Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Christopher Marlowe

Why Was He Murdered? Theory One

If Marlowe did not die from an argument over a bill (a "reckoning," as the Elizabethans called it), what was the motive for his murder? There are several possibilities, some more probable than others.

Portrait: Christopher Marlowe
Portrait: Christopher Marlowe

The first of these possible theories for "getting rid" of Marlowe was bandied about the small literary community of 1590s London. The several variations of this theory revolve around Marlowe's possible love life. One contemporary account reports that Marlowe was murdered by a jealous husband in a street brawl. Another suggests that the brawl was with a jealous competitor of Marlowe, both of whom sought the favors of a compliant and not too respectable mistress. A third, it has been suggested, proposes that Marlowe was a homosexual — he was quoted as stating that those who love neither tobacco nor boys are missing something — and that his murder somehow was involved with his aberrant sexual tastes. The implication is that he was involved with a rough crowd, or that he made the fatal mistake of approaching an unwilling young man who was not so inclined. Many of the interesting novels about Marlowe, particularly one written by the distinguished writer, Anthony Burgess, have scenes with Marlowe in energetic love trysts with boys and men. Marlovians defend their hero by arguing that sexuality in Elizabethan times was far more ambiguous than in the present day, and that sex between men was common. After all, did not Shakespeare suggest homosexual love for a youth in his sonnets? (It should be noted that in his sonnets, Shakespeare also expressed a passion for "a dark lady.")

All of these speculations fall into the category of gossip, and seem unlikely.

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