This is a possible chronology of composition for the dramatic works of Christopher Marlowe based upon dates previously cited. The dates of composition are approximate. There are other chronologies for Marlowe, including one based upon dates of printing, as was used in the 2004 Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe, edited by Patrick Cheney.
Dido, Queen of Carthage (c. 1585–1587)
- First official record: 1594.
- First published: 1594; posthumously.
- First recorded performance: between 1587 and 1593 by the Children of the Chapel, a company of boy actors in London.
- Additional information (title and synopsis): Full title The Tragedie of Dido, Queene of Carthage; 17-character cast plus other additional Trojans, Carthaginians, servants and attendants. In this short play, believed to be based on books 1, 2 and 4 of Virgil's Aeneid, the Trojan soldier Aeneas leaves the fallen city of Troy to the conquering Greeks and finds shelter for his fellow Trojan survivors with Dido, Queen of Carthage. The gods interfere with the love lives of Dido and Aeneas, with Venus using Cupid to trick Dido into falling in love with Aeneas, rather than Iarbas, her Carthaginian suitor. Dido and Aeneas pledge their love to each other, but the Trojans warn Aeneas that their future is in Italy, which is also where Mercury and the other gods order Aeneas to go. The play ends when Aeneas leaves for Italy with the Trojans and as Dido sets off a triple suicide by throwing herself on a funeral pyre in despair, followed by her despairing suitor Iarbus and then by Anna, who loves Iarbus.
- Additional information (significance): This play is believed by many scholars to be the first play by Christopher Marlowe to be performed.
- Additional information (attribution): The title page attributes the play to Marlowe and Thomas Nashe, yet some scholars question how much of a contribution Nashe made to the play.
- Evidence: No manuscripts by Marlowe exist for this play.
Tamburlaine, Part I (c. 1587); Part II (c. 1587–1588)
- First official record: 1587, Part I.
- First published: 1590, Parts I and II in one octavo, London. No author named.
- First recorded performance: 1587, Part I, by the Admiral's Men, London. [nb 6]
- Additional information (title and synopsis): Full title, as it appears on the 1590 octavo for Part I, Tamburlaine the Great. Who, from a Scythian Shephearde, by his rare and woonderfull Conquests, became a most puissant and mightye Monarque. And (for his tyranny, and terrour in Warre) was tearmed, The Scourge of God., and for Part II, The Second Part of The bloody Conquests of mighty Tamburlaine. With his impassionate fury, for the death of his Lady and loue faire Zenocrate; his fourme of exhortacion and discipline to his three sons, and the maner of his own death.; large 26-character cast for each of the two parts. Part I concerns the conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), as he rises from nomadic shepherd and bandit to warlord and emperor of Persia, conquering the Persians, the Turks, the Egyptians, and all of Africa in the process. Part II concerns Tamerlaine as he raises his sons to become conquerors like himself through acts of extreme and heartless savagery against everyone, including the killing of one of his own sons who disappoints him. After he visits extraordinary barbarism upon the Babylonians, Tamerlaine burns the Quran with contempt and later falls ill and dies.
- Additional information (significance): Tamburlaine is the first example of blank verse used in the dramatic literature of the Early Modern English theatre.
- Additional information (attribution): Author name is missing from first printing in 1590. Attribution of this work by scholars to Marlowe is based upon comparison to his other verified works. Passages and character development in Tamburlane are similar to many other Marlowe works.
- Evidence: No manuscripts by Marlowe exist for this play. Parts I and II were entered into the Stationers' Register on 14 August 1590. The two parts were published together by the London printer, Richard Jones, in 1590; a second edition in 1592, and a third in 1597. The 1597 edition of the two parts were published separately in quarto by Edward White; part I in 1605, and part II in 1606.
The Jew of Malta (c. 1589–1590)
- First official record: 1592.
- First published: 1592; earliest extant edition, 1633.
- First recorded performance: 26 February 1592, by Lord Strange's acting company.
- Additional information (title and synopsis): First published as The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta; a large 25-character cast plus other additional citizens of Malta, Turkish janizaries, guards, attendants and slaves. The play begins with the ghost of a fictionalised Machiavelli, who introduces Barabas, the Jew of Malta, in his counting house. The Governor of Malta has seized the wealth of all Jewish citizens to pay the Turks not to invade. As a consequence, Barabas designs and executes a homicidal tirade of events in retaliation against the governor and is assisted by his slave, Ithamore. Barabas' murderous streak includes: the governor's son dying in a duel; frightening his own daughter, who joins a nunnery for safety but is afterward poisoned by her father; the strangling of an old friar and the framing of another friar for the murder; and, the death of Ithamore, a prostitute and her friend, who had threatened to expose him. Finally, Barabas betrays Malta by planning another invasion by the Turks, but is outwitted when the Christians and Turks resolve the conflict and leave him to burn alive in a trap he has set for others, but has mistakenly fallen into himself.
- Additional information (significance): The performances of the play were a success and it remained popular for the next fifty years. This play helps to establish the strong theme of "anti-authoritarianism" that is found throughout Marlowe's works.
- Evidence: No manuscripts by Marlowe exist for this play. The play was entered in the Stationers' Register on 17 May 1594 but the earliest surviving printed edition is from 1633.
Doctor Faustus (c. 1588–1592)
- First official record: 1594–1597.
- First published: 1601, no extant copy; first extant copy, 1604 (A text) quarto; 1616 (B text) quarto.
- First recorded performance: 1594–1597; 24 revival performances occurred between these years by the Lord Admiral's Company, Rose Theatre, London; earlier performances probably occurred around 1589 by the same company.
- Additional information (title and synopsis): Full title, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus; a very large 35-character cast, plus other additional scholars, cardinals, soldiers, and devils. Based on the German Faustbuch, which itself can be traced to a fourth-century tale known as "The Devil's Pact," Marlowe's play opens with a Prologue, where the Chorus introduces Doctor Faustus and his story. Faustus is a brilliant scholar who leaves behind the study of logic, medicine, law and divinity to study magic and necromancy, the art of speaking to the dead. When he is approached by a Good and Bad Angel, it is the Bad Angel who wins his attentions by promising that he will become a great magician. Faustus ignores his other scholarly duties and attempts to summon a devil. By revoking his own baptism he attracts the attention of Lucifer, Mephistopheles and other devils. Faustus strikes a pact with Lucifer, allowing him 24 years with Mephistopheles as his assistant, but after the pact begins Mephistopheles will not answer Faustus' questions. The two angels return, but even though Faustus waffles, coercion from the devils has him again swear allegiance to Lucifer. Faustus achieves nothing worthwhile with his pact, warns other scholars of his folly, and the play ends with Faustus dragged off to Hell by Mephistopheles as the Chorus attempts a moral summation of events with an Epilogue.
- Additional information (significance): This is the first dramatised version of the Faust legend of a scholar's dealing with the devil. Marlowe deviates from earlier versions of "The Devil's Pact" significantly: Marlowe's protagonist is unable to "burn his books" or repent to a merciful God to have his contract annulled at the end of the play; he is carried off by demons; and, in the 1616 quarto, his mangled corpse is found by the scholar characters.
- Additional information (attribution): The 'B text' was highly edited and censored, owing in part to the shifting theatre laws regarding religious words onstage during the seventeenth-century. Because it contains several additional scenes believed to be the additions of other playwrights, particularly Samuel Rowley and William Bird (alias Borne), a recent edition attributes the authorship of both versions to "Christopher Marlowe and his collaborator and revisers." This recent edition has tried to establish that the 'A text' was assembled from Marlowe's work and another writer, with the 'B text' as a later revision.
- Evidence: No manuscripts by Marlowe exist for this play. The two earliest-printed extant versions of the play, A and B, form a textual problem for scholars. Both were published after Marlowe's death and scholars disagree which text is more representative of Marlowe's original. Some editions are based on a combination of the two texts. Late-twentieth-century scholarly consensus identifies 'A text' as more representative because it contains irregular character names and idiosyncratic spelling, which are believed to reflect the author's handwritten manuscript or "foul papers". In comparison, 'B text' is highly edited with several additional scenes possibly written by other playwrights.
Edward the Second (c. 1592)
- First official record: 1593.
- First published: 1590; earliest extant edition 1594 octavo.
- First recorded performance: 1592, performed by the Earl of Pembroke's Men.
- Additional information (title and synopsis): Full title of the earliest extant edition, The troublesome reigne and lamentable death of Edward the second, King of England, with the tragicall fall of proud Mortimer; a very large 35-character cast plus other additional lords, monks, poor men, mower, champion, messengers, soldiers, ladies and attendants. An English history play partly based on Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577; revised 1587) about the deposition of King Edward II by his barons and the Queen, who resent the undue influence the king's favourites have in court and state affairs.
- Additional information (significance): Considered by recent scholars as Marlowe's "most modern play" because of its probing treatment of the private life of a king and unflattering depiction of the power politics of the time. The 1594 editions of Edward II and of Dido are the first published plays with Marlowe's name appearing as the author.
- Additional information (attribution): Earliest extant edition of 1594.
- Evidence: The play was entered into the Stationers' Register on 6 July 1593, five weeks after Marlowe's death.
The Massacre at Paris (c. 1589–1593)
- First official record: c. 1593, alleged foul sheet by Marlowe of "Scene 15"; although authorship by Marlowe is contested by recent scholars, the manuscript is believed written while the play was first performed and with an unknown purpose.:
- First published: undated, c. 1594 or later, octavo, London; while this is the most complete surviving text, it is near half the length of Marlowe's other works and possibly a reconstruction. The printer and publisher credit, "E.A. for Edward White," also appears on the 1605/06 printing of Marlowe's Tamburlaine.
- First recorded performance: 26 Jan 1593, by Lord Strange's Men, at Henslowe's Rose Theatre, London, under the title The Tragedy of the Guise; 1594, in the repertory of the Admiral's Men .
- Additional information (title and synopsis): Full title, The Massacre at Paris: With the Death of the Duke of Guise; very large 36-character cast, plus other additional guards, Protestants, schoolmasters, soldiers, murderers, attendants, etc. A short play that compresses the events prior to and following the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572, into a "curious comic strip history" that reduces seventeen years of religious war into twelve. Considered by some to be Protestant propaganda, English Protestants of the time invoked these events as the blackest example of Catholic treachery. Generally, the extant text is in two parts: the Massacre; and the murder of the Duke of Guise. The prelude to the Massacre begins with a wedding between the sister of France's Catholic king, Charles IX, to the Protestant King of Navarre, which places a Protestant in line for the crown of France. Navarre knows Guise "seeks to murder all the Protestants" in Paris for the wedding, but he trusts the protections promised by Charles IX and the Queen Mother, Catharine (de Medici). The Queen Mother, however, is secretly funding the homicidal plots of Guise, shown to us in murder vignettes executed by Guise henchman. In a soliloquy, Guise tells how all Catholics—even priests—will help murder Protestants. After the first deaths, Charles IX is persuaded to support Guise out of fear of Protestant retaliation. Catholic killers at the Massacre will wear visored helmets marked with a white cross and murder Protestants until the bells cease ringing. Charles IX feels great guilt for the Massacre. As the bells toll, Protestants are chased by soldiers, murder vignettes reveal cruelties and offstage massacres are retold by their killers. • The death of Guise is a series of intrigues. Queen Mother Catherine vows to kill and replace her unreliable son Charles IX, with her son Henry. When Charles IX dies of a broken heart (historically, of tuberculosis), a series of events unfold: Henry III is crowned king of France, but his Queen Mother will replace him as well if he dares to stop the killing of "Puritans"; Henry III makes Duke Joyeux the General of his army against Navarre, whose army is outside Paris and will later slay Joyeux; meanwhile, Guise becomes an unhinged, jealous husband who brings his army and popularity to Paris, whereupon the King has him assassinated for treason; with Guise gone, Navarre pledges his support to Henry III; the Queen Mother mourns the loss of Guise as his brother, the Cardinal, is assassinated; and finally, Henry III is stabbed with a poisoned knife by a friar sent by Guise's other brother, the Duke of Dumaine. The final scene is of the death of Henry III and the rise of Navarre as the first Protestant King of France.
- Additional information (significance): The Massacre at Paris is considered Marlowe's most dangerous play, as agitators in London seized on its theme to advocate the murders of refugees from the low countries of the Spanish Netherlands, and it warns Elizabeth I of this possibility in its last scene. It features the silent "English Agent", whom tradition has identified with Marlowe and his connexions to the secret service. Highest grossing play for Lord Strange's Men in 1593.
- Additional information (attribution): A 1593 loose manuscript sheet of the play, called a foul sheet, is alleged to be by Marlowe and has been claimed by some scholars as the only extant play manuscript by the author. It could also provide an approximate date of composition for the play. When compared with the extant printed text and his other work, other scholars reject the attribution to Marlowe. The only surviving printed text of this play is possibly a reconstruction from memory of Marlowe's original performance text. Current scholarship notes that there are only 1147 lines in the play, half the amount of a typical play of the 1590s. Other evidence that the extant published text may not be Marlowe's original is the uneven style throughout, with two-dimensional characterisations, deteriorating verbal quality and repetitions of content.
- Evidence: Never appeared in the Stationer's Register.