from every shires ende
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke.
(Prologue to The Canterbury Tales)
CHRISTOPHER Marlowe had the good luck to be born in Canterbury near a cathedral of high fretted stonework and sounding bells. This small, walled metropolis was the seed-bed of Christianity in England; in his day, it was a turbulent centre of politics and religion. His life began in February 1564––two months before Shakespeare's birth in the English Midlands––but Marlowe's mind and outlook had earlier origins in his historic city of eastern Kent, which at that point was bounded on three sides by the sea and was very accessible to Europe.
His attitudes were to be nourished by his city's tensions. Grandeur and beauty, along with squalor and civic corruption, were evident here. Marlowe's strong, enquiring interest in religion, his grasp of international trade, and his feeling for exotic influences, even his interest in a man's love for a man, are related to his days at school and university. In the year 2001 new data about Sir Francis Walsingham's secret service came to light which illuminated Marlowe's career as a part-time government agent, but even this aspect of his life has roots in his early experience. Threading through all that happened to him––the dubious or lethal friendships, the dazzling successes, the foreign episodes in his career––is the story of Marlowe's ambition, tenacity, and creativity.