Was Christopher Marlowe a man of his time or did he define his period, influenced by national and international events? Read about Marlowe's world and the religious, political and literary influences which shaped his era.
Christopher Marlowe: His Life and Times
1558 Death of Catholic Queen Mary; accession of Protestant Queen Elizabeth
- 6 February: Christopher Marlowe born in Canterbury, Kent; second child of prosperous shoemaker John Marlowe
- c.23 April: birth of William Shakespeare
1566 Edward Alleyn born (lead actor with Henslowe’s company; acted the major roles in Marlowe’s plays
c.1566/7: Richard Burbage born (chief actor with Shakespeare’s company)
1570 Elizabeth excommunicated by Pope Pius V
1572 24 August: Massacre of French Protestants (the ‘St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre’)
1576 James Burbage builds The Theatre, the first custom-built public playhouse in London
1577 The Curtain playhouse built in Finsbury, near The Theatre
1578 English (Catholic) seminary in France moves from Douai to Rheims; becomes a centre for ex-patriot English recusants
1579 Marlowe attends King’s School, Canterbury
1580 A Matthew Parker scholarship funds Marlowe for six years study at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Such scholarships normally awarded to students intending to go into the Protestant ministry (Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury, was a leading light in the publication of the ‘Bishops’ Bible’; a Protestant English translation of the Bible)
1581-2 Queen Elizabeth authorises Sir Francis Walsingham to set up a state ‘secret service’ organisation, to gather intelligence and uncover potential treason by any means necessary
1583-5 Famous Italian occultist, Giordano Bruno, visits England
1584 Marlowe gains his B.A. and probably now starts work as an agent for Sir Francis Walsingham. Marlowe frequently absent from Cambridge during the period of his M.A. studies. Walsingham’s cousin, Thomas, becomes Marlowe’s patron
1585 Likely date of writing of Dido, Queen of Carthage (published posthumously in 1594). Probably intended for performance by one of the boys’ companies
1586 Discovery of the Babington Plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and put her Catholic relative Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Among the ‘conspirators’ (actually an agent provocateur) was another Walsingham agent, Robert Poley
- 8 February: execution of Mary Queen of Scots for alleged involvement in the Babington Plot. The Pope declares religious crusade against Elizabeth
- July: Marlowe receives his M.A. after Privy Council intervenes with Cambridge authorities and assures them of his ‘good service’ to Her Majesty, and that he ‘deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealing’. (The Cambridge authorities had apparently believed Marlowe intended to avoid taking his final Protestant vows, and to abscond to the seminary at Rheims.)
- Marlowe moves to London; probably in this year both parts of Tamburlaine the Great are performed at Philip Henslowe’s newly opened theatre The Rose, on Bankside
- Publication of the German Historia von D. Iohann Fausten (translated into English some time between 1587 and 1592)
1588 Defeat of the Spanish ArmadaPossible date of writing of Dr Faustus
1589 Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (a romantic comedy about magic, by Robert Greene)
- 18 September: Marlowe imprisoned in Newgate prison for his part in the street-fight killing of an innkeeper. Released
- 3 DecemberProbable first performance of The Jew of Malta
1590 King James VI of Scotland marries Anne of Denmark; their voyage back to Scotland threatened by storms at sea; self-confessed witches claim to have caused the tempests and are put on trial for witchcraft.
Dr John Dee, astrologer and magus, returns from Europe to find his house and library ransacked.
Death of Sir Francis Walsingham. Lord Burghley takes control of Elizabethan secret service
1591 Marlowe shares lodgings in London with Thomas Kyd, writer of popular revenge play, The Spanish Tragedy (probably first performed 1589, published 1592). Marlowe summoned for assault on two constables in Shoreditch and fined
Late 1591-2 Marlowe goes to Flushing in Holland, and (possibly acting as a double agent) is involved with Richard Baines in a counterfeiting scheme
1592 Extended periods of plague cause closure of theatres; acting companies are forced to tour in the provinces. Probably first performance of Edward II by Pembroke’s Men, on tour.
Marlowe arrested and taken to court for brawling on the streets of Canterbury.
Remission of plague at the end of 1592 allowed theatres to re-open briefly
- 30 January: The Massacre at Paris performed; marked as a new play in Henslowe’s account book. Plague again causes theatre closures
- 12 May: Thomas Kyd arrested for possessing heretical writings; under torture he declares they belonged to Marlowe and further, accuses Marlowe of treason and sodomy.
- 18 May: Marlowe summoned from Thomas Walsingham’s house in Kent to appear before the Privy Council on charge of heresy.
- 20 May: questioned by Privy Council and released on bail
- c.27 May: Richard Baines’ accusations against Marlowe delivered to the Privy Council.
- 30 May: Marlowe’s killing in a house in Deptford by Ingram Frizer witnessed by Robert Poley and Nicholas Skeres.
- 28 June: Frizer pardoned; ‘homicide in self-defence’
1595 Marlowe’s translation of All Ovid’s Elegies published
1597 King James writes Daemonologie, a book about witchcraft
1598 Marlowe’s Hero and Leander published
1599 The Globe theatre opens. Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It carries references to Marlowe
1600 Marlowe’s translation of Lucan’s First Book published
1601 Entry in the Stationers’ Register of ‘a booke called the plaie of Doctor Faustus'
Between 1601-4, performance of an anonymously written comedy, The Merry Devil of Edmonton, features an opening which parodies the final scene of Dr Faustus
1603 Death of Queen Elizabeth; accession of King James I
1604 First known edition of Dr Faustus published
1605 Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot
c.1606 Shakespeare’s tragedy of magic and ambition, Macbeth