"And let these tears, distilling from mine eyes, Be proof of my grief and innocency." The Death of Christopher Marlowe

30 May 1593, 420 years ago, 29 years old poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death by one Ingram Frizer, allegedly over the reckoning of a bill in a backroom of a house in Deptford, owned by a certain Eleanor Bull, widow.

"When a man's verses cannot be understood, nor a man's good wit seconded with the forward child, understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room." (William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”)

Once the pre-eminent tragedian of Elizabethan England whose plays are still put on major stages worldwide, he is long since overshadowed by his contemporary Shakespeare, even though he had a major influence on his works. Most of his plays survived, but, as with Shakespeare, what we know about the man is sketchy at best and was assembled by fragments such as church records, a few letters, bills and accounts of his fellow men over the last four centuries.

Until quite recently it had been assumed that “Kit” Marlowe had been accidentally killed in a quarrel over the settling of a bill during a pub crawl. A jealous husband was later added for good measure. During the last 80 years, evidence emerged that his death was not that random. According to one theory that is probably not made up out of thin air, he was recruited to work for the Queen’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham already while studying at Cambridge.

Earlier in the year of 1593, indications increase that Marlowe was up to his neck in the intrigues of the hotbed of the Fairy Queen’s court and warrants were issued accusing him of agitation and the catch-all of freethinking and atheism. A meeting with the Privy Council did apparently not take place, even though Marlowe was summoned and tried to appear ten days before his death, the man who stabbed him was in the employ of his literary patron, Thomas Walsingham, a relative of Sir Francis.

Whatever might have been the case that actually led to Marlowe’s death – and an accidental stab in a drunken quarrel can still not be ruled out at all – his literary work still stands as one of the most consistent, deep and accessible body of early modern drama and poetry, praised by his contemporaries to this day.

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