The Marlowe Memorial
This Marlowe Memorial Statue in Canterbury has endured an eventful life of her own, and has been nearly as unfairly treated by posterity as the poet she commemorates.
Above: ‘Kitty’ Marlowe in front of the old Marlowe Theatre.
The committee which sponsored the memorial in the late 19th century included the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the actor Sir Henry Irving, and the biographer Sir Sidney Lee. Sculptor Onslow Ford was commissioned, and designed a statue representing the Muse of Poetry, a topless lady subsequently dubbed ‘Kitty Marlowe’ by locals. Kitty was mounted on a pedestal which was to incorporate the bronze figure of a Marlovian character in a niche on each of the four sides: Tamburlaine, Barabas, Faustus and Edward II.
But the aspiring committee had seemingly overreached themselves financially. The bronze figures were to cost £70 each, and when Irving unveilled the memorial on 16 September 1891, funds had stretched only far enough to enable Tamburlaine to take a bow. Kitty was originally located in the centre of the Buttermarket, just outside the Cathedral Gateway, but was moved to King Street after the First World War to make way for a memorial to those who had died in the great conflict. Soon she was on the move again, being relocated in the Dane John Gardens in July 1921.
Finally the necessary funds were raised to add the three missing statuettes, and the Memorial was unveiled for a second time on 01 November 1928 by Sir Hugh Walpole, like Marlowe educated at the King’s School.
But her peace was again short-lived. The German air raid in June 1942 that destroyed the house on St. George’s Lane where Marlowe is thought to have been born, and much of St. George’s Church, also managed to blow Kitty off her pedestal.
Further ignominy followed when the Muse of Poetry was replaced facing the wrong way, an oversight not redressed until the Quater-centenary celebrations in February 1964.
Forgotten once again, Kitty suffered at the hands of vandals, with two of the statuettes stolen in 1977. Finally she was rescued, and on 30 May 1993 (the 400th anniversary of Marlowe’s reported death in Deptford), Sir Ian McKellen rededicated the memorial statue in a far more appropriate setting outside the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.
Read more about the life and times of Christopher Marlowe, his plays and poetry, and how others have viewed him and his work . Also find out about the contemporary portrait found at Cambridge and believed to be of Marlowe.
Above: “Kitty” Marlowe in front of the current Marlowe Theatre