In Search of Christopher Marlowe (Excerpt)

This is an excerpt from the book Marlowe's Ghost, winner of our 17th Annual Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Awards.
Author:
Publish date:

Between 1585 and 1593, Christopher Marlowe transformed the face of English drama. Before him, scholars say, neither true English blank verse nor genuine English tragedy existed. By 1593, the year he was arrested on suspicion of heresy, Marlowe had laid the foundations of what today we know as Shakespearean drama. Why are Marlowe’s revolutionary accomplishments largely unknown? Because Marlowe’s name has been reviled for four hundred years, his reputation in ruins. Shakespeare by contrast has enjoyed a never-ending rise in fortune bordering on deification.

Marlowe’s literary career was abruptly severed in 1593 just when he seemed on the verge of true greatness. Shakespearean scholar A. C. Bradley, writing in 1880, tells us:

Marlowe had many of the makings of a great poet: a capacity for Titanic conceptions which might with time have become Olympian; … That Marlowe must have stood nearer to [Shakespeare] than any other dramatic poet of that time, or perhaps of any time later, is probably the verdict of nearly all students of the drama.1

Before the arrival of Shakespeare, Marlowe alone demonstrated the ability to write “Shakespearean” plays. If Marlowe had remained alive after 1593 and continued to grow as a writer, his plays could have equalled the Shakespeare plays. Another Shakespearean scholar, F. P. Wilson, writing in 1951, made the case that

what we may anyhow believe is that in [1593] there perished at Deptford the only man of Shakespeare’s age who could have been a rival poet.2

But what if Marlowe did not perish in 1593? And what if, since he stood accused of atheism, blasphemy, and treason, it was impossible for him to publish work under his own name? And what if Marlowe were the victim of the worst form of literary blacklisting, in real fear for his life, writing and publishing in secret? Perhaps, if he had survived, he would not have been a rival of Shakespeare—he would have been “Shakespeare.”

In 1925, literary researcher Leslie Hotson scoured Elizabethan court documents and found the paperwork documenting Marlowe’s reported death and the events leading to it. Since that time, a wealth of new information about the life of Christopher Marlowe has been uncovered. It is now possible to put his life and the events surrounding his demise in context. A careful examination of that evidence suggests that Marlowe did survive the fateful 1593 meeting at Deptford and went on to write the plays and poems that were eventually published in William Shakespeare’s name.

In 1955, Calvin Hoffman wrote The Murder of the Man Who Was ‘Shakespeare,’ the first far-reaching claim of Marlowe’s authorship of the Shakespeare plays. In his introduction, Hoffman said his intent was to put William Shakespeare on trial for his literary life. But it is not Shakespeare who needs to be cross-examined. Instead it is the entire enterprise of two centuries of Shakespearean scholarship that must be held up to the light. When we do, William Shakespeare is found wanting. And one name keeps coming to the fore again and again: Christopher Marlowe.

Buy Now:
Marlowe's Ghost

Image placeholder title

Become a Writer's Digest VIP:
Get a 1-year pass to WritersMarket.com, a 1-year subscription to Writer's Digest magazine and 10% off all WritersDigestShop.com orders!Click here to join.

Poetic Forms

Rannaigecht Mor Gairit: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the rannaigecht mor gairit, a variant form of the rannaigecht.

Weinstein_1:21

The Writer, The Inner Critic, & The Slacker

Author and writing professor Alexander Weinstein explains the three parts of a writer's psyche, how they can work against the writer, and how to utilize them for success.

Stottlemyre_1:21

Todd Stottlemyre: On Mixing and Bending Genres

Author Todd Stottlemyre explains how he combined fiction and nonfiction in his latest book and what it meant as a writer to share his personal experiences.

plot_twist_story_prompts_take_a_trip_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Take a Trip

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character take a trip somewhere.

Probst_1:20

Making the Switch from Romance to Women’s Fiction

In this article, author Jennifer Probst explains the differences between romance and women's fiction, the importance of both, and how you can make the genre switch.

Wrobel_1:20

Stephanie Wrobel: On Writing an Unusual Hero

Author Stephanie Wrobel explains how she came to write about mental illness and how it affects familial relationships, as well as getting inside the head of an unusual character.

who_are_the_inaugural_poets_for_united_states_presidents_robert_lee_brewer

Who Are the Inaugural Poets for United States Presidents?

Here is a list of the inaugural poets for United States Presidential Inauguration Days from Robert Frost to Amanda Gorman. This post also touches on who an inaugural poet is and which presidents have had them at their inaugurations.

precedent_vs_president_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Precedent vs. President (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use precedent vs. president with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 554

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a future poem.