Biography Part I
The International
The International
Biography Part I

Canterbury Boy
Born the son of a cobbler in the town of Canterbury

Student Prodigy
A scholarship to Cambridge sets him on his way

In Her Majesty's Secret Service
Recruited as an intelligence agent

Dramatic Revolutionary
Marlowe creates a new style of theatrical performance
Canterbury Boy
Born the son of a cobbler in the town of Canterbury

The poet and dramatist Christopher Marlowe was baptised at St. George's Church, in the historic town of
Canterbury, on 26th February 1564.

Christopher was the second child of John Marlowe, a shoemaker and freeman of Canterbury, who had come
there from Ospringe––a village some ten miles nearer London––about eight years earlier. His mother, who had
married John in May 1561, was Katherine Arthur, from a family in Dover, roughly fifteen miles south-east of
Canterbury. Their first child, a daughter (Mary), lived for only a very few years after Christopher's birth, and of
the other Marlowe children, only six apparently reached adulthood––Christopher himself, Margaret, Joan, Ann,
Dorothy and Thomas.

Nothing is known about Christopher's education before 14th January 1579, when he officially started at the
prestigious King's School in Canterbury. But we can infer that his gifted mind had come to the attention of his
early schoolmasters, since he went to King's School on a scholarship. We also know from the admission
requirements of the King's School that by then he must have been not only able to read and write but was also––
since he had been admitted at a relatively late age––well-versed in Latin.
Dramatic Revolutionary
Marlowe creates a new style of theatrical performance

While at Cambridge, Marlowe found time to translate the works of the Roman poet Ovid, a favorite among the
university-educated elite, into
English blank verse. Marlowe also wrote his first blank verse plays while a student
at Cambridge. His first great success,
Tamburlaine, written in 1587, his last year at the university, caused a
sensation in London. Nothing like it had been seen before. Here Marlowe demonstrated his creation of true
English blank verse, employing the drumming rhythm of iambic pentameter to tell his tale. The play was such a
success that Marlowe quickly produced a sequel,
Tamburlaine Part II.

These smashing successes were accompanied by the plays Dido Queen of Carthage, Doctor Faustus, The
Massacre at Paris
, The Jew of Malta, and Edward II, all to the astonishment of the London audience who were
awed by this new form of English drama.

Between 1587 and 1593, Christopher Marlowe was the greatest playwright England had ever produced. When
he ran afoul of the religious authorities that May, ending his reign as England's most popular writer, he was just
29 years of age.

Go to Part II
In Her Majesty's Secret Service
Recruited as an intelligence agent

Before the award of his M.A. in 1587, some rumours had apparently been circulating that Marlowe intended
("was determined") to go to Rheims and, having gone, to remain there. This would normally mean training for
priesthood at the Catholic College at Rheims, with the probable intention of eventually returning to England as a
Catholic subversive. It seems that his M.A. was likely to be withheld because of this, but a letter was sent from
the Privy Council (the elite circle of men including Lord Burghley, the Lord Treasurer, Sir Francis Walsingham,
the head of the intelligence service, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift ) to the University
authorities, insisting that he had no such intent. He had apparently been employed in "matters touching the benefit
of his country," and the Privy Councillors instructed the Cambridge officials that the rumour should be allayed
by all possible means, and Marlowe should be "furthered in the degree he was to take this next Commencement."

There is no other indication of what he might have been doing to justify this high-powered commendation, nor
who it was that had actually employed him in "doing her Majesty good service." Though the wording of the letter
is somewhat ambiguous to modern ears, there really is little reason to interpret it as meaning that he had already
been to Rheims at the time it was written.

The request from the Privy Council apparently worked, and he commenced M.A. (i.e. he was awarded the
degree) that July. He was just 23 years of age, and poised to change the course of English drama.
Student Prodigy
A scholarship to Cambridge sets him on his way

A former Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, had endowed in his will a scholarship at Corpus Christi
College, Cambridge, for a boy from the King's School, and Marlowe was successful in being selected for this by
Matthew's son, Jonathan Parker. Among the requirements for selection were to be able "at first sight to solf
(OED: to sing a tune, air, etc. to the sol-fa syllables) and sing plain song" and to be "if it may be, such as can
make a verse," suggesting that Marlowe had already demonstrated an ability to write verse at a young

Towards the end of 1580, he left Canterbury for university, where he would be officially resident for the next
six-and-a-half years, gaining his B.A. degree in 1584, and his M.A. in 1587.

From the accounts of the payment of his scholarship funds, which depended upon his being there, and his
expenditure at the College buttery it is clear that he was occasionally absent for quite long periods. Some seven
weeks of the June-September 1582 trimester are unaccounted for, as are another seven in April-June 1583. He
was there most of the time between July 1583 and September 1584, but for the academic year following that
(1584/5––his first full year as Dominus Marlowe, B.A.) he seems to have been there for less than half the
time that he should have been. Although the payment records are missing for the academic year 1585/6, the
buttery accounts show him to have been less absent then, other than during April-June 1586, when it looks as
though he was away for some eight weeks in all.

Such absences were not necessarily unusual, however, and it must be made clear that there is no record at all as
to what he might have been doing while he was away, other than on one occasion in August 1585, when he is
known to have been in Canterbury, having witnessed a will there. He signed it "Christofer Marley," which is in
fact the only known example of his handwriting.

The only writer with the proven ability
to write poetry and dramatic verse at a
"Shakespearean" level. For two
centuries, scholars have proclaimed
that Shakespeare learned how to write
by studying Marlowe's style.
Speculation that they were friends and
shared manuscripts is prompted by
the striking similarity of Marlowe's
later works to Shakespeare's early