1564 – 1593 (?)

The son of a village cobbler, Christopher Marlowe created a stir with his literary output while attending Cambridge as a scholarship student. He was the first to translate Ovid’s Amores into English. His translation and adaptation of Lucan’s epic poem, Pharsalia, is one of the earliest English poems written in blank verse and has influenced poets from Milton to Wordsworth. While still a university student, his Doctor Faustus was produced in London; shortly after Marlowe left Cambridge, his Tamburlaine the Great was performed an unprecedented 200 times.

During Marlowe’s years at Cambridge, he was recruited as a spy by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. When the university attempted to withhold his Master’s degree on the grounds of excessive absenteeism, the Queen herself intervened and his degree was duly granted.

Marlowe is credited with having written seven plays that are all in blank verse, often referred to as “the mighty line.”

There are many parallels in words, phrases, and imagery between these works and those of Shakespeare.

Marlowe’s primary patron before Walsingham was the Earl of Pembroke, husband of Mary Sidney. Three of Marlowe’s plays were performed for the first time by Pembroke’s Players, the same troupe that also performed the first four Shakespeare plays. All the candidates have deep and lasting connections to the Sidney and Herbert families.

Marlowe’s publishers, Edward Blount (Hero and Leander, 1598) and Thomas Thorpe (Lucan’s First Book, 1600) became Shakespeare’s publishers. Thorpe published Shakespeare’s Sonnets in 1609; Blount was copublisher of the First Folio, 1623.

In 1593, Marlowe was under investigation for heresy, a capital offense. Ten days after being questioned by the Privy Council, he was dead—or so it was claimed. The extremely suspect report of his death has led many to wonder if Christopher Marlowe’s murder in 1593 was an elaborate hoax planned by his friends in high places to save his life.

Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare’s first published work, appeared two weeks after Marlowe’s official death on May 30, 1593. Did Marlowe live a secret life from then on as William Shakespeare?