Christopher Marlowe was the co-author of Shakespeare’s early plays – big data proves

christopher-marlowe-co-author-shakespeareA portrait, supposedly of Christopher Marlowe. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Often considered as the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day, English playwright and poet, Christopher Marlowe, was not only the contemporary of William Shakespeare, but also influenced the ‘Bard of Avon’. And now researchers have finally established that Marlowe served as the co-author of three of Shakespeare’s early plays, entailing the Henry VI plays. The due recognition is to be given to Marlowe with New Oxford Shakespeare expected to list the playwright as the co-author in the plays that will be published in the coming weeks.

Now for many experts and Shakespeare aficionados the revelation might not come as a big news, especially since there had always been a debate on authorship concerning some of Shakespeare’s plays. In fact, a few have even put forth their conjecture that it was Marlowe instead of Shakespeare who was the ‘main’ author of many of the plays – though mainstream scholars disregard any such notion.

But this time around, it was the ambit of big data that resolved many of the debates and historical issues when it comes to the authorship of early Shakespearean plays. The scope in itself encompasses three particular tests that could determine the ‘inherent’ writing sequences and word-usage of authors. The first test entailed the pattern of common words and prepositions like ‘and’, ‘the’ and ‘of’; and their frequency within an exampled text. Now while their combined effect might be difficult to be traced by human ears, special algorithms can certainly identify the tracks and patterns that are individual to each person. As Gary Taylor, a Florida State University professor of English and general editor of the latest Complete Shakespeare volume, said (to Seeker) –

If you’re listening to what I’m saying, you can’t actually count the prepositions that pass by you. It’s something that is true of all of us, but it is unconscious and a person’s unique use of these words can only be established by a lot of data.

The second test tracked the use of substance words within an exampled text. These significant words generally entail the combination of nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs; and they can be associated with the unique flair of a writer. And the third and last test pertains to the assessment of the minor function words – with analysis of their order and grouping within a text. And finally, the results from these three separate tests established that Marlowe was indeed the author of some passages within Henry VI plays, parts 1, 2 and 3. Taylor confirmed –

In some cases, we know that, say, Marlowe is likely to use two of these prepositions within five words of each other. While Shakespeare is unlikely to use those two words within five words of each other. The fact that different tests were getting the same results in the same parts of the plays is the best kind of clue that it is, in fact, Marlowe.

Interestingly enough, this is not exactly the first time that researchers have confirmed that Shakespeare had collaborators on his plays, especially during the earlier period of his career. In fact, New Oxford Shakespeare contains 44 Shakespearean plays, of which 17 are listed as collaborative with other authors. But in spite of these ‘collective’ efforts, it was Shakespeare who appears to be the dominant writer on these projects – as the big data analysis suggests. Furthermore the research had also established that Shakespeare was solely responsible (as opposed to collaboration) for some of his best works, including Julius Caesar, A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Hamlet.

Source: Seeker (Discovery News)

2 Comments on "Christopher Marlowe was the co-author of Shakespeare’s early plays – big data proves"

  1. Geoff Kieley | November 1, 2016 at 1:07 pm |

    “You shouldn’t mess with Shakespeare as lightly as the Oxford editors do”
    …yeah, those crazy Oxford guys – what could they possibly know about the subject, eh?

    ..and what about that nutty Oxford Encyclopedic Dictionary? Where did they dream up those words? I’m sure they just pull ’em out the air. They’re wacky!

    Trump 2016!

  2. Tue Sorensen | November 1, 2016 at 12:49 pm |

    “researchers have established” – No, they haven’t. They just have one theory among many, and the Oxford editors have a tradition of jumping the gun when it comes to new attributions to the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Funnily, no other editions hardly ever follow the Oxford lead. The Oxford editors can and do claim what they want; it’s still only one interpretation, and by no means one shared by all researchers, nor by a majority. You shouldn’t mess with Shakespeare as lightly as the Oxford editors do. What they’re really doing is making sensationalist claims so they can convince themselves how great they are, in the vain hope that they will also convince others. They rarely do.

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