Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The many faces of Shakespeare or a mere collection of collaborators?

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus is one of my favourite plays.
It is powerful and shattering each time I read it. 
Many years ago, soon after I had had my first taste of Christopher Marlowe, my mother told me of the suspicion some scholars had that Marlowe was really Shakespeare. We spent a few evenings discussing this; or more to the point, I spent a few evenings listening to mum as, with an excited sparkle in her eyes, she expounded further into the theory. Mum loves her Shakespeare. But, just as some scholars were skeptical of the genius that could come from a mere grammar school, mum was hard pressed to believe the regular biography of William Shakespeare, and so was more inclined to believe that the dashing, mysterious yet brilliant Marlowe was the real face behind the large body of works we call Shakespeare. 

I jumped on the band wagon at once. My mother can convince anyone about anything when she waxes eloquently and passionately about something. The romance behind such an idea excited me -- could Marlowe really be Shakespeare? I was already in love with Marlowe. I had read his The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus and The Jew of Malta. I was drawn to his passionate and raw voice. These plays held, not just so much thought, but so much emotion that was all out there. This made me so want Marlowe to be Shakespeare. It seemed so right. After all, it was he who set the trend for the blank verse; why could he not be responsible for having refined it in the plays attributed to William Shakespeare?

This caused me to do some reading up on Marlowe and I came across the theory that Marlowe did not really die from a tavern brawl. It was suggested that the tavern brawl was an excuse to stage Marlowe's death and get him out of the country for he was to be hanged. This theory, quite naturally, excited my imagination, and I was more than half-way convinced that this speculation was a reality. 

It took me a long while; I was quite
stubborn about liking Shakespeare
or giving him a chance really. But
now having put aside my rebellious
prejudice I am discovering what
has delighted readers for centuries.
Note that I say 'was'. When I got into this entire cover-up theory, I couldn't say I had really read Shakespeare. Sure, I'd studied his plays, about six of them through my undergrad and postgrad degrees. But, I hadn't really just sat down to read him for his art's sake. A few years ago, I began to pick up his works and 'read' them. At the same time, I read a few of Marlowe's plays as well. There were echoes of Marlowe to be sure, but it was not very consistent. The 'character' of Marlowe's plays was missing in Shakespeare. This left me dissatisfied with the latter. But then, I pressed on and began to delight in a few of Shakespeare's passages. It puzzled me how one man could write such exquisite poetry at one moment, and such bawdy and dreadful humour the next. 

But this article published by The Guardian only two days ago seems to shed some light on this discrepancy. 

It would appear that Shakespeare is beginning to look like a ghost name for many writers. I had no idea, until I read Christopher Marlowe credited as one of Shakespeare's co-writers, that for nearly four decades scholars have identified other hands in Shakespeare's works. Apparently, many plays look like they have been written as collaborations, and most recently there is evidence that Marlowe himself was a collaborator. I find this last a bit puzzling for, if I am not wrong, Marlowe died the very same year that Shakespeare published his first play. 

However, I refuse to speculate over it. I shall leave that to the scholars. It has been a few years now since I have decided that speculating on the true authorship of Shakespeare's plays does not really do anyone any good. It can't matter very much to anybody right now, can it? I mean, could learning about these authorships make any difference to anything? We would still read Shakespeare, and enjoy the good plays and secretly wonder at the horrendous parts, and probably for the scholarly it would be fresh opportunity to puzzle over the various men who contributed to the plays; but at the end of the day 'dead men tell no tales' or more to the point, they don't really care. It is over. The deed is done. Let's go read some Shakespeare. 


  1. I think (and this is only my perspective -- I haven't had time to keep up with the news on Marlowe!) :-) that if anything, these other hands were collaborators, not authors. I still say he's the author. I like Marlowe, but he doesn't sound like Shakespeare. Shakespeare has a distinctive style and voice.

  2. Yes, I believe they are collaborators. From what I've read in the article, there are sections in about 17 of Shakespeare's plays that have been written by others of his time.

    I will admit, after putting aside my prejudice, I could see that Marlowe and Shakespeare had distinctly different voices. However, I have often felt that, even within a play, there is very distinct change in voice and tone. It was like Shakespeare would switch on and switch off his exquisite poetic voice within the course of one play. I think it is why I struggle to appreciate him the way he is done so all over the world. Sometimes I feel that some of his plays or some sections of his plays ride on his popularity and not on the work itself.

    However, I must put in a disclaimer here and say I am no where near a Shakespeare scholar. I just read his plays when the mood takes me, and sometimes to understand the hype. I find, at times, I am able to understand and at others I am simply baffled.

    Marlowe, on the other hand, is consistent. His is a voice that stirs me to respond with fervour to his passionate outpourings.Is he perfect? No where near. But, well...he makes me respond. And yet, I have found, that when I watch Shakespeare being performed I can appreciate him a great deal better than when I am reading him.


Hello! It is always nice to know someone has stopped by and read something I have written. It is nicer when they choose to comment. It is the nicest when they choose to comment encouragingly and constructively.