaders say.
English Reformation was forced by dynastic concerns not religious ones.
Henry VIII executed Wm. Tyndale
for translating the Bible into English.
After splitting with the Catholic church to get a divorce and remarry for an heir, he authorizes an English translation of the Bible!
Queen Mary-Bloody Mary, Spanish Catholic
Queen Elizabeth I – the Politique, middle ground; beliefs ambiguous to accommodate individual conscience. Prohibited controversial preaching.
The Great Chain of Being
Preparing for Imminent Death
Queen Elizabeth-the Politique
Living for worldly accomplishments
Rise of Middle Class
Medieval or Renaissance ?
1. London cultural center
2. Scientific experimentation
3. Change social class
4. Some religious freedom
5. Land/feudal obligations
6. Writers had to have noble patrons or be nobles themselves
7. Challenge; ask questions
8. Could not change social status
9. Professional writers
10.Follow tradition and authority completely
Theatres and Free-thinking
Avoidance of authority, discuss anything that could escape censors
QE I seeing Richard II after Essex revolt: “I am Richard II, know ye not that?”
Marlowe’s view of man: “. . .But his dominion that exceeds in this / Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man” ( Faustus .1.1.57-58).
Act of 1545 classed any person not a member of a guild as a vagabond and subject to arrest
Patronage of an important person, a servant and not charged with being a vagabond.
QE1 gave permission to perform in London in spite of local rules if met the approval of the Master of the Revels
Highly operatic with flamboyant expressions stylized according to certain rhetorical traditions
Good and evil
Knowledge and ignorance
Choices and consequences
Appearance and reality
Success and failure
The human condition or meaning of life
“ Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
--Robert Browning (1812–1889)
Sources Barnet, Sylvan, ed. “Introduction.” Doctor Faustus . Christopher Marlowe. New York: Signet Books, 1969. vii-xix. Bevington, David. “General Introduction.” The Complete Works of Shakespeare. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. Rpt. in Doctor Faustus: Divine in Show . Ed. McAlindon, T. Twayne’s Masterworks Studies. New York: Twayne, 1994. 152-170. Duncan-Jones, Katherine. “Devil May Care.” New Statesman 131 (1996): 42-44. McAlindon, T. Doctor Faustus: Divine in Show . Twayne’s Masterworks Studies. New York: Twayne, 994. “The Sixteenth Century I1485-1603): Introduction.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6 th ed. Ed. M. H. Abrams. New York: W. W. Norton,1996. 253-273. Stenning, Rodney. “The ‘Burning Chair’ in the B-text of Doctor Faustus .” Notes and Queries 43 (1996): 144-145. Stumpf, Thomas A. “Images and Music.” Freshman Seminar: Visits to Hell . (2001). 29 Sept. 2004.< http://www.unc.edu/courses/2001fall/engl/006m/005/thumbnails.html. > Walton, Brenda. Lessons for Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus . Orlando, FL: Network for Instructional TV, 1998. 12 Oct. 2004. < http:// www.teachersfirst.com/lessons/marl.htm >.