Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) is one of the most fascinating writers ever to live, and I’ll explain why. The first “superstar” play-writer of the Elizabethan Age (and an intriguing character who seems to have worked as an undercover agent and a spy for Elizabeth’s government), Marlowe had an interest in the Occult Sciences (a term used at the time; to the Elizabethan mind, Magickal-Practice constituted a type of “Science”) sufficient to write Doctor Faustus, and appears to have been of an inclination that we would identify as Homosexual today.
It might not be readily apparent, because These Things were not (or are not, still) really written about- but London in the latter 1500s might have been undergoing a considerable interest in The Occult Sciences. Never mind the obvious example of the famous Elizabethan Occultist John Dee (an individual to whom Elizabeth Herself resorts when she wishes advice and counsel in Certain Matters); never mind the astrologer/ occultist/ herbalist/ cunning-man to the smart London Set, Simon Forman. (Never mind that he is just the most famous of the Cunning-Folk Scene operating within London and throughout Elizabethan England.) Never mind another little-known individual, but a deeply intriguing one, in context: a very important noble, Henry Percy, the 9th Earl of Northumberland; known in his lifetime as the “Wizard-Earl.” (I guess maybe sources such Wikipedia will play it safe and say that he was the Wizard-Earl because of his experiments in alchemy- which I daresay he must have performed. But “Wizard-Earl” makes me think that he is much more a “Wizard” along the lines of Dee, or Prospero, for that matter, than an “Alchemist”; although Jonson’s play suggests alchemy existing right alongside astrology and occultism.)
Never mind that Hermeticism plays a significant part in the Philosophy of Certain Sets at the time, influencing, say, Agrippa when he publishes Occult Philosophy in the early 1500s, as well as the “astronomer” (in an age in which “astronomy” was not distinct from “astrology”) Giordano Bruno, who was otherwise such an unconventional and influential thinker as to be burned to death by the Italian Inquisition in 1600, and who spent time in London from 1583-1585, creating a stir among the thoughtful elite. (Among others, he is befriended by the great poet of the period, Philip Sidney. I did not know this, but according to the Wikipedia article noted above- I find this really interesting- there is a theory that, while staying at the French embassy in London, Bruno acted as a spy for Walsingham- famous for his spy-network- under the provocative pseudonym “Fagot.” I find that really intriguing.)
Elizabeth (the Virgin Queen) had some very serious relationships with men at various points in her life (including the pretty-boy, the Earl of Essex, which did not end well). A notable affair was that with the famous adventurer Walter Raleigh (who named “Virginia” after her). Raleigh, otherwise, is known for his sponsorship of “the School of Night” (known at the time as the “School of Atheism,” “atheism” being a far more amorphous term for the Elizabethans than for us). Very, very little is known about this mysterious School: however, the personalities associated with it constitute the elite of the period (as well as Christopher Marlowe, who while undeniably brilliant, must have been treated- while politely- as a bit of a theater ragamuffin by aristocrats such as Raleigh); made up of many of the notables of the era, it is extremely unlikely that these men were up to anything subversive (the School, while it was little known, was nonetheless “known”). The purpose generally given for the School is that the men gathered to study astronomy and mathematics and geography- all intellectual pursuits of the period, but also staid enough so as not to require secrecy. One the other hand- “astronomy” is held to be the key-doorway into “astrology,” and Agrippa has a section called “Of Mathematical Magic,” next to sections on “Enchanting Magic” and “Natural Magic”: is it out of the question that the School of Atheism (the School of Night) met to investigate the Sciences of the Occult?
By whatever means, through whatever sources- Christopher Marlowe was clearly influenced by Hermeticism, in that his first “blockbuster” stage-hit Tamburlaine (c. 1587) features a lead character fashioned upon a Hermetic ideal (please check out James Howe’s excellent Marlowe, Tamburlaine, and Magic). In the not-for-nothing: Marlowe and Shakespeare appear to have known each other (the theater companies probably socialized together; it is conjectured that the character Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet was inspired by Marlowe; some of Shakespeare’s earliest writing “sounds” so much like Marlowe, he is either imitating Marlowe, or collaborating with him). Someone presumably influenced the distinctly Hermetic structure to the Prologue of Shakespeare’s Henry V. And Christopher Marlowe was obviously familiar enough with the Occult Sciences to write the Circle-Casting Scene in Faustus (although both Shakespeare and Barnes also write plays involving Circle-Casting, demonstrating that our Conception of the Magick-Circle is not really different from that of the 16th century). It might not be too much of a stretch, to argue that, like Edgar Allen Poe, credited with creating both the genre of detective fiction, as well as that of gothic-horror: Faustus might be considered the uber-text for all subsequent dramatic Occult story-lines- including 20th and 21st century television and movies.
Not for nothing: there is probably a reason that Ben Jonson wrote The Alchemist in 1610, satirizing a London obsessed with Magickal Practice and Occult Philosophy.