Shakespeare And His Contemporaries Essays In Comparison Vs By Comparison

Journalists routinely describe the disgrace of a public leader as a "downfall of Shakespearean proportions" - as for example in the case of Canadian financier Conrad Black, whose plight was also called a "fall from grace of Shakespearean proportions," and who was described as the victim of a "betrayal of almost Shakespearean proportion." In a book on the U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, a former CIA officer describes the results as "self- imposed tragedies of unplanned- for length and Shakespeareanproportions." Here the word "tragedies" makes the link between military misadventures and Shakespearean drama. The effect of a series of Danish cartoons that gave offense to Muslims was "Shakespearean in proportions"; the final episodes of The Sopranos were "a bloodbath of Shakespearean proportions"; and the steroid scandal in professional baseball was a plot that had"thickened to Shakespearean proportions."

Vivid personalities like Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and William Randolph Hearst have likewise been described as figures of "Shakespearean proportions" or "Shakespearean dimensions." Nor is it only national or international news that now makes the Shakespeare grade: a headline in theDaily Telegraph of London declared that "throwing a children's party can be a drama of Shakespearean proportions." And an article in the tabloid New YorkPost began, "A Shakespearean tragedy played out on a Long Island street where a boozed- up young woman unknowingly dragged her boyfriend under her car for more than a block as he tried to stop her from driving drunk." "Shakespearean" in these contexts means something like "ironic" or "astonishing"or "uncannily well plotted." Over time the adjectival form of the playwright's name has become an intensifier, indicating a degree of magnitude, a scale of effect.

Why should this be the case? And what does it say about the interrelationship between Shakespeare and modern culture?

"Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how," says one earnest young man in a Jane Austen novel to another. "It is a part of an Englishman's constitution," his companion is quick to concur. "No doubt one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree," he says, "from one's earliest years. His celebrated passages are quoted by every body; they are in half the books we open and we all talk Shakespeare, use his similes, and describe with his descriptions." This was modern culture, circa 1814. In the view of these disarmingly ordinary, not very bookish observers, Shakespeare was the author of their common language, the poet and playwright who inspired and shaped their thought.

In 1828 Sir Walter Scott, already a celebrated novelist, "visited the tomb of the mighty wizard," as he wrote. He had a plaster cast made of the Shakespeare portrait bust in Holy Trinity Church, and he designed "a proper shrine for the Bard of Avon" in the library of his home at Abbotsford, making sure that the bust was "fitted with an altar worthy of himself." Scott noticed that the two of them - Scott and Shakespeare - shared the same initials, W.S. He had their head sizes measured and compared by a German phrenologist. A bust of Scott was designed to resemble that of the other Bard, and after Scott's death the bust of his head replaced that of Shakespeare in the library. Admiration here became identification - or perhaps a kind of rivalry.

Shakespeare's modernity would also be proclaimed in nineteenth- century America. In 1850 Ralph Waldo Emerson announced that, after centuries in which Shakespeare had been inadequately understood, the time was finally right for him: "It was not possible to write the history of Shakespeare tillnow," Emerson wrote. The word "now" in his argument becomes the marker of that shifting category of the modern, and it is repeated for emphasis a few lines later. "Now, literature, philosophy, and thought, are Shakespearized. His mind is the horizon beyond which, at present, we do not see. Our earsare educated to music by his rhythm."13 Thus Emerson could say of Shakespeare, simply and resoundingly, "he wrote the text of modern life." We live today in a new "now," a century and a half removed from Emerson's, but this sentiment - "he wrote the text of modern life" - seems as accurate as it did then.

Nor - as we have already noted - is this view the special province of literary authors. The frequency with which practitioners and theorists of many of the "new" modern sciences and social sciences - anthropology, psychology, sociology - have turned to Shakespeare for inspiration is striking, but not surprising. Ernest Jones, Freud's friend and biographer, the first English language practitioner of psychoanalysis, declared straightforwardly (in an essay he began in 1910, revised in 1923, and expanded in the 1940s)that "Shakespeare was the first modern." Why? Because he understood so well the issues of psychology. "The essential difference between prehistoric and civilized man," Jones argued, was that "the difficulties with which the former had to contend came from without," while "those with which the latter have to contend really come from within,"

This inner conflict modern psychologists know as neurosis, and it is only by study of neurosis that one can learn the fundamental motives and instincts that move men. Here, as in so many other respects, Shakespeare was the first modern.

Thus for Jones, Shakespeare's use of the soliloquy, the onstage, interior questioning of a character's conflicted thoughts and motives, anticipated the new science of psychoanalysis and Freud's "talking cure."

THE "text of modern life" these days is embedded in a network of textmessaging, Internet connections, video clips, and file sharing. Shakespeare in our culture is already disseminated, scattered, appropriated, part of the cultural language, high and low. An advertisement for rugged outdoors types advertised a sale: "Now Is the Winter of Our Discount Tents." This turned out also to be the name of a rock compilation by the label Twisted Nerve. At the same time, in London, the White Cube Gallery presented an exhibition of work by British artist Neal Tait, titled "Now Is the Discount of Our WinterTents." Manifestly, none of these tweaked or inverted phrases would offer much in the way of wit or appeal if the cultural consumer did not recognize, or half recognize, the phrase on which each is based: the opening soliloquy of Richard III, in which the envious and aspiring Gloucester observes, in a classic of double- meaning enjambment, that "Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York" (1.1.1-2). So we might say that Shakespeare is already not only modern but postmodern: a simulacrum, a replicant, a montage, a bricolage. A collection of found objects, repurposed as art.

Our Shakespeare is often "sampled" and "texted" in forms from advertising to cartoon captions. Lady Macbeth's exclamation in the sleepwalking scene, "Out, damned spot!" (Macbeth 4.1.33), is so well-known that it has been used to describe stain removers, acne medicine, and cleaning technologies forsemiconductors. An ad for Hard Candy cosmetics extends the literary allusion, offering not only the "Out Damn Spot" concealer pencil to cover up blemishes, but also a coordinated line of makeup called "Macbare" and "Macbuff." I call this a "literary allusion," but it is a quite different kind from those of an earlier period. Although the writers of copy here assume a recognition of Macbeth as the source, there is no extended expectation of familiarity with the text. The wit inheres in the dislocation from context("Lay on, Macbuff "?).

Popular culture examples of this kind are virtually ubiquitous. Hamlet's phrase "The undiscover'd country from whose bourn / No traveller returns" (Hamlet 3.1.79-80) has been used as the subtitle of Star Trek VI, the title of anart exhibition on representational painting at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the brand name of a company offering bicycle tours in California. The bionic skeleton used for decades by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to demonstrate artificial body parts was named Yorick, after"the exhumed skull in Shakespeare's Hamlet." Sometimes the Shakespeare quotation has moved so far into the mainstream that there is little or no acknowledgment of any connection with the source. Economist Greg Mankiw chose the phrase "Strange Bedfellows" as the headline of a short piece on AlGore and supply- side economists of the 1980s. Although there may have been some tacit comparison between these figures and Shakespeare's Caliban and Trinculo, there's no evidence of it in the piece - and really no necessity. Shakespeare sampled, Shakespeare quoted without quotation marks, has become a lingua franca of modern cultural exchange.

The cultural "Q" value of something often goes up when its familiarity and utility go down. An antique shop that specializes in folk art will display objects like churns, crocks, quilts, and spinning wheels - once valued for their use and now many times more valuable, in sheer dollar terms, despite being useless. And the further we get as a society from intimate knowledge of the language and characters of the plays, the more "love" of Shakespeare begins to be expressed as a cultural value. Shakespeare's plays are probably read and studied more, these days, before and after college - in high school and in reading groups, extension courses, lifelong learning and leadership institutes, and inthe preparation of audiences attending play productions - than during the four years of traditional undergraduate college education. Preprofessional training starts earlier, college majors are more specialized than once they were, and there is less expectation of a broad general education or liberal arts foundation than was the case a generation or two ago. Shakespeare becomes the treat, as well as the all- purpose cultural upgrade, for which time is found later in life, after more basic, pragmatic skills and knowledge are acquired.

Thus it is not perhaps a surprise to discover that some of the most avid and interested students of Shakespeare today are businesspeople, CEOs and CFOs of major national and international companies. Shakespeare's plays are now being used, regularly and with success, to teach corporate executives lessons about business. A few of the analogies the CEOs and their facilitators make may seem facile (the appearance of the ghost of old Hamlet is like the reminder that executives are accountable to their shareholders; CEOs, like the kings and queens in the plays, have to face the necessity of betraying - or firing - their friends). But the business of teaching Shakespeare- in- business has become popular and lucrative as a sideline for both government officials no longer in power and Shakespeare companies struggling to make a living. The play that has most galvanized business leaders has been Henry V, whose protagonist, the leader of a "band of brothers," produced unit cohesion and triumphed against apparently insurmountable odds; I use some of the discussions among what might be called "business Shakespeareans" as examples in my chapter on that play.

In these encounters, "Shakespeare" often becomes a standardized plot, a stereotypical character, and, especially, a moral or ethical choice - not to mention the ubiquitous favorite, "a voice of authority," as if it were possible to locate "his" voice among the mix of Hamlet, Macbeth, Falstaff, Rosalind, Portia, Iago, the Ghost, and the Fool. (The CEOs are not often asked to see the play through the lens of a minor character, an old man, a young woman,an attendant lord, or a common soldier; they are kings and queens, generals, Machiavels, decision makers all.) What may sometimes drop out here, crucially, is the complexity of language and of plotting, the ultimate undecidabilityor overdetermination of phrases, words, and actions. Reading against the grain - trying to gather a multiplicity of sometimes conflicting meanings from any staged scene or passage - itself cuts against the grain of CEO managementand decision- making. Perhaps the key phrase here ought to be, not "Falstaff, c'est moi" - as one executive was quoted as saying - but instead Iago's "I am not what I am."

Reprinted from SHAKESPEARE AND MODERN CULTURE, by Marjorie Garber. Copyright (c) 2008. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Pantheon.

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Alex Jack's list of

Literary Similarities Between Marlowe and Shakespeare


Many readers, critics, and biographers have remarked on close similarities between Marlowe’s works and Shakespeare’s poems and plays. The following material is summarized by Alex Jack, editor of the 400th anniversary edition of Hamlet by Christopher Marlowe (Amber Waves, 2005). It is sincerely hoped that this material will contribute to ongoing dialogue, research, and mutual respect among historians, critics, and everyone else who has been touched by the beauty and magic of the Marlovian and Shakespearean works.

  1. Literary Influence: Marlowe’s literary influence on Shakespeare has been universally accepted. “In seven of his plays Shakespeare is clearly and probably consciously copying Marlowe and in eleven other plays there are faint traces and suggestions of Marlowe’s influence,” notes John Bakeless in The Tragicall History of Christopher Marlowe (Harvard UP, 1942). “The exact relationship of these two major figures is one of the chief puzzles of literary history. That it existed—that it was very far-reaching in its effect upon Shakespeare and through him upon all English letters ever after, there is no possible room for doubt.” “He [Marlowe] first, and he alone, guided Shakespeare into the right way of work . . .”declared critic Algernon Charles Swinburne. “Marlowe is the greatest discoverer, the most daring pioneer, in all our poetic literature. Before Marlowe there was no genuine blank verse and genuine tragedy in our language. After his arrival the way was prepared, the path made straight for Shakespeare” (The Age of Shakespeare, Harper, 1908).

  1. Line and Verse: Christopher “Kit” Marlowe’s “mighty line” revolutionized the Elizabethan stage. Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus, Edward II, The Jew of Malta,Dido Queen of Carthage, and The Massacre at Paris popularized blank verse in the late 1580s and early 1590s and set the standard for the playwrights who followed. On purely stylistic grounds, nearly half of the Shakespearean works have been attributed in whole or part to Marlowe by critics who accept Marlowe’s death in 1593. Edmund Malone, the founder of modern Shakespeare studies, credited Marlowe with Titus Andronicus, as did William Hazlitt and F. C. Fleay. Alexander Dyce, a founder of the Shakespeare Society in London, observed, “There is a strong suspicion that [Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III] are wholly by Marlowe.” Samuel S. Ashbaugh stated, “Shakespeare . . . must have taken a Richard III, written by Marlowe but now lost, and revised it into the Richard III subsequently ascribed to him by the pirate publishers. . . . There is far more of Marlowe than of Shakespeare in Richard III.” Jane Lee concurred, “Richard III is full of . . . Marlowe’s soul and spirit.” Richard II, King John, and other plays have also been credited to Marlowe.

Style: In a recent essay on “Marlowe’s Texts and Authorship,” Laurie E. Maguire, a scholar at Oxford University, notes that recent linguistic studies have presented compelling evidence that “Marlowe’s hand appears in several Shakespearean texts,” including the Henry VI plays, Titus Andronicus, Edward III, and Henry V (see “Marlovian Texts and Authorship,” in The Cambridge Companion to Marlowe, ed. Patrick Cheney, Cambridge UP, 2004). For Marlowe’s hand in specific Shakespearean plays, see British statistician T. V. N. Merrimam, “Neural Computation in Stylometry II: An Application to the Works of Shakespeare and Marlowe,” Literary and Linguistic Computing 9 (1994):1–6; “Marlowe’s Hand in Edward III,” Literary and Linguistic Computing 8.2 (1993):59–72; “Heterogeneous Authorship in Early Shakespeare and the Problem of Henry VI,” Literary and Linguistic Computing 13.1 (April 1998). In Rival Playwrights: Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare  (Columbia UP, 1991), James Shapiro, professor of Shakespearean studies at Columbia University, concludes “Shakespeare seems to be very much aware of what Marlowe is up to and chooses to plot a parallel course, virtually stalking his rival,” especially in the first half of the Shakespearean canon leading up to Hamlet. He characterizes Henry V, as Tamburlaine, Part III. Louis Ule, who completed the first empirical studies of the entire canons, found their overlap so close as to be indistinguishable (see A Concordance to the Works of Christopher Marlowe, Georg Olms, 1979 and A Concordance to the Shakespeare Apocrypha, Georg Olms, 1987). John Baker concluded that the richness of Marlowe’s vocabulary easily encompassed Shakespeare’s and that many of their works were indistinguishable (Oxford’s Literary and Linguistic Computing 3.1, 1987).



Characters and Plot: Many characters in the Marlovian and Shakespearean works are cut from the same dramatic cloth, including Tamburlaine and Titus, Barabas and Shylock, Abigail and Jessica, the Duke of Guise and Aaron, Edward II and Richard II, and Mortimer and Hotspur. According to researcher John Baker, Marlowe’s canon organically matures into Shakespeare’s, and his [Aeneas and] Dido becomes Romeo and Juliet and then Anthony and Cleopatra and Troilus and Cressida. Edward II matures into Richard II. The Massacre at Paris evolves into Measure for Measure, while The Jew of Malta metamorphoses into The Jew of Venice or The Merchant of Venice and Dr. Faustus becomes Dr. Prospero or The Tempest.

Structure: The structure of the plays is also parallel. In a comparison of Marlowe’s Edward II and Shakespeare’s Richard II, Bakeless notes: “Shakespeare’s play, like Marlowe’s, has a fiery dispute near the beginning. In Richard II this is between Bolingbroke and Mowbray; in Edward the Second, between the king and his nobles. In each play the quarrel serves to bring the opposing factions into line against each other and reveal the general nature of the plot at once. In each play there are three king’s favorites: Gaveston and the two Spensers in Edward the Second, Busby, Green, and Bagot in Richard II. Each dramatist brings in a fourth timeserver who is less important: Baldock in Edward the Second; the Earl of Wiltshire, who is repeatedly mentioned but who does not come on the stage, in Richard II. Each king makes a levy upon his subjects’ property, and each dramatist uses this fact to help on the catastrophe. Each king is caught unprepared by the return of an absent enemy. Each is forced, after a hesitation of which each author makes full dramatic use, to abdicate. Each, in his anger, destroys a physical object: Edward a letter, Richard a mirror. Each is eventually murdered, and the coffin of each is brought on the stage in the final scene” (The Tragicall History of Christopher Marlowe).

Comic Scenes: Though all of his dramatic works were tragedies or histories, Marlowe introduced comic scenes and characters that were forerunners to the Shakespearean comedies. Dido Queen of Carthage has several comic scenes and characters, as does The Jew of Malta. Hero and Leander presents satirical touches and has a tongue-in-cheek quality. The clown Robin in Dr. Faustus anticipates Touchstone, the Gravedigger, and other clowns and jesters in the Shakespearean works. In the view of Harry Levin, the great Shakespearean scholar at Harvard, Cornelius and Valdes,  Faustus’s two adepts in the black arts, are the prototypes of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet (see The Question of Hamlet, Viking, 1959). Interestingly, Tamburlaine was originally registered as a comedy but, as explained in a printer’s prefatory note to the first edition, the comic scenes were omitted. As Swinburne observed, “It is another commonplace of criticism to affirm that Marlowe had not a touch of comic genius, not a gleam of wit in him, or a twinkle of humour: but it is an indisputable fact that he had. In The Massacre at Paris, the soliloquy of the soldier lying in wait for the minion of Henri III. has the same very rough but very real humour as a passage in the Contention [the quarto edition of Shakespeare’s 2 Henry VI] which was cancelled by the reviser. The same hand is unmistakable in both these broad and boyish outbreaks of unseemly but undeniable fun” (The Age of Shakespeare, 1908)

    1. Ideology and Universalism: Patriotic to the core, both Marlowe’s and Shakespeare’s plays helped fashion an English national identify and unify Protestants and Catholics at a time when religious civil war threatened. The patriotic sentiments in Marlowe’s The Massacre at Paris, as Shakespearean scholar A. L. Rowse remarked, “running deep and true into the past, elaborated in nearly a dozen plays all the way from the Henry VI trilogy to the end with Henry VIII, constituted one of the prime sources of inspiration for the genius of Shakespeare” (Christopher Marlowe: His Life and Works, Harper & Row, 1964). Patrick Cheney shows that Marlowe’s counter nationalism substituted positive individual values of independence and freedom for loyalty to the Crown (Marlowe’s Counterfeit Profession, U of Toronto P, 1997). As John Baker further notes, the prose introduction to Rape of Lucrece, the most popular poem of the age, concludes with the observation “the state government changed from kings to counsels” and observes in the text that it is the poet’s duty “to wrong the wronger until he renders right” and that “a king’s misdeeds cannot be hid in clay.” Beyond furthering English patriotism, the overall effect of these plays has been to humanize us (see Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Riverhead, 1999) and create a universal consciousness beyond borders and national identity.


    1. Venus and Adonis: Shakespeare’s first published work, Venus and Adonis, a long narrative poem, appeared in early June 1593, just two weeks after Marlowe’s reputed death. It is so similar in style, imagery, and tone to Marlowe’s Hero and Leander that critics have concluded that Shakespeare must have had access to the original manuscript since Hero and Leander was not published until 1600. In both poems, for example, the beautiful youth is referred to as “rose-cheeked,” an epithet not found in the classical myths. Both youths are compared to Narcissus who drowned seeking a kiss, another detail unique to both poems and not found in the Greek originals. As A. L. Rowse states, “The poems are full of echoes of each other, theme, arguments, phrases, whole passages” (Christopher Marlowe: His Life and Works, Harper & Row, 1964). Such examples run throughout the canons. Both Dido and Hamlet, for example, describe the slaying of Priam by Pyhrrus with similar details not found in Virgil’s Aeneid or other source. As John Baker has observed, Venus and Adonis is a thoroughly Kentish poem, set on the coast among the downs and brakes where Marlowe grew up (compared to Shakespeare who came from inland Warwickshire).
    1. Printer Richard Field: Richard Field, the printer of Venus and Adonis, originally came from Stratford and is assumed by critics to have arranged for Shakespeare to move to London, find employment in the theater, and publish his first work. As publisher of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and other major sources of Marlowe’s early works, Field probably knew Marlowe and could just as easily have been asked to publish the poem under Shakespeare’s name. Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth’s principal advisor and Marlowe’s superior in the secret service, is believed by some critics to have commissioned Venus and Adonis and more likely would have selected Marlowe, the darling of the London stage and one of his own agents, than the unknown actor from Stratford. Burghley was also the guardian of Southampton, the young noble to whom Venus and Adonis was dedicated. Field took over the publishing company that had published King James VI’s works in Scotland, further tying him into courtly intrigue and intelligence between the two countries.


    Upstart Crow Reference: The case for Shakespeare as a dramatist at this early period rests largely on a pun. In Groatsworth of Wit, published in 1592, Robert Greene mentions “an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers . . . the onely Shake-scene in a country.” On the basis of the pun on “Shake-scene” and the parody of a passage quoted from The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of Yorke, an early version of 3 Henry VI, later published under Shakespeare’s name, scholars have concluded that this is the earliest literary reference to Shakespeare, appearing to place him solidly within the London theater in the formative stage of his acting and writing career. However, the pun better fits Edward Alleyn, the leading actor in Marlowe’s plays at the Rose theatre, who had failed to help Greene in a time of poverty and sickness. Two years earlier in Never Too Late, Greene had taunted Alleyn and Marlowe in similar language: “Why Roscius [Alleyn], art thou proud with Esop’s Crow, being pranct with the glorie of others feathers? of thy selfe thou canst say nothing, and if the Cobler [Marlowe, the son of a shoemaker] hath taught thee to say Ave Caesar, disdain not thy tutor.” In any event, many scholars dismiss the claim that Groatsworth (or Henry Chettle’s Reply, a related document) allude to Shakespeare and assign The True Tragedy to Marlowe and “Ave Caesar” is a famous phrase from Edward III, a play now accepted as Shakespeare’s (see Hamlet by Marlowe and Shakespeare, edited by Alex Jack, 2005).


    1. Female Characters: In the view of many critics, the female characters in Marlowe’s work, such as Zenocrate, Imogene, Abigail, and Dido, are not as fully developed as those in Shakespeare’s works, including Rosalind, Juliet, Portia, Ophelia, and Miranda. However, as Simon Shepherd observes in Marlowe and the Politics of Elizabethan Theatre (St. Martin’s, 1986), Marlowe’s women often take on “the role of Presenter, a role that was traditionally the male narrative voice of truth.” Marlowe’s texts “could be said to explore the construction of gender difference and problematize it,” as many feminist critics have observed about the Shakespearean works. It is more plausible that Marlowe created the witty paragons of female learning than Will Shakespeare, whose own wife and daughters evidently could neither read nor write. In John Baker’s view, Alice Arden in Arden of Faversham (an anonymous play often attributed to Marlowe) is the prototype for Lady Macbeth, and The Taming of a Shrew (the anonymous model for Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew) is Marlowe’s, and the women in it are well drawn and based on his mothers and sisters. Katherine, Margaret, and Ann (all Marlovian family names) appear frequently in the canons, as does John, the first name of Marlowe’s father.


    1. The Supernatural: Both the Marlovian and Shakespearean works deal with magic, the occult, and explore the relation between the natural and supernatural worlds. Hecate, the queen of the Underworld in Greek and Roman mythology, and her furies are invoked in Dr. Faustus, Dido Queen of Carthage, and his other works. Hecate also figures prominently in Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and she or her three furies appear in about two-thirds of the Shakespearean poems and plays. There may even be a symbolic connection. May 30, the day of Marlowe’s fateful encounter and “death” in Deptford, is the annual festival of Hecate. The setting and props of Kit’s last meal echo the Hecate Supper that was traditionally observed on this occasion. As a classical scholar, Marlowe translated works from Latin and Greek containing passages on Hecate and the three fates. Whether or not he deliberately staged his death on her holy day, the queen of Night served as the dark muse and inspiration for the Marlovian and Shakespearean plays and poems (see Hamlet by Marlowe and Shakespeare, edited by Alex Jack, 2005).



    1. Theology: A new generation of critics has shown that many of Shakespeare’s plays are intricately constructed parodies or commentaries on relations between Church and State. Donna B. Hamilton’s Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England (U of Kentucky P, 2000), Kristen Poole’s Radical Religion from Shakespeare to Milton(Cambridge UP, 2000), Heather James’s Shakespeare’s Troy (Cambridge UP, 1997), and Patrick Cheney’s Marlowe’s Counterfeit Profession (U of Toronto P, 1997) show that they especially touch upon issues of uniformity and conformity dear to Archbishop Whitgift and Queen Elizabeth, issues that reached a peak in the Parliament of 1593 (and led up to Marlowe’s arrest). These include The Comedy of Errors, King John, the Henry IV plays, Titus Andronicus, and Twelfth Night. Following James’s accession as king, Measure for Measure, King Lear, Coriolanus, The Tempest, and other Shakespearean works continue to subtly challenge the ecclesiastical intolerance that characterized the Stuart era.



    1. Biblical References: The Marlovian and Shakespearean works demonstrate a profound knowledge of the Bible. A comparative analysis of biblical references in the two canons shows a strikingly high correspondence. The average number of allusions per play—94.3 and 91.7 respectively—differs by only 3 percent. Both groups of works allude to the Gospel of Matthew more than to any other scriptural source, and eight of the ten most frequently quoted or referenced books in the Bible are the same in both canons. After studying for holy orders at Cambridge University, Marlowe received an M.A. in theology, while Shakespeare’s religious studies and orientation remain unknown (see Hamlet by Marlowe and Shakespeare, edited by Alex Jack, 2005).



      1. Parallel Passages: There are numerous passages in the two bodies of work that are similar. In The Murder of the Man Who Was ‘Shakespeare,’ Calvin Hoffman (Grosset & Dunlap, 1955) presents thirty pages of striking examples drawn from both canons. In the new edition of Hamlet by Marlowe and Shakespeare, Alex Jack lists side by side over one hundred passages that echo or allude to similar vocabulary, phrases, or lines in Marlowe’s poems and plays.


      Stylometric Studies: Dr. Thomas Mendenhall, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the father of stylometrics, or the scientific study of literature, developed a scientific method to determine the authorship of anonymous or disputed writings. He found that every author has a unique “literary fingerprint” that characterizes their work. After calculating and plotting the frequency of words of various lengths (two-letter, three-letter, and so on) in a given work, he constructed a graph that displays the writer’s unique ratio-curve. In researching Elizabethan playwrights, Dr. Mendenhall discovered that Shakespeare’s and Marlowe’s curves matched perfectly. “Christopher Marlowe agrees with Shakespeare as well as Shakespeare agrees with himself,” he declared in astonishment because he accepted the view that Marlowe had died at an early age (see Thomas Mendenhall, “A Mechanical Solution for a Literary Problem,” Popular Science Monthly 60.7(1901):97–105). In a recent computerized study, Peter Farey expanded upon Mendenhall’s research and found that authors may vary over time and between genres and that the two canons were consistent (see Farey, “Stylometrics: Mendenhall’s Graphs Revisited” :


        1. Vocabulary, Staging, and Props: Various studies suggest that the poems and plays share a common vocabulary, versification (e.g., a fondness for the pyrrhic foot),  diction, and other literary elements. In a study of the influence of Dr. Faustus on Hamlet, Harry Levin found that there is a striking resemblance in the way Faustus and Hamlet appear on stage and deliver their lines. Both characters speak 38 percent of the lines in their respective plays, and the average line length is almost the same: 3.5 to 3.2 lines per speech (see Levin, The Overreacher: A Study of Christopher Marlowe, Beacon Press, 1952). In comparison, the protagonists in the other Shakespearean plays average about 25 percent. Levin also found that Shakespeare borrowed the broad tripartite dramatic structure of his plays, with a main plot, overplot, and subplot, from Marlowe. Taking the entire canons in toto, mathematician Louis Ule found that Marlowe’s and Shakespeare’s vocabulary were virtually indistinguishable. The rate that each added new words (known as hapax-legomena) to new plays differed by only 1 percent (A Concordance to the Works of Christopher Marlowe,  Hildesheim, 1979). The staging and properties are also similar. The Jew of Malta, for example, contains an average of 11.7 props (e.g., swords, crowns, scepters, coins, etc.) per thousand lines, compared to an average of 11.5 props for the Shakespearean tragedies as a whole, while other Elizabethan works range from 4.2 to 22 (Douglas Bruster, Shakespeare and the Question of Culture, Palgrave, 2003).  In a study of run-on lines and “feminine” endings (in which an extra syllable is added to the regular iambic line of ten syllables), Peter Farey found that “plotted against a time-scale, rather than using the overall average for a comparison between authors, a perfectly smooth curve can be seen to pass through the two groups of plays, see:



        1. Classical Sources: Often the underlying sources for Marlowe’s and Shakespeare’s works are the same (e.g., Ovid, Plutarch, Belleforest, Holinshed, Halle, etc.), and they are commonly in languages that only Marlowe, of the two, commanded, including Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish. A modern study, Geoffrey Bullough’s Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (Columbia UP, 1957–1966), covers eight volumes and nearly six thousand pages and shows, over and over, that Shakespeare’s knowledge of the classical and neoclassical context was enormous, including, as Strauss, Baker, White, and Craig have shown (, Plato’s works not then translated or known in English (e.g., Falstaff’s death mirrors Socrates’).



          1. Specialized Knowledge: As a cobbler’s son, Marlowe showed a keen awareness of shoes and footwear in his plays, as do the Shakespearean works. For example, Julius Caesar opens with puns based on a cobbler’s lines where he claims to work with awl and mend old soles—i.e., works with “all” and mends “old souls.” “This is what our cobbler playwright does,” explains John Baker. “The plays are cobbled together, more so than any of the plays or works of the period, based on bits and pieces of others’ works and often on an underlying play or sources. Only Marlowe’s and Shakespeare’s plays worked like that.” Many other specialized areas of knowledge appear to be virtually the same. Topics for future comparative research include references to birds and animals, falconry and hunting, the law, kingship, medicine (especially the treatment of the elements and humours), navigation, geography,  astronomy, magic, mythology, and the supernatural. The colors, sounds, and other sensory imagery in the two canons also need to be explored. Themes of concealment, disguised and mistaken identity, and exile and banishment could also be examined.



          1. Diction and Imagery: The diction, imagery, and choice of words is often strikingly similar in the two sets of works. To cite just a few examples: the epithet “ugly Night” for the goddess of the dead appears frequently, as do the number 20,000 (alluding to the number of King David’s warriors), the word “beautified,” the plural of “cherubins,” and the interjection “hum.” The word “come” and its variants appear with unusual frequency in the Marlovian and Shakespearean plays. In Marlowe’s case, the signature use of this word comes in his famous line “Come live with me, and be my love,” in his poem The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. Other than “the,” “and,” and other common articles of speech, “come” is the principal word in Dr. Faustus, Edward II, The Jew of Malta,The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet. There are many passages using the word “marvel,” a play on Marlowe’s name.



            1. Motto: Marlowe’s motto or trope, “Quod me nutrit me destruit,” (found on his portrait at Cambridge) runs through the two canons. It leads off the Sonnets (“Consum’d by that which it is nourish’d by,” Sonnet 73), is woven into Hero and Leander, Venus and Adonis and Rape of Lucrece, and in various forms surfaces in the later plays



            Familial Influence: The early or juvenile works often attributed by critics to Marlowe or Shakespeare are generally Kentish (site of Marlowe’s childhood in Canterbury and Dover) and appear to include names, places, and contexts associated with Marlowe’s family background as part of their plots, as evidenced most clearly in The Most Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, Locrine, Timon (ms.), The Taming of a Shrew, King Leir, and Arden of Faversham. According to John Baker, Famous Victories, which appeared in 1594, has multiple allusions to Marlowe’s “death” in Deptford on Wednesday, May 30,1593. In Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2 these references are modified, but the circumstances and date are retained (e.g., Falstaff is bashed in the head and left for dead on a Wednesday)


              1. Registration Dates: Both Marlowe’s and Shakespeare’s works were registered at the Stationers’ Company on days that had a historical or personal significance. As John Baker shows, Tamburlaine was registered on August 24, the anniversary of the St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre; Venus and Adonis on April 18, William Herbert’s birthday; A Midsummer Night’s Dream on October 8, the day in ancient Greece sacred to Theseus, the Duke of Athens, who figures prominently in the play; Hamlet on July 25, St. Christopher’s Day, Marlowe’s namesake; and the Sonnets, Pericles, and Antony and Cleopatra on May 20, the anniversary of Marlowe’s arrest (see Baker “On the Trail of Registration Dates,” 2002).


              1. Image Clusters: In the field of literary criticism, “image clusters” are defined as randomly distributed images clustered around a key word that arise from the author’s unconscious and manifest images associated with a deep personal experience or emotion. For example, Shakespearean scholar Kenneth Muir identified a cluster of key words, including “death,” “plot,” “spirit,” “food,” “sleep,” “music,” “flowers,” and “ears,” associated with the word “hum” in The Two Noble Kinsman. In Silent Shakespeare and Marlowe Revisited (Daurus Press, 2000), D. Maure Wilbert identifies twenty more such clusters throughout the Shakespearean plays and suggests that they more likely correspond with serious trauma associated with Marlowe’s reputed death in Deptford rather than anything known about Shakespeare.


              Notice the line drawn around the bottom half of the mask

                1. Aging and Maturation: The apparent differences between the Marlovian and Shakespearean works can be explained by the natural process of aging and maturation, Marlowe’s changed circumstances (including possible exile in Italy where exposure to Renaissance learning, different languages, and the Commedia dell’arte and a warmer Mediterranean climate, lighter diet, milder air, and more open sexual expression could have turned his mind toward comedies and more refined language), and the evolving nature of the London stage and the publication of poems and plays. Marlowe’s arrest and near-death experience at Deptford in May 1593 may also have purged some of the bombast that characterized his youthful works. Like Prince Hamlet newly invigorated after his shipboard escape, Alex Jack suggests in his new edition of Hamlet, Marlowe’s dramatic and poetic mission changed after the wings of death brushed him in May 1593 and he escaped his destiny. In the Shakespearean works, he became more resolute and decisive, seeing heaven ordinate in the small, ordinary things of daily life as well as writ large in cosmic omens and signs. He focused more on the redemptive power of good than on the corruptive effects of evil as in his earlier writings.



                1. Altered Circumstances: As British historian and critic Peter Farey suggests, possible reasons for the apparent differences between the Marlovian and Shakespearean works include: 1) a new “political agenda” required of Marlowe, including the exploration of themes he may or may not have been allowed to pursue before; 2) new paymasters and new locations, as the requirements of the Burbages (who managed the new Lord Chamberlain’s Men) in respect to plots, numbers, and staging, were not necessarily the same as those of Henslowe (manager of the Lord Admiral’s Men for whom Marlowe previously wrote); 3) new actors, including writing parts for Richard Burbage, the lead actor at the Theatre and the Globe, rather than Edward Alleyn at the Rose and the Fortune, and perhaps for better actors of female roles; 4) anonymity, having to avoid writing in a style that was unmistakably his; 5) collaboration, including Shakespeare’s own effect upon what was written and input from a wholly new company of actors and new or rival playwrights who also appeared on the scene; 6) the passing of time, following (or setting) trends such as away from the highly stylized approach, from end-stopped lines, and from regular iambic pentameter; 7) life experiences, including the complete upheaval of Marlowe’s life, and the deep emotions associated with exile and loss of name and identity; 8) learning, including the opportunity to explore new cultures, new ideas, new forms of art, new languages, and new literature; 9) new circumstances, including the need to hide the fact of his survival and continued authorship of poems and plays, to tuck himself away somewhere under an assumed identity, as different as possible from his own; and 10) new friends and acquaintances with different knowledge, interests, and enthusiasms compared to those of his former circle.


                  1. Shakespeare’s Role: The evidence for Marlowe’s survival and authorial role in the Shakespearean canon is compelling. However, the role of William Shakespeare is unclear. Some Marlovians feel he played no appreciable part other than lending his name to the arrangement. Others feel that William Shakespeare likely played a significant dramatic, and possibly even literary, role. In Shakespeare, Co-Author (Oxford UP, 2003), Shakespearean critic Brian Vickers presents a strong case for collaboration between Shakespeare and George Peele in Titus Andronicus, Thomas Middleton in Timon of Athens, George Wilkins in Pericles, and John Fletcher in Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen. Other critics and researchers are also beginning to detect “high” and “low” voices in the Shakespearean canon (see Mike Rubbo’s Much Ado About Something, T. V. M. Merriman op cit, and Bertram Fields Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare, Regency, 2005).


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