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"Christopher Marlowe Slaine by Francis Frezer, 1st June 1593
With these words, the burial of one of England's foremost dramatists is marked in the records of St Nicholas' church.
Christopher "Kit" Marlowe, both in life and in death, remains the subject of intense speculation. His life, and the elusive nature of all that has been recorded of him, has seen that his memory is almost submerged in conspiracy theories. As the church that is the guardian of his final resting place, it is appropriate that we should celebrate that which is beyond dispute - Marlowe's genius as an author.
That Marlowe's work still survives and is still regularly performed throughout the world as the strongest testament of his greatness. Like his contemporary, William Shakespeare, the universality of his work crosses centuries and international boundaries. But Marlowe led the way, his writing for the theatre bravely paving the way for those who followed, including Shakespeare. Before theatrical performance was dominated by didactic and preaching tone, and authors were rightly fearful of stepping out of line with respect to the state, monarchy and church. Marlowe's work pushed at the boundaries, which brought him both fame and favour, but also found him embroiled in the intense political atmosphere of the time.
England in Marlowe's day was full of internal conflict. The protestant Queen Elizabeth 1 was on the throne. Her father, Henry VIII, had not long separated England from the Catholic authority or Rome, and there were many subjects who were vigorously and violently opposed to the new direction that the state was taking. Roman Catholics felt persecuted for their faith and insurrection was constantly in the air.
It is no coincidence that Marlowe's writing made fun of the Roman Church, and in doing so he was not only "nailing his colours to the mast" he was making a deliberate political act which identified him as a player in the turmoil. As we still see today, nations with sectarian divides are extremely dangerous places to live, and it is difficult for even the least ambitious of citizens to avoid being a participant in the divide. Marlowe was ambitious, perhaps too full of himself, a clever man and almost inevitably he became embroiled in the shadowy world of plots, spying and intrigue.
It is hard to know the truth of his death, except that it is recorded that he did die. It is said that he was killed in a drunken brawl, others say that it wasn't as simple as that - he was assassinated by political opponents or because of his involvement in clandestine plotting.
He would have been around 29 years of age, and yet to fulfil his potential. Described by Heywood as "the best of poets", it is something for Deptford to be associated with one whom Shakespeare was proud to emulate and Ben Jonson to extol.
Plays attributed to Marlowe are:
Edward the Second
The Hew of Malta
Tamburlaine the Great
Dido Queen of Carthage
Massacre at Paris
The life and work of Christopher Marlowe is the focus of the Marlowe Society
and his plays can be read online on the luminarium Website