Visualizing Marlowe

Lorna May Wadsworth (Consulting Artist)

What did Marlowe look like? Or what do we think Marlowe looked like?

The poet, playwright and provocateur whose short, brilliant life remains shrouded in myth and mystery… the suspected spy and man-about-Europe, criminal, and blasphemer, who briefly burned brighter than his contemporary, Shakespeare… the victim stabbed above the eye over an unpaid bill in Deptford at the age of 29.

How can or do we visualize Marlowe?

There’s a portrait hanging in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, which has long been identified as portraying Marlowe, although the attribution remains contested. Perhaps this represents Marlowe aged 21, or perhaps it doesn’t.

I undertook a charcoal drawing of this painting. The young man has deep round eyes and a sensitive mouth, with a smattering of beard flanked by a wide pouf of collar-length hair.

This is not simply a likeness of a likeness but my attempt to visualize the person, the identity.

But what did Marlowe look like? What would he have looked like as a boy? Or as an older man fortunate enough to reach middle age like Shakespeare?

It forms part of my larger artistic project, in consultation with the Oxford Marlowe team, to re-visualize Marlowe.

What we do have, indisputably, are the characters Marlowe conjured in his plays. As a way to immerse myself in his work, and to find the man through the lines he gave to others, I was Artist In Residence at The Marlowe Sessions at Canterbury’s Malthouse Theatre, where the seven of the plays of the traditional Marlowe canon were performed. I sketched each of the lead actors during rehearsals while they were in character and costume.

Hover over the images below to see the name of the character and actor: