Born in Canterbury in 1564, the same year as his friend and literary colleague, William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe shunned a life as a clergyman which university wits like himself were expected to follow, and moved to London to pursue the insecure craft of a playwright. Among his early plays were Tamburlaine the Great and The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta, all well-received by Elizabethan audiences and displaying an impressive poetic talent that was bold enough to use high-quality blank verse for the first time in English theatre.
The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus was written around 1588/89. A fusion of a tragedy and morality play, the storyline draws its inspiration from fanciful accounts of a real sixteenth century German alchemist, called Faust who supposedly sold his soul to the devil using magic. Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus vacillates between the desire for power and knowledge and the fear of damnation in masterful soliloquys that showcase Marlowe’s outstanding skill as a poet.
Christopher Marlowe was poised to give a great deal more to Elizabethan drama but that future was sadly foreshortened by a violent and sudden death at twenty-nine.