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Shakespeare wrote Henry VI plays with rival Marlowe, say scholars

books Updated: Oct 24, 2016 18:09 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
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The findings shed new light on the supposed rivalry between Marlowe and Shakespeare.

A collection of plays by William Shakespeare to be issued later this month will have an unusual credit line after years of research: Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of the Bard, will be mentioned as co-writer of three of his Henry VI plays.

A group of Shakespeare scholars have come to the conclusion that the famed playwright collaborated with others, and they believe Marlowe’s contribution to the three plays was more than just rumour.

The New Oxford Shakespeare is to be published by Oxford University Press later this month with the new credit line for Parts One, Two and Three of Henry VI. As many as 17 Shakespeare plays contain writings by others, the scholars told The Guardian.

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, according to research conducted by 23 academics from five countries.

The research was headed by four professors – Gary Taylor (Florida State University, US) John Jowett (Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham), Terri Bourus (Indiana University, Indianapolis, US) and Gabriel Egan (De Montfort University, Leicester).

Taylor told the newspaper: “The orthodox view was that Shakespeare didn’t collaborate at all. When the Oxford Shakespeare in 1986 proposed that eight plays of Shakespeare contained writing by other writers, some people were outraged.

“What has happened since 1986 is that the accumulation of new scholarship, techniques and resources has made it clear that, in 1986, we underestimated the amount of Shakespeare’s work that’s collaborative.”

Taylor added: “In 1986, eight of 39 plays were identified on their title pages as collaborative, a little more than 20%. In 2016, 17 of 44 plays are identified, a little more than 38%, close to two-fifths.”

Henry VI, Parts One, Two and Three are among as many as 17 plays that scholars now believe contain writing by other people, sometimes several hands. (Shutterstock)

Details about Marlowe’s life are sketchy but some facts are known. He was baptised in Canterbury on February 26, 1564. The son of a shoemaker, Marlowe attended King’s school in Canterbury before being awarded a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he received his BA degree in 1584.

The report said his plays were wildly popular for the brief period he was on the Elizabethan literary scene. Dido, Queen of Carthage is thought to have been his first. Tamburlaine the Great, among the first English plays in blank verse, was written around 1587. The Jew of Malta, is thought to have been written around 1589, and Doctor Faustus was first performed between 1588 and 1593. Marlowe died in May 1593, aged 29.

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