Bad Boy Marlowe on a Tear; Shakespeare Rival's Racy Life Put Onstage as 2 of His Plays Are Produced

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If Shakespeare were a rock idol, he'd be Paul McCartney - prolific, diligent, a family man and an astute businessman. His contemporary, Christopher Marlowe, would be one of those self-destructive enfants terribles like Jim Morrison or Ian Curtis. Pagan and pan-sexual, braying and bellicose, they lived life in dissolution and died young.

"Marlowe lived a far sexier life than Shakespeare," says Akiva Fox, literary associate at the Shakespeare Theatre. "Shakespeare had a much quieter and tidy life. He was a dorky little actor who wanted to be a major player, and Marlowe was the cooler kid who showed up in London at the age of 23 and took the town by storm. Everyone wanted to be him."

"He was Lindsay Lohan - with talent," says playwright David Grimm, who wrote a play, "Kit Marlowe," about the bad boy of iambic pentameter. "The Elizabethan era was a pretty raw time, and both Marlowe's life and his plays were rife with the rawness of youth and rampant sexuality."

The youthfulness is what captivated Mr. Grimm. "Marlowe is so over-the-top, so ambitious, and everything is written in bright, brash colors - he is such a young person's playwright."

Christopher Marlowe may have been all the rage back in the day, but he has become little more than a literary footnote, while Shakespeare has become, well, Shakespeare.

Nevertheless, two theaters in town are paying homage to Marlowe's genius and notoriety: the Shakespeare Theatre with productions of his seldom-seen plays "Tamburlaine" and "Edward II" and the Rorschach Theatre with a staging of "Kit Marlowe," a lavish and lascivious look at a man who was rumored to be a homosexual, an atheist and a spy for Queen Elizabeth's secret service.

Notwithstanding Marlowe's personal excesses - booze, boys, barroom brawls - it is his contribution to drama that begs rediscovery by modern audiences. "Without Marlowe, there simply would be no Shakespeare," Mr. Fox says. "Marlowe was Shakespeare's greatest rival and influence. They constantly referred to each other in their plays and shamelessly stole from one another."

Marlowe was born two months before Shakespeare, in 1564. His father was a shoemaker but made sure his son was educated, and Marlowe received an exclusive scholarship to Cambridge University. After lollygagging around in graduate school, he began writing plays.

His first effort, "Tamburlaine" - about a shepherd who becomes a king - hit London like "an electric shock," Mr. Fox says. "Up to that point, plays and poetry were separate, but Marlowe put all this incredibly thrilling and complex and poetic language onstage. …