Out-and-out disclaimer: The author of this page does not in any way believe in any Marlowe-is-Shakespeare theories.
Christopher Marlowe was born on 6 February 1564, the eldest son of a shoemaker. Apparently he was never really meant to follow in his father's footsteps (sorry), because he was very well educated, which, back then, meant that he could read and translate Ovid1. At 23, he went off to London and became the dramatist for the theatre company owned by Lords Admiral and Strange. Dramatist was a rotten job, really2, but Christopher (or Kit, as he was often called) had several outside hobbies, like talking to his friend Sir Walter Raleigh, being an athiest, and getting arrested for an 'unspecified' offense3.
Kit's plays include works such as The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta, Edward the Second4, and the infamous Dr. Faustus. His most ambitious work was the heroic epic Tamburlaine the Great, a play in two parts of five acts each. This was in poem form, as all plays were then, but it has the added distinction of being the first play written in English blank verse. This may not seem terribly exciting, but bear in mind that it was Kit's pioneering use of blank verse that encouraged Shakespeare to try it5. He was the first to write a genuine tragedy in English, again paving the way for Shakespeare. Kit also wrote one of the most famous lyric poems in the English language, "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love".
Now we get to the really interesting stuff. In the spring of 1593, a friend of Kit's was captured and tortured by the Queen's Privy Council6. Based on this 'evidence,' the Council was preparing to arrest Kit7. But before this arrest could take place, Kit was killed in a brawl at a rooming-house in the town of Deptford. He was staying there with three of his friends--and let me tell you, these were some very interesting friends. Ingram Frizer was a known con artist and (even worse) a moneylender. Nicholas Skeres was Frizer's frequent accomplice and probably a fence. Robert Poley was an occasional courier/spy for Her Majesty's secret service, who had boasted of his ability to lie convincingly under any circumstances. Frizer's master, Thomas Walsingham, was a cousin of the noted spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham8. On the night of 30 May 1593, the four of them had just finished eating when Frizer and Kit began arguing over the bill. Kit eventually grabbed Frizer's dagger and attacked him from behind, and in the ensuing fight, Frizer regained his dagger and stabbed and killed his friend9. He was quickly pardoned on grounds of self-defense, and his employers did not fire or otherwise ostracize him.
Both the timing of Kit's death and the lack of any retribution against his murderer have led some scholars to theorize10 that his death was faked and Kit himself took up a new identity to escape the Privy Council11. Some go so far as to state that this new identity, was, of course, obviously, that of William Shakespeare12. Either people think it unreasonable for one tiny island to have produced two literary geniuses in such a short space of time, or they're subscribing to the idea that Shakespeare received a terrible education.
But I've digressed sadly from our friend Kit. Regardless of how it ended,
he led a very interesting life13, and it's a great shame that he was unable
to continue his pioneering work14.