Thou talk'st of Christ, contrary to thy promise.
Thou shouldst not think of God. Think of the devil,
And of his dame, too.
ON hot summer days in crowded Shoreditch, the difference between sweaty actors and poets in the alleys was not great. Rehearsals and performances filled the day, and the entertainment industry was a hungry demon. An actor who wrote scripts––such as Shakespeare––was hard-worked, and Marlowe followed up his own chances by writing new tragedies. Good tragedies were rare––few poets ventured into that genre––and as we have seen, an acquaintance between himself and Shakespeare became a stimulus for both writers.
The Tamburlaine plays had helped to form taste, and the gentry who came up to the Curtain or Theatre expected intelligence––some unusual frisson or intrigue in exchange for what they paid for cushioned seats in a gallery. Shakespeare, by 1590, had begun to look into the scandals of English history in Henry VI, and Marlowe, more daringly, in Doctor Faustus had set a precedent in delving into religion.
A change for the theatre had been in the air since the death of the Queen's men's popular comic actor Richard Tarlton back in 1588. He had faded slowly. On his deathbed, he had written a beseeching letter to Marlowe's former employer, the spymaster Francis Walsingham, to complain that a crafty 'sly fellow' named Adams was trying to bilk him of his estate and so deprive his elderly mother and son, 'a sillie old widdow of