So, William Shakespeare was actually a joint production, as it were, and there’s something official about that now. Extensive research by 23 scholars from five countries has found that Shakespeare collaborated with his contemporary, Christopher Marlowe, on three of the Henry VI plays, written in the early 1590s. “Kit” Marlowe’s contribution will now receive full credit as co-author in the new edition of Shakespeare published by Oxford University Press.
But Marlowe, who had a tempestuous day job — his frequent absences, first from university, then the arc lights, were rumoured to be time out in Her Majesty’s secret service as a silver-tongued spy — might have laughed at the irony of it all. As he would put it, with characteristic dark humour, hell is just a frame of mind. So too, perhaps, was living a double life, the gifted Marlowe’s career full of as many mysterious pauses as great lines, ending abruptly as he was stabbed in a bar in 1593, dying at 29, known to the public mainly as having been Shakespeare’s rival.
Today, Marlowe is Will’s co-author, on three of literature’s most dense dramas, full of thundering thoughts like, forbear to judge, for we are sinners all. The scholars who vouch for Marlowe’s pen having co-written these plays say they found repetitions here of words Shakespeare hardly ever — and Marlowe frequently — used. Phrases like “glory droopeth”, showing Marlowe’s trademark shades of grey, intertwine in the plays with Shakespeare’s lighter, brighter sparkle, which Marlowe might well have been describing when he wittily and cattily observed, ‘tis a pretty toy to be a poet. But that toy is also a gift we readers enjoy and it makes little difference who exactly wrote the words which we adore. It is the power of the words, to make us dream, laugh, sigh and cry, that is vital. For, as Shakespeare himself said, what’s in a name? The whole world’s a stage. We can love more than one bard on every page.