In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Christopher Marlowe

  • Introduction
  • Biographical Studies
  • Complete Works
  • Earlier Texts and Studies
  • Theater History
  • Reception
  • Textual Studies
  • Journals, Concordances, Supplemental Resources
  • Bibliographies

British and Irish Literature Christopher Marlowe
M. L. Stapleton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0039


Interest in Christopher Marlowe (b. 1564–d. 1593), England’s first poet-playwright, has been steady since the middle of the 19th century but has increased substantially since the 1960s. It often features a biographical current. Some who conflate literary analysis with life study also sensationalize the contested documentary “facts”: the author’s alleged atheism, homosexuality, brawling, espionage, and blasphemy. Much scholarly analysis of his relatively small canon emphasizes the alleged relationship of these controversial elements to his “overreaching” protagonists. Academic Marlowe studies have changed dramatically during this period, especially in the area of reception. The scholar Patrick Cheney cites five major trends during 1964–2000: subjectivity, sexuality, politics, religion, and poetics. The once-privileged conception of the single, independently creating author with a fairly well-defined canon and literary personality has been to some degree replaced by what Leah Marcus has labeled “the Marlowe effect.” “Marlowe” is simply a convenient corporate entity to describe a number of related texts. Independent authorship cannot be precisely determined, since these texts were surely the product of collaboration, which helps account for their immense, even revolutionary influence on English literature. This indeterminacy extrudes into biographical studies as well. In spite of Marlowe’s amazing output, produced in only six or eight years, it is often forgotten that no work with his name on the title page was published in his lifetime.

Biographical Studies

Substantial revisionism has influenced the biographical element traditionally associated with Marlowe studies (e.g., Bakeless 1942, cited under Earlier Texts and Studies; Boas 1930, cited under Individual Works: Doctor Faustus; Kocher 1947, cited under Critical Studies: The Massacre at Paris). With a more scholarly cast, Honan 2005 and Riggs 2005 are substantial lives of Marlowe based on available documents, previous studies, and readings of individual plays as psychobiography. Kuriyama 2002 and Kendall 2003 are more academic. This trend was also strongly opposed by Downie 2007. Tucker 1995 and Hammer 1996 provide overviews of biographical scholarship, and Urry 1988 publishes newer documents and contextualizes them. Entries in this section complement those in Reception and Textual Studies.

  • Downie, J. A. “Marlowe, May 1593, and the “Must-Have” Theory of Biography.” Review of English Studies 58.235 (2007): 245–267.

    DOI: 10.1093/res/hgm040

    Critique of biographers who misread the limited data about Marlowe to construct fanciful accounts of his life and works, such as Charles Nicholl.

  • Hammer, Paul E. J. “A Reckoning Reframed: The ‘Murder’ of Christopher Marlowe Revisited.” English Literary Renaissance 26.2 (1996): 225–242.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6757.1996.tb01490.x

    Uses the arguments of Kendall 2003 and Riggs 2005 to disprove many of the claims in Charles Nicholl’s The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1992). His murder “would soon have been forgotten if the victim had been less famous and left no legacy of verse” (p. 241).

  • Honan, Park. Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    Marlowe’s government service and life experiences are clearly reflected in his works. Engagingly written with a clear sense of narrative and theme; attempts to place him in his theatrical and political milieu. Well received and in some ways the standard biography.

  • Kendall, Roy. Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys through the Elizabethan Underground. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003.

    A dual biography explaining that the notorious Baines Note is “remarkably similar to the dark self-portrait(s) which Baines had painted ten years before when in prison in Rheims” (p. 24) and may not be reflective of Marlowe at all.

  • Kuriyama, Constance Brown. Christopher Marlowe: A Renaissance Life. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.

    Influential study that argues that scholars, biographers, and literary critics tend to reach conclusions about Marlowe’s life without any real evidence, especially his personality, his motivations, and the persistent conception of him as transgressive. Incorporates material not published in Urry 1988 and includes an appendix that collects all known primary documents related to Marlowe’s life. Excellent.

  • Riggs, David. The World of Christopher Marlowe. New York: Holt, 2005.

    Reads the plays biographically and examines the known facts and documents, such as they are. Detailed analysis of the institutions that produced Marlowe: “city, church, grammar school, university, secret service, and public playhouse” (p. 8). Elizabeth and her advisers strongly disapproved of the destructive energies that Marlowe’s plays could have released and had him murdered as a result.

  • Tucker, Kenneth. “Dead Men in Deptford: Recent Lives and Deaths of Christopher Marlowe.” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 34 (1995): 111–124.

    Useful survey and critique of scholarship on Marlowe’s death from the late 1980s onward. Discredits the more sensational accounts and concludes that many have the need to see Marlowe as “the quintessential heroic individualist” (p. 122) against intolerance and cruelty.

  • Urry, William. Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury. Edited by Andrew Butcher. London: Faber and Faber, 1988.

    Documented archival information on Marlowe’s early life in Canterbury; also includes further data on his life in Cambridge, London, and Deptford. Focus on friends, family, and other known relationships.

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