THE RELEVANT QUEER: Elizabethan Poet and Tragedian Christopher Marlowe, Born February 26, 1564

Christopher Marlowe — Getty-Images, Undated illustration.

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TRQ: Christopher Marlowe, Born February 26, 1564

Elizabethan Poet and tragedian Christopher Marlowe, whose writing influenced William Shakespeare, was born in Canterbury, Kent, England. Marlowe attended King’s School, Canterbury, and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Marlowe earned his bachelor of arts in 1584. By 1587 Marlowe was writing in London. His literary career lasted less than six years. His most notable work, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, brings Lucifer to life on the stage with such power that Elizabethan audiences reportedly fainted.

Shakespeare pays tribute to Marlowe often in his own work. In As You Like It, Shakespeare quotes Marlowe’s Hero and Leander. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shakespeare’s Marcade is a tribute to Marlowe’s character Mercury in Hero and Leander. Marlowe himself publicly identified with the god Mercury. Themes from Marlowe’s work reappear in Shakespeare’s Antony and CleopatraThe Merchant of VeniceRichard II and Macbeth.

In fact, academics have determined that Marlowe’s impact on Shakespeare’s work is significant enough to credit Marlowe in future editions of Henry VI, Parts One, Two and Three.

An atheist who behaved disreputably, Marlowe earned a dangerous reputation. He was both scandalous and charismatic. According to part-time spy Richard Baines in a report dubbed the “Baine’s Note,” Marlowe publicly doubted the existence of God, claimed that he could have improved the “filthily written” New Testament, and insisted that Christian communion should be administered through a tobacco pipe. Baines also reported Marlowe as saying: “all they that love not Tobacco & Boies were fools”.

Baines’ evidence is today regarded as unreliable and comparable to inciting a witch-hunt. In his report Baines warns that “All men in Christianity ought to endeavour that the mouth of so dangerous a member may be stopped.” Only a few days after the report was submitted, Marlowe was stabbed to death in Deptford, London, by Ingram Frizer. The suspicious nature of Marlowe’s murder is questioned by Shakespeare in As You Like It, and continues to raise doubts today.

Marlowe’s homosexuality is unclear. Whether a fabricated character assassination or inferred from his handling of male sexuality in Edward II, Marlowe’s sexuality would have been more understood in the Elizabethan era in terms of sexual acts rather than sexual orientation or identity.




The Guardian



Marlowe, Christopher; Forker, Charles R. (15 October 1995). Edward the Second. Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719030895

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