Who Really Wrote Shakespeare's Plays Christopher Marlowe Part 2

About the controversy over who really wrote Shakespeare's plays, arguments for and against Christopher Marlowe.



Arguments For: Thomas C. Mendenhall, by comparing the number of letters in the words of highest frequency used by various authors, devised an individual stylistic "fingerprint" for each author. Hired by a Baconian to prove by his "mechanical fingerprinting" that Bacon had actually written the plays and poems, Mendenhall spent several months analyzing several million words from numerous Elizabethan authors. His result ruled out Bacon, but he was astonished to discover that "in the characteristic curve of his plays, Christopher Marlowe agrees with Shakespeare as well as Shakespeare agrees with himself.

Frequent similarities of idea and expression first led Calvin Hoffman, author of The Murder of the Man Who Was Shakespeare, to suspect that Marlowe and Shakespeare were the same man. Since Marlowe died, according to official records, in 1593--and since most of the Shakespearean plays were written after that date--Marlovian theorists must prove that Marlowe lived to write the plays. Marlowe, wrote Hoffman, was not murdered in the Deptford brawl, though somebody else was--a foreign sailor "set up" for the purpose. Marlowe himself, at the moment, was en route to France. The entire affair was staged, with Marlowe's complicity, by Sir Thomas Walsingham in order to remove his lover from the threat of imminent arrest. Walsingham instructed the three ruffians to plead self-defense and claim that their victim was Marlowe, and he bribed the coroner to accept both the plea and the stated identity of the body. Marlowe himself settled on the Continent, continued to write, and sent his manuscripts to Walsingham. Sir Thomas found a reliable, dull-witted actor by the name of William Shakespeare ready, for a stipend, to lend his name as author and his efforts toward staging the plays. Thus, but for Sir Thomas Walsingham, the world would never have heard of Shakespeare.

Arguments Against: Literary parallelism does exist between Marlowe and Shakespeare. Far from indicating single authorship, however, it more likely points to Shakespeare's frankly acknowledged debt to his predecessor's language and techniques. In As You Like It, Shakespeare quoted Marlowe in a tribute of obvious affection and admiration:

Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might: "Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight?"

Mendenhall generalized his conclusions from woefully inadequate data. The more writers he added to his schema, the more similarities he naturally found. Absence of either a control group or application of the technique by other investigators made Mendenhall's "proof" scientifically invalid. He had also used the spelling in modern editions for his word counts, ignoring the fact that variations had been wrought by editors, copyists, and printers.

As for Hoffman's elaborate conspiracy theory, no evidence exists that Walsingham and Marlowe were lovers; there is no proof of bribery or tampering with official records; no contemporary records indicate that Marlowe lived abroad, or anywhere, after his "contrived death"; nor, of course, is there any hint of Shakespeare's complicity in lending his name to Marlowe's "subsequent work." Why was a murder necessary if the object was merely to save Marlowe? Its only effect would have been to subject Walsingham to considerable risk. That the queen's coroner also gambled his position in such a collaboration is an unrealistic supposition. These and other deficiencies in the conspiracy theory make it a much more fragile construction than the straightforward inquest account. The circumstances of Marlowe's death were quite efficiently settled by Leslie Hotson's The Death of Christopher Marlowe (1925). While a conspiracy to kill Marlowe as a security risk may have been inspired by Walsingham himself, Hoffman's construction of a way for Marlowe to have "been Shakespeare" cannot stand analysis.

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