The long-held suggestion that Christopher Marlowe was William Shakespeare is now widely dismissed, along with other authorship theories. But Marlowe is enjoying the next best thing — taking centre stage alongside his great Elizabethan rival with a credit as co-writer of the three Henry VI plays.
The two dramatists will appear jointly on each of the three title pages of the plays within the New Oxford Shakespeare, a landmark project to be published by Oxford University Press this month.
Using old-fashioned scholarship and 21st-century computerised tools to analyse texts, the edition’s international scholars have contended that Shakespeare’s collaboration with other playwrights was far more extensive than has been realised until now.
Henry VI, Parts One, Two and Three are among as many as 17 plays that they now believe contain writing by other people, sometimes several hands. It more than doubles the figure in the previous New Oxford Shakespeare, published 30 years ago.
It’s long been known that Shakespeare collaborated with other authors; now the Oxford Shakespeare gives credit to Christopher Marlowe. To be fair, the Henry VI plays are not prime examples of Shakespeare’s quality as a writer, so it’s no surprise that he didn’t write them all. They were some of his first plays, and it shows. It’s good to understand that they were collaborative efforts, like many of Shakespeare’s early and later plays.
This doesn’t diminish Shakespeare as a writer, but it shows how the theater worked in his time.
In 1925, the scholar Leslie Hotson published the coroner’s report in his book The Death of Christopher Marlowe. Witnesses testified that he was stabbed in the eye during a fight over payment of a bill and died instantly. The document did not end speculation, with some supporting the theory that Marlowe faked his death and continued to write as Shakespeare.
It’s sad that people still believe in these conspiracy theories…