May 30

This Day in History

Literary

May 30, 1593:

Christopher Marlowe killed in tavern brawl

Playwright Christopher Marlowe, 29, is killed in a brawl over a bar tab on this day.

Marlowe, born two months before William Shakespeare, was the son of a Canterbury shoemaker. A bright student, he won scholarships to prestigious schools and earned his B.A. from Cambridge in 1584. He was nearly denied his master's degree in 1587, until advisers to Queen Elizabeth intervened, recommending he receive the degree, referring obliquely to his services for the state. Marlowe's activities as a spy for Queen Elizabeth were later documented by historians.

While still in school, Marlowe wrote his play Tamburlaine the Great, about a 14th century shepherd who became an emperor. The blank verse drama caught on with the public, and Marlowe wrote five more plays before his death in 1593, including The Jew of Malta and Dr. Faustus. He also published a translation of Ovid's Elegies.

In May of 1593, Marlowe's former roommate, playwright Thomas Kyd, was arrested and tortured for treason. He told authorities that "heretical" papers found in his room belonged to Marlowe, who was subsequently arrested. While out on bail, Marlowe became involved in a fight over a tavern bill and was stabbed to death.

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