Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe
© Corpus Christi Collge, Cambridge University

2014 marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of Christopher Marlowe. He was born a shoemaker's son in Canterbury (where the handsome and highly successful two-year-old theatre has been named after him) and was fortunate in winning a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Graduating in 1584 – and probably already immersed in the dark world of Elizabethan espionage – he took London by storm with his two-part Tamburlaine the Great three years later. It is possible that he was already writing plays while still an undergraduate, including Dido, Queen of Carthage, which opens the festival in Emmanuel College between 11 and 15 November, with a gala performance at the Senate House on 16 November.

The Cambridge-based Marlowe Society is celebrating the 450th anniversary with a year-long project which will see all his plays produced across the city in a variety of venues - not all of them conventional ones. Leaders for the festival are Marlowe Society president Fergus Blair, co-ordinator Ed Eustace and producer Lily Staff.

Dido will be staged by award-winning director Michael Oakley. In 2008 his production of Edward II was described as "sexy, stylish and provocative". Theatre professionals as well as students are involved with the different productions, with Doctor Faustus promising to be one of the festival's highlights.

"Dark, spooky, riveting stuff' is Blair's comment on Faustus. "It will be a thrilling twelve months," enthuses Staff. "The whole of Cambridge will sparkle with Marlowe's theatricality". Two of Marlowe's most controversial (and in their time, highly topical) plays The Jew of Malta and The Massacre at Paris will also be festival highlights.