Marlowe, Christopher

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Marlowe, Christopher

Christopher Marlowe, 1564–93, English dramatist and poet, b. Canterbury. Probably the greatest English dramatist before Shakespeare, Marlowe, a shoemaker's son, was educated at Cambridge and he went to London in 1587, where he became an actor and dramatist for the Lord Admiral's Company. His most important plays are the two parts of Tamburlaine the Great (c.1587), Dr. Faustus (c.1588), The Jew of Malta (c.1589), and Edward II (c.1592). Marlowe's dramas have heroic themes, usually centering on a great personality who is destroyed by his own passion and ambition. Although filled with violence, brutality, and passion, Marlowe's plays are never merely sensational; the poetic beauty and dignity of his language raise them to the level of high art. Most authorities detect influences of his work in the Shakespeare canon, notably in Titus Andronicus and King Henry VI, and the editors of The New Oxford Shakespeare (2016) credit Marlowe as coauthor of the Henry VI plays. Of his nondramatic pieces, the best-known are the long poem Hero and Leander (1598), which was finished by George Chapman, and the beautiful lyric that begins "Come live with me and be my love." In 1593, Marlowe was stabbed in a barroom brawl by a drinking companion. Although a coroner's jury certified that the assailant acted in self-defense, the murder may have resulted from a plot, some scholars believe, arising out of Marlowe's activities as a government agent.

See his Works and Life (6 vol., 1949–55); biographies by F. S. Boas (1940), C. Norman (rev. ed. 1971), C. Kuriyama (2002), and P. Honan (2006); studies by J. E. Bakeless (1942), P. H. Kocher (1946), H. Levin (1952, repr. 1964), W. Sanders (1969), J. B. Steane (1964, repr. 1970), R. Erikson (1987), C. Nicholl (1992), and D. Riggs (2004).

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