Marlowe has left us from his short, but brilliant, career seven plays, and in several of them he was a pioneer in that particular genre. Of these Tamburlaine Parts 1 and 2 caused the greatest excitement among his contemporaries. The heroic nature of its theme, coupled with the splendour of the blank verse and the colour and scale of its pageantry led to its constant revival, with the great actor Edward Alleyn taking the part of Tamburlaine.Alleyn was to take the lead in other Marlowe plays, and to share in their triumph, notably The Jew of Malta and Dr. Faustus. The Jew of Malta may be termed the first successful black comedy or tragi-comedy, and provided Shakespeare with his inspiration for Shylock. Dr. Faustus, though a moral drama brought about by the overreaching of the human spirit and of free thinking in a superstitious age, is a delightful blend of tragic verse and comedy.

Edward II is probably the earliest successful history play, and paved the way for Shakespeare’s more mature histories such as Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. It too is a moving tragedy, and contains fine verse, and an impelling characterisation of a weak and flawed monarch. Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage is an early work derived in part from Virgil’s Aeneid, which, though rarely performed, contains much fine and moving verse. The Massacre at Paris was much admired by the Elizabethans, with its near-contemporary depiction of the murders and scandals instigated by the French Court. Sadly only a severely mutilated version has survived.

Hero and Leander is the greatest poem of Marlowe’s that has come down to us, though much of his love poetry apart from the well-known Come Live With Me, and Be My Love has been lost. George Chapman completed the unfinished Hero and Leander, and it was published finally in 1598.

Shortly afterwards the memorable verse translations of Ovid’s Elegies, the Amores, and of Lucan’s First Book of the Civil War, called Pharsalia appeared in quick succession. The translation of Amores was a massive task, and all forty-eight of Ovid’s poems were turned into elegiac couplets. Much of the verse is exceedingly beautiful, though the quality is sometimes uneven. No one has ever attempted the task since. The blank verse of the Lucan translation is at times very powerful, and it is thought this work dates from Marlowe’s university days.

Published Works

Marlowe’s published plays and poems

Play/Poem Date Written First Printed
The First Book of Lucan c.1582
Ovid’s Amores c.1582 1600?u
Dido, Queen of Carthage1 c.1585/6 1594
The First Part of Tamburlaine the Great c.1586/7 15907a
The Second part of Tamburlaine the Great3 c.1587 15907a
The Jew of Malta3 c.1589 1633
Doctor Faustus3 c.15895 1604p
Edward the Second4 c.1592 1594
The Massacre at Paris3 c.1592 ?up
Hero and Leander c.15936 1598

Possible Works

Anonymous works possibly attributable to Marlowe (compiled by A.D.Wraight)

Play/Poem Date Written First Printed
The True History of George Scanderbeg2 c.1582 16019al
Edward the Third3HA c.1588 1596a
Arden of FavershamHL c.1589 1592a
The First Part of the Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster4II c.1590 1594ap
The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York4III c.1590/1 1595ap
Henry VI3I c.1592 16238
  • 1: For the Children of the Chapel Royal.
  • 2: For the Earl of Oxford’s Men.
  • 3: For the Lord Admiral’s Men.
  • 4: For the Earl of Pembroke’s Men.
  • 5: Revised 1592?
  • 6: Unfinished. Completed by George Chapman, published separately in 1598.
  • 7: Published together in a single volume.
  • 8: First published in Shakespeare’s First Folio in 1623.
  • 9: Registered in the Stationer’s Register on this date.
  • HA: An Armada play based on Holinshed.
  • HL: Based on local recent history (1551) and Holinshed.
  • I: The basis for Shakespeare’s 1 Henry VI.
  • II: The basis for Shakespeare’s 2 Henry VI.
  • III: The basis for Shakespeare’s 3 Henry VI.
  • a: Published anonymously.
  • l: A lost play i.e. no published version is extant.
  • p: Pirated publication.
  • u: Published work was undated.