October 25, 2016
Weak Shakespeare doesn’t have the stamina to write whole three-part history himself; gets Marlowe’s help. SAD!
by Ian Dreiblatt
Over the years, William Shakespeare has been cast variously as a pothead, an Arab, a judeophile, a bore, a proto-Marxist, and, memorably, a rom-com protagonist. Now, rom-com may be giving way to buddy comedy: a team of twenty-three scholars editing Shakespeare’s works under the aegis of the New Oxford Shakespeare series from Oxford University Press are calling him a collaborative writer, saying he co-authored some of his plays with colleague Christopher Marlowe, despite significant rivalries between the two.
Oxford has been publishing some of Shakespeare’s plays with co-writer credits since 1986, but this newest edition, which they will begin releasing this Thursday, marks the first time Marlowe will receive one. All three of the Henry VIs will be credited as Shakespeare-Marlowe collaborations. It’s particularly significant because Marlowe is probably the best-known Elizabethan writer whose name does not rhyme with “makes clear,” and because there have long been some who believed he secretly wrote some or all of the works credited to Shakespeare.
Writing in the Guardian, Dalya Alberge says the decision was based largely on statistical analyses of the frequency with which the two authors used certain words (the big tells for Bill were “tonight,” “spoke,” “beseech,” “gentle,” and “answer”). Gary Taylor, a Shakespeare scholar at Florida State University and one of the leaders of the project, told Alberge:
Recent studies by specialists already agree that Shakespeare did not write the passage where Joan of Arc pleads for help from demonic spirits and then is captured by the English [Part One, 5.3, 5.4]. We have added new evidence from ‘unique n-grams’: that is, phrases that occur in the passage being tested. Marlowe’s works contain many more such parallels than any other playwright.
This will certainly be jarring for many of us, but hey, if Shakespeare has to be a stoned, Arabic-speaking, Torah-reading, Gwyneth-courting, revolution-awaiting hack, it’s nice to think he at least might have had some good company.
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.