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Christopher Marlow, Doctor Faustus, and the Greatest Elizabethan Actor

Ghosts, light humour and serious beliefs, item 26

Hauntings are the recurring appearance of a spirit to the living, and the question of what a spirit wants is always foremost in our minds. Are they here for good or evil? Do they need to take care of some unfinished business or right a wrong? Are they trying to tell the living something that will lead to resolving an injustice or simply advance the well-being of a loved one?

Though modern sightings, if properly recorded, can be analysed, what about the myriad tales of occurrences that have taken place in centuries past? Only you can decide if this tale of a ghostly inhabitance is true.

The mysterious and untimely death of playwright Christopher Marlowe, 29 years of age, has been baffling historians for centuries, though it was reported to be the result of an argument over money.

Allegedly, Marlowe worked secretly with Sir Francis Walsingham’s intelligence service under the direction of Her Royal Majesty Elizabeth I, and it was because of this service that the Privy Council intervened on his behalf when the authorities at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge refused to award him his Master of Arts degree based on rumors that he intended to become a Roman Catholic priest.

Six years later, in 1593, he was to appear before that same council for the crime of blasphemy, likely associated with one of his works, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, his dramatised version of the Faust legend which involves a scholar’s pact with the devil. There is no record of his having appeared before that council, however, and several days later, he was stabbed to death by one Ingram Frizer.

Marlowe clearly depicted his own persona into the character of Faustus.

• The church held a large influence over Marlowe’s thinking, and the ideas of God, Heaven and Hell plagued Faustus throughout the play.

• Both Marlowe and Faustus were greedy and lacked common sense.

• Both men were educated scholars.

• Ironically, the death of Doctor Faustus was violent like the death of Marlowe, who could not have known how he himself would die.

Upon the first performance of Doctor Faustus in 1594 (the first performance after Marlowe’s death) by the Lord Admiral's Men's Repertoire at the Rose, it is reported that the lead man, Edward Alleyn, “was disoriented and vague with his lines”. He seemed to the audience to be ill-rehearsed and coarse.

In the first act, the character Faustus has decided to become a magician, for in doing so, he believes, he’ll “gain the spirits as his slaves and accumulate unimaginable wealth”.

Witnesses in the audience say that Alleyn was almost lethargic in delivering his lines, but upon declaring his desire to have the “spirits as slaves”, a shudder took over his body and a vague light could be seen to surround him, at which point he “arose like a great titan in stature and with a preponderance of grace and eloquence”.

Some believe it was the spirit of Christopher Marlowe who took over Alleyn’s body and caused him to become the greatest Elizabethan actor to ever live. Alleyn performed other plays written by varying playwrights but none were so masterfully performed as those written by Marlowe, and he was always exhausted when a performance ended. Word of the apparition spread among the towns and caused great numbers of attendees to be in awe of Alleyn’s performances, but not for the reasons he supposed.

Perhaps Christopher Marlowe had stayed to prove to the Privy Council that his play would be popular among the people. Or maybe he was compelled to bring his own quality to the character on the stage. One thing is clear, however. Those who witnessed the “possession” of Alleyn all say the same thing. It was the voice of Christopher Marlowe who delivered the words of Doctor Faustus.

Ghost, Spiritual Or Historic Stories For Pubs And Restaurants