The God-Haunted Atheist and the Posh Boy: Christopher Marlowe in <i>Will</i> and <i>Upstart Crow</i>


  • Michael D. Friedman University of Scranton



During the mid-2010s, there appeared a pair of television shows featuring William Shakespeare in the title role, with Christopher Marlowe as a central supporting figure: Craig Pearce’s TNT drama Will and Ben Elton’s BBC comedy Upstart Crow. Pearce’s depiction of Marlowe as a brilliant but tortured, blaspheming homosexual corresponds very closely with what Lucas Erne calls the “mythographic image” of the playwright cultivated by Marlowe scholars and biographers. By contrast, Elton’s comic portrayal of Marlowe as a charming but unambitious “posh boy” who did not even write the plays attributed to him turns the stereotypical image of the playwright upside down. These two contrasting depictions of Christopher Marlowe himself correspond to the differing portrayals of his most famous protagonist: the tragic Doctor Faustus of the beginning and ending of that play, whose transgression of orthodox boundaries brings about his demise, and the comic Faustus of the middle scenes of the play, who squanders his considerable intellectual gifts.