Christopher Marlowe was a noted poet and playwright of the Elizabethan Era and a contemporary of William Shakespeare. He was the epitome of the maxim: "Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking body of work."
His father was a shoemaker in the city of Canterbury. His date of birth is unknown, but he was baptized on February 26, 1564. He attended the King's School in Canterbury and graduated from Cambridge 1n 1587. The University hesitated in awarding him his Master's Degree due to suspicions of Catholic leanings and his frequent absences from class; but the Privy Council, close advisers to the throne, intervened, citing his "faithful dealings" and "good service" to the Queen. And what was the nature of that service?
Here's where the legend comes in. It is rumored, fed by scraps from his play and the lack of hard data about his life, that Marlowe served the Queen as a spy, infiltrating seditious Catholic groups and embarking on espionage missions to Holland. The extent of his services to the crown is purely a matter of speculation, though; no records of it exist.
In addition to his work on Her Majesty's Secret Service, Marlowe has been described as a a brawler, a heretic and a homosexual, and on various occasions had been accused of counterfeiting, dueling, atheism, dabbling in the occult and using tobacco. How much of this is factual is a matter of speculation.
What is known is that in the next seven years he wrote a string of some of the greatest plays in Elizabethan theater; possibly in English literature. Among his plays were Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta, and perhaps most famously, The Tragic History of Doctor Faustus.
On May 18, 1593, the Privy Council issued an order for Marlowe's arrest on a charge of heresy on the strength of a document found in his house and purportedly written by him. As the Queen was the official head of the Church of England, heresy was for practical purposes also considered an act of treason. He appeared before the Council and was instructed to "give daily attendance to their Lordships."
On May 30, he was visiting with friends in the town of Deptford, when a brawl broke out over the bill and he was stabbed to death. It has been speculated that he was assassinated by political enemies.
Or was he?
Ingram Frizier, the friend who stabbed Marlowe to death over a bar tab, was given a Pardon by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I. Frizier, as well as the two witnesses to Marlowe's death, Robert Poley and Nicholas Skeres, all have connections to Sir Francis Walsingham. Walsingham was Queen Elizabeth's spymaster. Poley and Skeres were both involved in foiling The Babington Plot to assassinate the Queen.
Game and Story Use
- In a historical or time travel campaign set during the Elizabethan Era, Marlowe would be an interesting NPC to meet.
- Perhaps the PCs could get involved in one of Marlowe's espionage exploits
- Marlowe seemed to know an awful lot about the occult when he wrote Doctor Faustus. How did he get this information? Was he secretly a sorcerer? Were diabolical forces behind his murder?
- Why did he really fake his death, if that's what he did? And what's his real connection to Shakespeare?
- Marlowe would also make a good model for an Elizabethan James Bond.
- Did Marlowe discover something as a spy or as an occultist that he used one of his plays to put in code?