Details of events in Canterbury, London and Cambridge to celebrate the 450th Anniversary of Marlowe's birth
This year promises to be an especially busy and exciting one for Marlowe, as February sees the 450th anniversary of the playwright's birth, and events are taking place in Canterbury, London and Cambridge to celebrate.
There is no record of Marlowe's actual date of birth, but the parish records of St George the Martyr Church in Canterbury record that on "The 26th day of February 1 was christened Christofer, the sonne of John Marlow". At that time, given the high infant mortality rates, newly born children were commonly baptised very shortly after birth to ensure entry into heaven in the event of an early death, so we can be reasonably confident that Christopher was born no more than two or three days earlier. Whilst the parish records fortunately survive, much of the church was destroyed in a Luftwaffe bombing raid in 1942, but the clock tower still stands defiantly on St George's Street in Canterbury.
The Marlowe Society together with the Marlowe Theatre, Fourth Monkey Theatre Company, and University of Kent have organised a series of events in Canterbury to mark the anniversary. The Fourth Monkey Theatre Company is to present three of Marlowe's plays in March, and a number of eminent speakers will each give a lecture associated with one of the productions at different historic venues in the city.
The Canterbury celebrations begin with a production of Doctor Faustus at the Marlowe Theatre (12-14 March) and a lecture by Ros Barber at the Eastbridge Hospital entitled "Was Marlowe Faustus?" (12 March, 6pm). The following week, three performances of The Massacre at Paris will be staged in the atmospheric Canterbury Cathedral Crypt (18-19 March). Before this, Louis de Bernières and Jan Leeming will discuss their Huguenot ancestry and Canterbury's at St Peter's Methodist Church Hall ("Lingering Identities: the Huguenot Past" on 18 March). The third week of events will begin with a lecture at The Old Synagogue near to King's School by Charles Nicholl, (author of The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe) entitled "Marlowe, Machiavelli and The Jew of Malta" (26 March). Finally, the Fourth Monkey Theatre Company will give four performances of The Jew of Malta back at The Marlowe Theatre (26-28 March). Full details of all the productions and lectures can be found on our Events Noticeboards, and tickets can be obtained from the Marlowe Theatre website and box office via links there.
Our Chairman George Metcalfe expressed his excitement at the varied and entertaining programme of events put together with a lot of hard work from all the organisations involved. "We are delighted to have been privileged 'to adopt' the dynamic Fourth Monkey Theatre group to help us celebrate Christopher Marlowe's 450th anniversary. At least we know he was the genuine author of at least six ground-breaking, magnificent plays and the greatest playwright of his generation. We are confident that the brilliant young Fourth Monkey actors will add a new dynamism in encouraging the next generation to be equally fascinated by our extraordinary young genius."
Steven Green, the Artistic Director of Fourth Monkey, was also thrilled at being involved. "I am genuinely excited about Marlowe450. To be delivering a season of Marlowe's work in repertory in association with the Marlowe Theatre and Society is an honour and a privilege on the anniversary of his birth. We hope this new season of Marlowe re-imagined, also enables us to reach the young theatre goers of today and thus hopefully the Marlowe society members and appreciators of tomorrow. Too often in Shakespeare's shadow, the man and the work deserves a stage of his own and in our own little way we are delighted to be offering him one."
As well as the city where he grew up, Marlowe also has close ties with Cambridge (where he spent six years at Corpus Christi College from December 1580 to probably 1587) and London (where he largely lived until 1593 and where of course his plays were first performed). The Cambridge University Marlowe Society will perform the full canon of Marlowe's work through the year, and began with a production of Dido, Queen of Carthage back in November. Details of the remaining productions should be announced shortly.
Meanwhile, in London, the Rose Theatre on Bankside can boast the excavated site where the original productions of many of Marlowe's plays were performed. They too are celebrating the anniversary with a production of Doctor Faustus that runs through February, and a production of The Masscare at Paris in March. The latter play, rarely performed during the previous 400 years due its extant abridged state, therefore has the novel prospect of simultaneous productions in two different cities. Henslowe's Diary records what appears to be the very first performance of "The Tragedy of the Guise" at The Rose, acted by Lord Strange's Men on the afternoon of Tuesday 30 January 1593, exactly four months before the dramatic events at Deptford.
Other events are planned throughout the year, and we will announce full details as soon as they are available. For example, The Marlowe Society will be hosting the annual Alliance of Literary Societies Weekend at the end of May, which will give us the opportunity to welcome to Canterbury enthusiasts from Societies dedicated to many other great writers, and hopefully enable them to learn a little more about both Marlowe and the city of his birth.
- Note 1: Until 1751, the new year in England and Wales officially began on 25 March (Lady Day). That is why the start of the new year 1564 is actually recorded after the February and earlier March entries in the St George's parish register. Elizabethans would have recorded Marlowe's baptism as occurring on 26 February 1563, but using the modern calendar as a reference frame, Marlowe was baptised on 26 February 1564. Back to Text