Government spy, homosexual, street-fighter, atheist, acclaimed playwright and provocative wit, Christopher Marlowe’s death is one of the most enduring mysteries of literary history – as much a whydunit as a whodunit.
On 30th May 1593, the 29-year-old writer arrived at a Deptford tavern for drinks with friends Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Keres and Robert Poley. According to an official report, a brawl broke out over the bill, ending when Frizer plunged his dagger into Marlowe’s head, just above his right eye. It was instant curtains for England’s most celebrated Elizabethan tragedian and friend of William Shakespeare.
But that story, scholars mostly agree, was merely a cover. He kept no secret of his atheism and used his famous wit to convince others. But was he assassinated for that, or were his public heresies simply a ploy to draw out true atheists so he could betray them to his spymasters? Whatever the truth, it lies deep in the shadows of Elizabethan politics that some believe winds all the way up to the Queen herself. And if not her, then who?
As biographer Mei Trow has said: 'Marlowe was a maverick, a rebel, a whistle-blower. In the paranoia of the Elizabethan police state, great men bent the law to their own ends. Many suffered as a result; Marlowe was only the most famous of them.'