Surviving college records from the period also indicate that Marlowe had had a series of unusually lengthy absences from the university, much longer than permitted by university regulations. Surviving college buttery (dining room) accounts indicate he began spending lavishly on food and drink during the periods he was in attendance, more than he could have afforded on his known scholarship income; notably the theory that Marlowe was operating as a secret agent working for Sir Francis Walsingham’s intelligence service. No direct evidence supports this theory, although the Council’s letter evidences that Marlowe had served the government in some secret capacity. A warrant was issued for Marlowe’s arrest on 18 May 1593. No reason for it was given, though it was thought to be connected to allegations of blasphemy.
Marlowe has often been described as a spy, a brawler, a heretic and a homosexual, as well as a “magician”, “duelist”, “tobacco-user”, “counterfeiter” and “rakehell”. Like his contemporary William Shakespeare, Marlowe was reputed to be an atheist. The most famous tribute to Marlowe was paid by Shakespeare in As You Like It, where he quotes a line from Hero and Leander (“Dead Shepherd, now I find thy saw of might, ‘Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?”). In Hamlet, after meeting with the travelling actors, Hamlet requests the Player to perform a speech about the Trojan War, which has an echo of Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage. In Love’s Labour’s Lost Shakespeare brings on a character “Marcade” in conscious acknowledgement of Marlowe’s character “Mercury”, also attending the King of Navarre, in Massacre at Paris.
The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, based on the German Faustbuch, was the first dramatized version of the Faust; legend of a scholar’s dealing with the devil.
Marlowe deviates significantly by having his hero unable to “burn his books” or repent to a merciful God in order to have his contract annulled at the end of the play. Marlowe’s protagonist is instead torn apart by demons and dragged off screaming to hell. Dr Faustus is a textual problem for scholars as it was highly edited and possibly censored and rewritten after Marlowe’s death. Two versions of the play exist: the 1604 quarto, also known as the A text, and the 1616 quarto or B text. Many scholars believe that the A text is more representative of Marlowe’s original because it contains irregular character names and idiosyncratic spelling: the hallmarks of a text that used the author’s handwritten manuscript, or “foul papers”, as a major source.
Marlowe had spent all day in a house in Deptford, and together with three men: Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley. The three men who were in the room with him when he died were all connected to the state secret service and to the London underworld. That house also had “links to the government’s spy network”. The witnesses testified that Frizer and Marlowe had argued over the bill exchanging “malicious words” while Frizer was sitting at a table between the other two and Marlowe was lying behind him on a couch. Marlowe snatched Frizer’s dagger and wounded him on the head. In the ensuing struggle, according to the coroner’s report, Marlowe was stabbed above the right eye, killing him instantly. The jury concluded that Frizer acted in self-defence, and within a month he was pardoned.
Tamburlaine (part I&II )
The Jew of Malta
The Massacre at Paris
Dido, Queen of Carthage
The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Hero and Leander
Lucan ‘s Pharsalia
Our swords shall play the orators for us. (Tamburlaine)
Fools that will laugh on earth, most weep in hell.
I count religion but a childish toy, and hold there is no sin but ignorance.