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Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

From Alf Dotson, “Christopher Marlowe, poet, play-wright, and private investigator”—


DURING HIS OWN LIFETIME and for generations afterward, Christopher “Kit” Marlowe was condemned by middle class contemporaries as an atheist, a homosexual, a tobacco-fiend, a brawler, a liberal and a libertine; which, in our own day—when considered together with his strong publication record—would have made him a shoe-in for tenure at almost any American college or university; but Marlowe was ill-suited to the monastic life of a scholar.  When not on assignment as a secret agent, or in prison, he pursued a career in theater and was hugely successful.  Marlowe produced one major hit after another, Tamburlaine 1 and 2, The Tragedy of Edward II, Dr. Faustus, and The Jew of Malta, to name a few.  He practically invented the grand style that Ben Jonson would later call “Marlowe’s mighty line.” Without Marlowe, arguably, there could have been no Shakespeare.


According to the “Marlovian” theory, however, Marlowe was Shakespeare.


Christopher “Marley,” a.k.a. Marlowe, son of a shoemaker, was baptized in Canterbury on 26 February 1564.  Two months later, William Shakespeare, son of a leather-worker, was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon.  Marlowe graduated BA from Cambridge University in 1584, MA in 1587.  Shakespeare never attended college.  The orthodox view is that Kit Marlowe died on 30 May 1593, stabbed to death in a Deptford tavern; and that Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, from having eaten too many pickled herring with Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton; or else, from tertiary syphilis.  But it was in 1593, on the heels of Marlowe’s reputed death, that we first hear of “William Shakespeare”; whose very first publication, Venus and Adonis, was registered for the press on April 18 of that year and released for publication a few weeks later, on or about the very day that the Marlowe homicide was first reported.  Thus, at the precise moment when Shakespeare’s career ramps up, Kit Marlowe drops off the planet.


Thomas White (1892) and Wilbur E. Ziegler (1894) smelled a smokescreen.  As founders of “the Marlovian school,”  White and Ziegler argued that Marlowe, being in trouble with the law, faked his own murder.  He then adopted “William Shakespeare” as a new identity; and went on to have a successful public career without disclosing that he and Shakespeare were actually the same fellow.  (A more recent instance of a very similar career move is exampled in TAFKAP, the artist formerly known as “Prince.”)


The theory that Christopher Marlowe was the true “William Shakespeare” might eventually have overtaken even the Bacon and Oxford camps, were it not for a book called The Death of Christopher Marlowe, by Leslie Hotson. In it, Hotson transcribed London court documents showing that Christopher Marlowe did indeed perish on May 30, 1593.  According to the coroner’s report, Ingram Frizer buried the point of his knife two inches deep into Marlowe’s brain.  Hotson’s evidence came as a blow to the Marlovian school:  As the 29-year-old playwright lay there on a coroner’s slab in the spring of 1593, with that dagger plunged deep in his right eye-socket, he wasn’t just playing dead—he really was.


To Marlowe is ascribed the most thrilling hard-boiled detective story ever written:  Othello l’Amour.