Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) was an English poet and playwright. Though history has tended to uphold Shakespeare as the most prized writer of the Elizabethan Era, Marlowe’s innovations in drama arguably helped make Shakespeare’s plays possible. Perhaps most notable is the fact that Marlowe pioneered the use of unrhymed iambic pentameter—or “blank verse”—in his plays. Blank verse made its first appearance in English poetry in the 1550s, but it wasn’t until Marlowe’s two-part play, Tamburlaine the Great, that blank verse made its first major appearance on the English stage. 

The son of a shoemaker, Marlowe was born in Canterbury. He received his early education there, then attended Cambridge University. Upon receiving his M.A. degree in 1587, Marlowe relocated to London. Tamburlaine had its first performance that year, and in the six years that followed he penned several other plays, including Doctor Faustus and The Jew of Malta. Marlowe died at twenty-nine from a wound he received when a dispute—apparently over a dinner bill—turned violent, though some believe Marlowe was actually killed because of his alleged spy work or his “atheistic” beliefs. Critical interest in Marlowe has grown in recent decades, particularly regarding his sexuality. Many scholars see evidence of homosexual desire in his writing, which provides a unique opportunity to study queer sexuality in the Renaissance.