In October 2016 a story was reported in most popular newspapers that using old-fashioned scholarship and 21st-century computerised tools to analyse texts, a team of international scholars have established that Shakespeare’s collaboration with other playwrights was far more extensive than has been realised until now.
Christopher Marlowe’s hand in parts of the Henry VI plays has been suspected since the 18th century but this marks the first prominent billing in an edition of Shakespeare’s collected works.
The two dramatists will appear jointly on each of the three title pages in the latest edition of the New Oxford Shakespeare, a landmark project to be published in October 2016.
2016 was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Imagine that Christopher Marlowe did not meet his death in a tavern brawl on 30 May 1593 but with the aid of the secret service escaped to Italy and an innocent stranger killed in his place.
Many believe that the Shakespeare canon was written by another person or that many of his plays were collaborations.
One such was Calvin Hoffman a retired American theatre critic who had written a book in 1955 called The Man Who Was Shakespeare. It was inspired by the research of J Leslie Hotson who had uncovered the true story of the inquest following Marlowe’s murder in a Deptford tavern which raised many doubts about the established view of events and the evidence of the witnesses.
Basing his research on this new evidence Hoffman proposed that Christopher Marlowe continued to write whilst in exile in Padua, Italy. In 1984 Calvin Hoffman even went to the extremes of trying to excavate the Walsingham family tomb in Chislehurst, Kent in the belief that papers confirming his theory ware buried with Marlowe’s mentor Thomas Walsingham.
I wrote this essay as an entry to the Calvin Hoffman Prize which is open every year to anyone who can prove that Marlowe either contributed to the works of Shakespeare or could have possibly written the entire canon.
I did not win any prize and the essay is more a flight of fancy written with tongue slightly placed in cheek. However the more I wrote the more credible the theory became.
Christopher Marlowe had worked on behalf of the Elizabeth’s secret service since his days at Cambridge. He spent time Rheims where there was a Catholic Seminary. His absences caused the authorities to refuse his MA but following a letter from some of the highest ranking members of Church and State confirming his secret work, the degree was awarded.
The events of 30 May 1593 at the house of Dame Eleanor Bull in Deptford have been the subject of much speculation down the centuries. Was Marlowe murdered to prevent him confessing secrets under torture, or was his death faked and he was smuggled out of the country by members of the secret service?