The Marlowe takes its name from Christopher Marlowe, a dramatist with an extraordinary history.
A stroll around Canterbury today offers several sites connected with fiery dramatist (Shakespeare’s contemporary), Christopher Marlowe. The Marlowe Theatre is, of course, named after this son of the city whose father made shoes for a living, and the clock tower to the church where he was baptised in 1564 still stands at the southern end of the High Street. Eastbridge Hospital housed a school for younger children at this time. We don’t know whether Marlowe – “Kit” to his friends – was a pupil there, but he certainly went as a scholar to the King’s School, and from there to Cambridge University. Such an education was supported by Archbishop Parker, an important Canterbury figure in the 1500s. His nickname, due to his widespread interests and influence here, was“Nosey Parker”.
Marlowe shone like a bright star of the new London stages – and he stunned audiences with works such as Tamburlaine, the story of a ruthless and ambitious shepherd who by violence and cunning starts to take over the world. Edward II shows a trembling man unfit to be king. Doctor Faustus makes a pact with the devil, selling his soul in exchange for extreme pleasures. And Marlowe’s Jew Of Malta brought exotic southern wiles to the English stage. These four figures are commemorated in figurines on the Marlowe memorial outside the theatre. This quaint and pretty monument was unveiled by the great Victorian actor Henry Irvine (on whom, it is said, Bram Stoker based the character of Dracula). Marlowe also gave us Dido, Queen Of Carthage, with her passion for the ancient Trojan adventurer Aeneas, as well as the disturbing and bloody play The Massacre At Paris. A scholar: he translated from Greek and Latin. A poet: his Hero And Leander rivals Shakespeare’s Venus And Adonis. A lover: his seductive words, “Come live with me and be my love…” are part of many a wedding celebration even today.
Enjoying huge success in his youth, Marlowe’s life was cut short. Recruited as a spy for Elizabeth 1st while still at university, he was soon ducking and diving in a murky underworld of agents and informers. Marlowe was in such company in 1593 when a fight erupted, and he was stabbed through the eye. Shortly before, he had visited Canterbury for the last time, perhaps on his way to or from the continent, or to visit his family. He died in Deptford aged 29.
Christopher Marlowe wrote an extraordinary body of work, which actors still perform around the world on stage and in films. His innovation, his daring and his youth make him a fitting namesake for our theatre today. Our brand new venture, The Kit, is housed in a great stone building, which in Marlowe’s day was a home for poor priests. Today it is coming to life with the sounds of youth and theatre.
To find out more about Christopher Marlowe, his life and work, please visit The Marlowe Society.