Among the university writers or “wits” there was one in particular who cast an immense shadow over the London theatre: Christopher Marlowe (1564-93). Marlowe was a poet, a playwright, and a polemicist.
HE DECLARED HIS ATHEISM … ALL PROTESTANTES ARE HYPOCRITICAL ASSES … AND HIS TASTE FOR SMOKING AND PEDERASTY ALL THAT LOVE NOT TOBACCO AND BOIES ARE FOOLES. ALTHOUGH HE WAS EXACTLY SHAKESPEARE’S AGE, KIT MARLOWE WAS ALREADY THE LEADING PLAY - WRIGHT OF HIS TIME.
But Shakespeare had two main advantages over Marlowe. Shakespeare was an actor, and therefore had a richer feeling for character. Marlowe had no such experience. This enabled Shakespeare to create characters as rich as Falstaff and shake off Marlowe’s influence. The other advantage was that by then Marlowe was dead anyway: murdered by Ingram Friser, Robert Poley and Nicholas Skeres in a “small room” at Deptford on 30 May 1593.
APPARENTLY IN A QUARREL OVER A TAVERN BILL - BUT THERE ARE ALSO RUMOURS THAT MARLOWE WAS A SECRET AGENT …
So Shakespeare’s attempts to get the Earl of Southampton to patronize his poetry looked premature after the publication of Lucrece in 1594. The plague was subsiding, but the theatres now looked denuded. The older generation of Greene and Peele was rapidly passing away and there was no one else to take over after Marlowe’s shocking end. Shakespeare returned to the theatre and recommenced his dramatic career with a flourish. In the 16th century, plays might be performed as part of an ongoing repertoire, being repeated every week or so while they continued to attract audiences.
SHAKESPEARE’S TITUS ANDRONICUS WAS A TERRIFIC HIT … IN 1594 IT WAS ONCE PERFORMED THREE TIMES IN SIX DAYS AT THE ROSE THEATRE - QUITE A FEAT, AS THE AVERAGE LIFE OF A PLAY WAS A MERE DOZEN PERFORMANCES OVER A FEW MONTHS.