This best of English Tragic Poets before Shakspeare, and whom Phillips calls "a kind of second Shakspeare," was born about 1562. There is no account extant of his family; but "it is well known," says Baker, "that he was of Bene't College, in the University of Cambridge, where he took the degree of B.A. 1583, and M.A. 1587." He, however, quitted the academic bower, and went on the stage.
Thomas Heywood styles him the "best of poets;" and Drayton also, has bestowed a high panegyric on him, in the "Censure of the Poets," in these lines:
Next Marloe bath'd in Thespian springs,
Had in him those brave translunary things,
That your first poets had; his raptures were
All air and fire, which made his verses clear:
For that fine madness still he did retain,
Which rightly should possess a poet's brain.
Ben Jonson also speaks of "Marlow's mighty line."
"His tragedies," says Warton, "manifest traces of a just dramatic conception, but they abound with tedious and uninteresting scenes, or with such extravagancies as proceeded from a want of judgment, and those barbarous ideas of the times, over which it was the peculiar gift of Shakspeare's genius alone, to triumph and predominate."
Marloe's tragical death is thus related by Wood: "This Marloe, we are told, presuming upon his own little wit, thought proper to practise the most Epicurean indulgence, and openly professed Atheism. He denied God our Saviour; he blasphemed the adorable Trinity; and, as it was reported, wrote several discourses against it, affirming our Saviour to be a deceiver, the sacred Scriptures to contain nothing but idle stories, and all religion to be a device of policy and priestcraft. But Marloe came to a very untimely end, as some have remarked, in consequence of his execrable blasphemies. It happened, that he fell deeply in love with a low girl, and had for his rival a fellow in livery, who looked more like a pimp than a lover. Marloe, fired with jealousy, and having some reason to believe that his mistress granted the fellow favours, rushed upon him to stab him with his dagger: but the footman being quick, avoided the stroke, and, catching hold of Marloe's wrist, stabbed him with his own weapon; and, notwithstanding all the assistance of the surgery, he soon after died of the wound, before the year 1593."
His plays, by which he is better known than by any of his other productions, are
1. "Tamerlane, the Great Scythian Emperor." Two Parts.
2. "The Rich Jew of Malta."
3. "The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr. John Faustus."
4. "Lust's Dominion." Lond. 1661. 8vo. From which was stolen, the greater part of Aphra Behn's "Abdelazer, or the More's Revenge," Lond. 1677.
5. "The Tragedy of King Edward II.
6. "The Tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage;" in the composition of which, he was assisted by Thomas Nash, who published it in 1594.