Thursday, July 27, 2017

Make Me Immortal with a Kiss

by Hunter S. Jones

Christopher Marlowe, 1564–1593, was an English playwright, poet and spy during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. He was considered the foremost Elizabethan dramatist of the era. His influence is evidenced in the writings of William Shakespeare, who was born in the same year as Marlowe. As with any number of writers during the period, little is known about Marlowe’s actual life, the legend remains to confuse us. What evidence there is regarding his life is found in legal records and documents. Yet, the ‘Marlowe Myth’ sets his character as a brawler, and a heretic, magician, rakehell and even a “tobacco user" and some say he was Shakespeare.

Anonymous portrait in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge,
believed to beChristopher Marlowe.
What we do know is that Marlowe was born in Canterbury, England, the son of John Marlowe and his wife Catherine. He was baptized on February 26, 1564, exactly two months before Shakespeare, who was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Marlowe attended The King's School in Canterbury and attended Cambridge University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1584. In 1587, he received a Master of Arts degree when the Privy Council cited his "good service" to the Queen.

Dido, Queen of Carthage is the first production where Marlowe is credited on the title page. Marlowe's first work performed on the stage in London was Tamburlaine the Great. It is one of the first English plays in blank verse--poetry written with regular metrical patterns but unrhymed lines which are in iambic pentameter. The performance was successful, and Tamburlaine the Great, Part II followed. The two Tamburlaine’s were published in 1590; the remainder of Marlowe's works were published after his death.

His four other plays dealt with controversial themes. The Jew of Malta is about revenge against city authorities, and the prologue is given by a very Machiavellian character. Edward the Second is an English history play about the deposition of King Edward II by his barons and his Queen. It has an underlying sympathy for homosexuality and the relationship of the King and his favorite, Piers Gaveston. The Massacre at Paris is considered his most dangerous play due to its themes of religion and espionage.

His last known play is Doctor Faustus. Public stories of a Devil's Pact existed, but this play has been interpreted with numerous literary and religious agendas. For this article, we need to know that in one scene Faustus summons Helen of Troy in order to receive a kiss. Ravished by magic, Faustus turns to the supernatural when laws he believes such as logic, science, and theology, fail him.

The nature of Marlowe's service to his Queen was never revealed by the Council, but its letter to the Cambridge authorities has enhanced a theory that Marlowe operated as a secret agent for Sir Francis Walsingham's spy service. No direct evidence supports this concept, but the letter to Cambridge is evidence that Marlowe served the government in some unknown role. Rumors of his death include:
  • a jealous husband 
  • a jealous wife 
  • Elizabeth I’s great spy Walsingham arranged the murder 
  • Sir Walter Raleigh arranged the murder 
  • he was killed on the orders of father and son Lord Burghley and Sir Robert Cecil 
  • he was accidentally killed 
  • the Privy Council had him killed 
There are more, but you can see how controversial Marlowe was during his short life. 

Following the death of Marlowe, Shakespeare became the pre-eminent Elizabethan playwright. Like Marlowe, his plays are known for the usage of blank verse and overly ambitious protagonists. There’s volumes of Marlovian Theories regarding Shakespeare! I would love to share some of them with you at a future date.

So, where does this lead, and what brought it about? This month, I’ve been joining in on #shayverlee6wordstory on Instagram by authors Beverley Lee and James Fahy. Each day, we are given a word from which to share a six-word sentence. Today’s word is talisman.

Make me immortal with a kiss...
Six words, sublimely crafted, in one sentence. They shimmer as beautifully today as they did over 400 years ago. The images they convey and the symbolism remain relevant and iconic. A few images come quickly to mind…La Belle Dame sans Merci in art and literature, the World War II victory kiss in Times Square, the DiMaggio-Monroe wedding kiss.
Talisman in defined as an object held or worn which acts as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune; something producing magical or miraculous effects. Likewise, the meaning of kiss varies, depending on culture and context. It can express so much: love, passion, romance, affection, respect, greeting, peace, and/or good luck. It has been used as a ritual or sacramental gesture, as in sealed with a kiss.

With Marlowe’s very possible dealings as a spy, and knowing that he had a love of word games and codes, did his line to Helen in Faustus contain a deeper, more symbolic meaning? While the word talisman usually refers to an object, a person can be considered a talisman. The word derives from a single Arabic word ~ tilsam ~ which is based on the ancient Greek words telein & telesmas: to initiate into the mysteries; complete.

And so, the mystery in the art of Christopher Marlowe continues.

Honan, Park. Christopher Marlowe Poet and Spy. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hutchinson, Robert. Elizabeth's Spy Master: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that Saved England. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006.

Kuriyama, Constance. Christopher Marlowe: A Renaissance Life. Cornell University Press, 2002.

Logan, Robert A. Shakespeare's Marlowe: The Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakespeare's Artistry. Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate, 2007.

Marlowe, Christopher. A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.

Nicholl, Charles. Faustus' and the Politics of Magic. London Review of Books,1990.

White, Paul Whitfield, ed. Marlowe, History and Sexuality: New Critical Essays on Christopher Marlowe. New York: AMS Press, 1998.

Images are Public Domain for non-commercial usage, or owned by the author.


Hunter S. Jones is passionate about the history of romance, science and music, a.k.a. sex, drugs and rock & roll. She has a popular history blog, and is the author of the best-selling Anne Boleyn story, Phoenix Rising. When she isn’t writing, talking or tweeting about kings, queens and rock stars, she’s living the dream in Atlanta, Georgia with her Scottish born husband. You can follow her on social media:


  1. Thank you for having me on the blog today! ��

  2. Thank you for sharing this blog! I have never heard of Marlowe before, so this was a huge eye opener, and the writer did a great job at keeping me interested until the very last bit! I now want to go look up more about this mysterious man!

  3. What an EXCELLENT read! I've heard of Christopher Marlowe but certainly never could have given any of this information if asked! Thanks for a really interesting read 😊

  4. So interesting! As a Shakespeare, um, groupie, I always felt antagonistic toward the "Marlow-Not-Shakespeare-wrote-it" group. The word "Talisman" always makes me think of one one my favorite poems, The Cad Goddeu, Taliesin, the bard's, Battle of the Trees. Alphabet, and therefore numerology, as a talisman. Just my personal musings, no real meaning :-) Great post, Hunter!

  5. Very interesting! I've never heard of Marlow before but boy did he lead an interesting life! Possible relationship with the Queen? Secret Service? Very interesting life!

  6. Studied Marlow in high school and university, very interesting character. It was nice to read your post and be reminded of his great literary works.

  7. Ah, this was a fascinating post. I went to Canterbury a number of years ago, and I am sure that Marlowe history and lore played some role in my trip. Unfortunately, I have never been to a performance of one of his plays though I have seen the opera, Faust, many times so I should keep my eyes open for a Doctor Faustus performance. I also need to check out your other posts. I enjoy historical fiction.

  8. I had not heard of Marlowe but this was very interesting especially his controversial life.

  9. Wasn't aware Marlowe had such an interesting life having regrettably skipped Doctor Faustus for my college degree course. Your blog has quite interesting content. It's a treasure trove for people interested in English Literature!

  10. Awesome post. I've never heard of Marlow but this is very interesting.

  11. This is a really interesting story, filled with so much mystery. I've never heard of him but was really drawn in by his controversial story. And that line - it's really something.

  12. This was a very interesting read as I didn't hear about Marlowe before. However, those words, make me immortal with a kiss, they carry such a big power and do make me think of a lovers as a talisman.

  13. I love learning more about historical writers. Especially ones I didn't even know existed. I am an avid reader, but mostly newer books.

  14. What a fascinating post! And also what an awesome blog you have here. I am going to have to check this book out now.

  15. This was such an interesting read. I'm British and have heard of Christopher Marlowe before, but I didn't know a lot about him :)

    Louise x

  16. How have I never heard of him before? I should have paid more attention in school. Interesting read, though! I'd love to learn more.

  17. This post was great, I learned so much. I had no ideas about this guy. Really interesting story.

  18. It's always amazing to learn more about historical poets and writers, as there isn't a ton I know about them. I love poetry and finding poets that can speak to me, is just a beautiful thing :)

  19. Thanks for this blog! I never heard about Marlowe before. So this is such an interesting character. It was so nice to read your post and be reminded of his great literary works. Really interesting story!!


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