He was born about 1558 at West Ham, the second son of Sir Thomas Lodge, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1562-1563. He was educated at Merchant Taylors School and Trinity College, Oxford; taking his BA in 1577 and MA in 1581. In 1578 he entered Lincoln's Inn, where, as in the other Inns of Court, a love of letters and a crop of debts were common. Lodge, disregarding the wishes of his family, took up literature. When the penitent Stephen Gosson had (in 1579) published his Schoole of Abuse, Lodge responded with Defence of Poetry, Music and Stage Plays (1579 or 1580), which shows a certain restraint, though both forceful and learned. The pamphlet was banned, but appears to have been circulated privately. It was answered by Gosson in his Playes Confuted in Five Actions; and Lodge retorted with his Alarum Against Usurers (1584)--a tract for the times which may have resulted from personal experience. In the same year he produced the first tale written by him on his own account in prose and verse, The Delectable History of Forbonius and Prisceria, both published and reprinted with the Alarum.
From 1587 onwards he seems to have made a series of attempts at play writing, though most of those attributed to him are mainly conjectural. He probably never became an actor, and John Payne Collier's conclusion to that effect rested on the two assumptions that the "Lodge" of Philip Henslowe's manuscript was a player and that his name was Thomas, neither of which is supported by the text (see CM Ingleby, Was Thomas Lodge an Actor? 1868). Having been to sea with Captain Clarke in his expedition to Terceira and the Canaries, Lodge in 1591 made a voyage with Thomas Cavendish to Brazil and the Straits of Magellan, returning home by 1593. During the Canaries expedition, to beguile the tedium of his voyage, he composed his prose tale of Rosalynde, Euphues Golden Legacie, which, printed in 1590, afterwards furnished the story of Shakespeare's As You Like It. The novel, which in its turn owes some, though no very considerable, debt to the medieval Tale of Gamelyn (unwarrantably appended to the fragmentary Cookes Tale in certain manuscripts of Geoffrey Chaucer's works), is written in the euphuistic manner, but decidedly attractive both by its plot and by the situations arising from it. It has been frequently reprinted. Before starting on his second expedition he had published an historical romance, The History of Robert, Second Duke of Normandy, surnamed Robert the Divell; and he left behind him for publication Catharos Diogenes in his Singularity, a discourse on the immorality of Athens (London). Both appeared in 1591. Another romance in the manner of Lyly, Euphues Shadow, the Battaile of the Sences (1592), appeared while Lodge was still on his travels.
His second historical romance, the Life and Death of William Longbeard (1593), was more successful than the first. Lodge also brought back with him from the new world A Margarite of America (published 1596), a romance of the same description interspersed with many lyrics. Already in 1580 Lodge had given to the world a volume of poems bearing the title of the chief among them, Scillaes Metamorphosis, Enterlaced with the Unfortunate Love of Glaucus, more briefly known as Glaucus and Scilla. To this tale Shakespeare was possibly indebted for the idea of Venus and Adonis. In a lost work, the Sailor's Kalendar, he must in one way or another have recounted his sea adventures.
If Lodge, as has been supposed, was the Alcon in Colin Clout's come Home Again, it may have been the influence of Edmund Spenser which led to the composition of Phullis, a volume of sonnets, in whiëh the voice o nature seems only now and then to become audible, publishe with the narrative poem, The Complaynte of Elsired, in 1593 A Fig for Momus, on the strength of which he has been called the earliest English satirist, and which contains eclogues addressed to Daniel and others, an epistle addressed to Michael Drayton, and other pieces, appeared in 1595.
Lodge's known dramatic work is small in quantity. In conjunction with Robert Greene he, probably in 1590, produced in a popular vein the odd but far from feeble play, A Looking Glasse for London and England (1594). He had already written The Wounds of Civile War. Lively set forth in the Tragedies of Marius and Scilla (produced perhaps as early as 1587, and published in 1594), a good secondrate piece in the half-chronicle fashion of its age. Fleay saw grounds for assigning to Lodge Mucedorus and Amadine, played by the Queen's Men about 1588, a share with Robert Greene in George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield, and in Shakespeare's 2nd part of Henry VI; he also regards him as at least part-author of The True Chronicle of King Leir and his three Daughters (1594); and The Troublesome Raigne of John, King of England (c. 1588); in the case of two other plays he allowed the assignation to Lodge to be purely conjectural. That Lodge is the "Young Juvenal" of Greene's Groatsworth of Wit is no longer a generally accepted hypothesis. In the latter part of his life--possibly about 1596, when he published his Wits Miserie and the World's Madnesse, which is dated from Low Leyton in Essex, and the religious tract Prosopopeia (if, as seems probable, it was his), in which he repents him of his "lewd lines" of other days--he became a Catholic and engaged in the practice of medicine, for which Wood says he qualified himself by a degree at Avignon in 1600. Two years afterwards he received the degree of M.D. from Oxford University.
His works from then on take on a more serious note, comprising translations of Josephus (1602), of Seneca (1614), a Learned Summary of Du Bartas's Divine Sepmaine (1625 and 1637), besides a Treatise of the Plague (1603), and a popular manual, which remained unpublished, on Domestic Medicine. Early in 1606 he seems to have left England, to escape the persecution then directed against the Catholics; and a letter from him dated 1610 thanks the English ambassador in Paris for enabling him to return in safety. He was abroad on urgent private affairs of one kind and another in 1616. Front this time to his death nothing further concerning him remains to be noted.