Although scholars of both literature and history have made arguments for Christopher Marlowe’s religious belief in Catholicism, the Church of England, and even atheism (which could have been conflated with both by different parties during his lifetime), few consider the belief system of the Polish Brethren, a precursor to Unitarianism established by one Faustus Socinus. This essay uses historical and social network analyses to suggest a close tie between Marlowe’s acquaintances and believers in Socinianism. Clues in Doctor Faustus and Massacre at Paris suggest Marlowe’s skepticism concerning the doctrines of Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. Furthermore, repeated references to Poland and the beliefs of the Socinians suggest Marlowe’s familiarity with the doctrine of the Polish Brethren. Finally, the complex ties between the Elizabethan Secret Service—of which Marlowe was a member—and the early modern royal courts across Europe provide evidence that the Reformation in England was shaped by far more complex—and even modern—ideas of religious diversity than we typically credit. For Marlowe, these influences produced a deep-seated resentment of organized religion and its impact on the anti-Catholic policies of the Elizabethan government during the 1580s and early 1590s.

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Copyright © 2017 Brigham Young University. This article first appeared in Quidditas 38 (2017), 135-162.

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