Who Really Wrote Shakespeare's Plays Christopher Marlowe Part 1

About the controversy over who really wrote Shakespeare's plays, supporters of Christopher Marlowe.



Supporters: The Marlovian theory is another of the oldest in the still-swelling surge of anti-Stratfordiana. W. G. Zeigler, a California lawyer, was the first to suggest (in 1895) that Marlowe's death was staged, and that the poet then went underground and proceeded to write the plays after arranging to use Shakespeare's name.

Several other writers supported the theory in occasional magazine pieces between 1901 and 1923. Ohio professor Thomas C. Mendenhall counted the letters in 400,000 Shakespearean words, discovering that for both Shakespeare and Marlowe the "word of greatest frequency was the four-letter word." But the theory received its most popular attention in 1955 with Calvin Hoffman's The Murder of the Man Who Was Shakespeare. This definitive work renewed and summarized the case for Marlowe, and much publicity accompanied its author's quest for documentary proof in the tomb of Sir Thomas Walsingham, Marlowe's reputed homosexual lover. Nothing was found in the tomb--not even Sir Thomas. But Hoffman, unlike Delia Bacon, had prepared himself for possible disappointment and said, "It has not proved or disproved my theory."

Who Was Marlowe? Already a well-known dramatist and poet when Shakespeare began to write for the stage, Marlowe, according to scholarly consensus, was "the only English playwright who might have given Shakespeare serious competition." Educated in theology and the classics, Marlowe engaged in some kind of secret governmental mission on the Continent while still a student. Later in London, he rapidly achieved popularity with such plays as Tamburlaine, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Edward II.

Highly egocentric, Marlowe also displayed a hair-trigger temper, a caustic wit, and a tendency toward drunken brawling. His association with Sir Thomas Walsingham, an art patron and shadowy political figure, plus his membership in a group of freethinking intellectuals called "the School of Night," placed him in the distinctly radical fringe. His rowdy reputation included the rumor of homosexuality, but firm evidence, as for his reputed atheism , is lacking.

In May, 1593, authorities ordered Marlowe's arrest on charges of blasphemy and atheism. The playwright lay low at Deptford, a village near Walsingham's estate, and spent the day of May 30 carousing with three of Walsingham's thugs. A drunken quarrel led to Marlowe's sudden knife assault on one of the men. Ingram Friser (or Frizer, or Frisar, according to various authorities) seized the dagger and inflicted a wound over Marlowe's right eye that killed him instantly. Friser was arrested but pardoned about a month later.

Such was the official version. But Marlowe's secret employment--plus his apparent disdain for the religious orthodoxy that anchored the British monarchy--has inspired questions ever since. Was his espionage activity, rather than alcohol and emotional instability, his undoing? Marlovian theorists support the conspiracy view.

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