All Ouids Elegies: 3. Bookes. By C. M. Epigrams by J. D., Christopher Marlowe (translator) and Sir John Davies

Christopher Marlowe died in 1593 at the age of twenty-nine. He had already written seven plays including Tamburlaine the Great Parts 1 and 2, The Jew of Malta, and Doctor Faustus. Tamburlaine and Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedie both hit the stage about 1587, and the two tragedies had a major impact on English drama. Tamburlaine, in particular, was memorable to audiences because of its elaborate costume and staging, the wanton slaughter on stage, and the thundering performances of Edward Alleyn, who became a “matinee idol” as the conqueror Timur. The play, written in blank verse, contains many noble passages. Shakespeare was greatly influenced by Marlowe’s poetic quality and dramatic forcefulness, and he reused Marlow’s themes in some of his plays. Shakespeare’s clown Touchstone alludes to Marlowe: “When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child understanding, it strikes a man more dead that a great reckoning in a little room.”

On May 30, 1593, Marlowe was stabbed above the right eye supposedly over the reckoning of a bill (in perhaps a little room) in a house in Deptford. Many details about Marlowe’s life are murky. In addition to a great poet and dramatist, Marlowe seems to have been a spy, an accomplice to murder, a counterfeiter, and an atheist. The eldest son of a shoemaker, he was bright in school, went to Cambridge on a scholarship, and received his bachelor’s degree in 1584. While working on his Master’s, he was absent part of the time and suspected of having traveled overseas and turned Catholic. The Privy Council informed the university, which was hesitating in awarding the degree, that Marlowe was commended for his “faithful dealing” and “good service” to the Queen.

It is likely in this timeframe that Marlow completed his first poetic work, a spirited translation of Ovid’s Elegies, risqué verse otherwise known as Amores. The work was first printed about 1597, and the Bishop of London order all copies burned. The present copy “By C. M.” was printed anonymously, probably in London about 1630. It is the third of four unabridged versions.

The acquaintances with Marlowe at the house in Deptford were connected with the state secret service and part of the London underworld. Earlier that month, Thomas Kyd was tortured by Royal Commissioners to get information about Marlowe. The Privy Council took control of the investigation and charged Marlowe with heresy three days before the meeting at Deptford.

Chrzanowski 1630o *

STC 18933

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675