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Who was Shakespeare?
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The case for Christopher Marlowe

The Elizabethan playwright and poet wrote Shakespeare's works.


Christopher Marlowe faked his death on May 30, 1593. He would go on to write all of Shakespeare's plays under a pseudonym. Marlowe worked as a spy for the Queen and became embroiled in a political argument which would likely result in his arrest on sedition charges.[1] Instead of facing trial, Marlowe faked his death and made it look like a bar fight stabbing. He then worked on the plays under the patronage of Thomas Walsingham.[2]

The Argument

Marlowe’s works bear a striking resemblance to Shakespeare’s. In seven Shakespeare plays, the Bard makes clear references to Marlowe’s own work. The two men’s vocabulary also closely aligns.[3] There are also parallels in the two playwrights’ characters. Tamburlaine and Titus bear strong similarities, as do Barabus and Shylock and Abigail and Jessica. There are also similarities in structure. For example, Shakespeare’s Richard II begins with an argument, as does Marlowe’s Edward the Second. Both plays feature a King with three favourites. Both feature a fourth, less important periphery character. Both King is caught off guard by an absent enemy. Both Kings are forced to abdicate, and both Kings have a temper that leads them to break things. The two playwrights also take a similar approach to the lead characters' dialogue. Dr Faustus and Hamlet, for example, both speak 38% of their play’s dialogue. They also both have an average line length of around 3.4 lines (3.5 and 3.2 respectively). Romeo's famous soliloquy when he sees Juliet on a balcony and exclaims: But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun! sounds eerily similar to Marlowe's when Barabas sees Abigail on a balcony in Jew of Malta: But stay! What star shines yonder in the east? The lodestar of my life, if Abigail! Even Stratfordians who believe that Shakespeare wrote the bulk of the plays he is accredited with, accept that Marlowe co-authored all parts of Henry IV. He also may have been the author of Titus Andronicus and Richard III. There has also been speculation about Richard II.[4] There are also hints of Marlowe’s own biography in the plays. Marlowe was a cobbler’s son. In Julius Caesar, the play opens with an in-depth description of a cobbler’s work littered with puns. There are also hints in the Sonnets of a forced trip, potentially an exile, and an encounter with a knife. [5]

Counter arguments

He Died Before the Plays Were Written Shakespeare was undoubtedly influenced by Marlowe. Marlowe conceived the theatrical tragedy, a genre that Shakespeare would go on to develop. However, Marlowe died before the first Shakespeare play was published, therefore ruling him out of the authorship debate. There is no documentary evidence to suggest his death was faked. In an inquest, sixteen jurors concluded that Marlowe died in 1593. If he faked his death as proponents claim, and continued writing plays and publishing them in Shakespeare's name, why would he not reveal himself once the plays became a success? Every Playwright at the Time Dealt With Similar Themes Many plays written around this time bear strong similarities. Each writer was basing their work on a small subset of source materials rooted in religious texts, mythology and history. There is bound to be significant overlap in themes, characters and structure. While Marlowe and Shakespeare's work contain similarities, there are clear differences between their writing styles, particularly when writing comedies.



[P1] Marlowe has the education background and literary prowess to author Shakespeare's works. [P2] He also shares a similar writing style and his plays deal with similar themes. [P3] He collaborated with "Shakespeare" on some plays. [P4] Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that he was the real Shakespeare.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] Every playwright had access to similar source material at the time. Therefore, many Elizabethan playwrights and poets have similar writing styles and deal with similar themes. [Rejecting P4] Marlowe died before any of Shakespeare's plays were written.


This page was last edited on Tuesday, 28 May 2019 at 19:56 UTC

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