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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Shakespeare and Marlowe: Writing Partners?

Oxford University Press has announced that its new edition of the complete works of William Shakespeare, available in Canada on December 27, will credit Christopher Marlowe as a co-author on the three Henry VI plays. 

Despite years of controversy about the authorship of some of Shakespeare's work, this is the first time a major publishing house has formally named Marlowe as a co-author.

The extent of Marlowe’s possible influence on or collaboration with Shakespeare has been the subject of much academic scholarship, but for many years, mainstream academics had mostly derided efforts of independent scholars who challenged the authorship of plays attributed to Shakespeare.  At various times, his work has been credited to Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford, as well as Marlowe.   (

The scholars used computerized data sets to reveal patterns, trends and associations — analyzing not only Shakespeare's words, but also those of his contemporaries.  “For the New Oxford Shakespeare scholars ran tests to determine whether authors like Marlowe could be reliably identified by the ways they used language — like frequent use of certain articles, and certain words commonly occurring in a row, or being close to each other in the text.  Once this was determined, researchers applied these patterns back to texts, to see if they suggested an author other than Shakespeare” (

Marlowe appears to have written most of Henry VI, Part 1, while Shakespeare wrote the largest share of Part 3.  Lead authorship on Part 2 is harder to identify.

Doubtless, this is not the end of the discussion.  The editors concluded that 17 of the 44 plays associated with Shakespeare had input from others.  

Marlowe, born in the same year as Shakespeare, wrote poetry and plays such as the two part Tamburlaine and Dido, Queen of Carthage.  A part-time spy for the government of Queen Elizabeth I, Marlowe is believed to have died in 1593 when he was stabbed under mysterious circumstances.

Regardless of your opinion, why not have some fun and try to identify the Shakespeare (or Shakespeare-Marlowe) play based on its first line: