So the most shocking news of the year may turn out (for me, at least) to have nothing to do with the election. It’s that Christopher Marlowe has been officially credited as coauthor of some of Shakespeare’s plays:
Shakespeare may have had a little more help than previously suspected.
The New Oxford Shakespeare edition of the playwright’s works — which will be published by Oxford University Press online ahead of a worldwide print release — lists Christopher Marlowe as Shakespeare’s co-author on the three “Henry VI” plays, parts 1, 2 and 3.
It’s the first time that a major edition of Shakespeare’s works has listed Shakespeare’s colleague and rival as a co-author on these works, the volume’s general editor, Gary Taylor, said in a phone interview.
There’s been literally centuries of dispute on this, with the Shakespeareans accusing the Marlovians of all kinds of bad faith. But it was Big Data that validated Marlow’s authorship:
For the New Oxford Shakespeare scholars ran tests to determine whether authors like Marlowe could be reliably identified by the ways they used language — like frequent use of certain articles, and certain words commonly occurring in a row, or being close to each other in the text. Once this was determined, researchers applied these patterns back to texts, to see if they suggested an author other than Shakespeare. If results came out positive, further tests were run.
Mr. Taylor said that the exact nature of the playwrights’ collaboration cannot be certain, but that they did not necessarily work together in person. Scriptwriting at Shakespeare’s time was often structured similarly to how movie writing happens now: One author would earn an advance for writing a plot outline, and theaters would hire other authors to write other scenes, according to their strengths.
It’s possible that this is how the “Henry” plays were written, Mr. Taylor said, noting that some playwrights also collaborated by hashing through ideas in pubs.
Personally, I find the Big Data angle a bit creepy. I’m happy Marlowe is finally getting his due, and am all for the use of scientific techniques in the humanities. But if Shakespeare’s not “safe,” no one is. What other time-travel toppling of literary and historical edifices awaits us?
PS – someone at Wikipedia needs to get cracking:
The Shakespeare authorship question is the argument that someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the works attributed to him….Although the idea has attracted much public interest, all but a few Shakespeare scholars and literary historians consider it a fringe belief and for the most part acknowledge it only to rebut or disparage the claims.
Also, PPS – for those who are interested, a reminder. I know some Juicers are planning to participate in NaNoWriMo or AcWriMo, so here’s my resource center for those. Also my SavvyAuthors online class starts Monday (10/31) and will provide great support for all writers in November, and there’s a $5 discount for Juicers. (Happy to answer questions on any of these; email me.)
Someone’s looking smug!