Despite a writing career which lasted only six years, Christopher Marlowe was an early leading light in Elizabethan literary culture. Ambitious and daring in both his life and his work, he is often regarded as the enfant terrible of the English Renaissance period. Unafraid to experiment with literary form, his works, which include The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus and Dido, Queen of Carthage, influenced many playwrights who came after him, including William Shakespeare.
According to the baptismal records of St George the Martyr Church in Canterbury, Christopher Marlowe, known as Kit, was christened on 26 February 1564. Kit was the second child and eldest son of John Marlowe, a cobbler, and his wife, Katherine.
Despite being born in the same year and into the same social class as his more famous contemporary, Marlowe received a better education than Shakespeare. While nothing is known of his early education, parish records show that, in January 1579, Kit won a scholarship to the prestigious choir school, King’s School, in Canterbury. Just over a year later, at the age of 16, he was the recipient of another scholarship, this time to Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. By 1584, he had gained a Bachelor of Arts, and in 1587, after six-and-a-half-years study, he earned his Master of Arts degree.
From Spy to Playwright
Although there is no hard evidence, it is now widely supposed that during his time at Cambridge, Marlowe was recruited into Sir Francis Walsingham’s wide network of spies. Unexplained and lengthy absences from University and trips to Catholic cities in France circumstantially suggest this, as does the fact that when the University threatened to withhold Marlowe’s degree, the queen’s Privy Council (of which Walsingham was a member) intervened on his behalf. However, upon leaving university, Christopher Marlowe moved to London, where he took up writing for the theatre.