Oxford to make Christopher Marlowe a Shakespeare co-writer for Henry VI

At left, a painting of William Shakespeare which is believed to be the only authentic image of Shakespeare made during his life unveiled by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on March 9, 2009 in London, England.

At right, what is believed to be a portrait of Christopher Marlowe, painted in 1585, and discovered by his alma mater in England, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1952.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust/Corpus Christi College/CBS News composite

LONDON - Oxford University Press says its new edition of William Shakespeare’s works will co-credit Christopher Marlowe on the three Henry VI plays.

The decision announced Monday for the upcoming edition comes after a team of scholars using modern analytical methods revisited the question of whether Shakespeare collaborated with others. The research suggests that experts underestimated the extent to which Shakespeare collaborated with others.

The publisher says that “identifying Marlowe’s hand in the Henry VI plays is just one of the fresh features of this project.”

The experts included Gary Taylor of Florida State University and John Jowett at the University of Birmingham.

The play Henry VI, is broken into multiple parts, and is about the colorful life and times of the 15th Century English and (disputed) French king. He famously had a mental breakdown after losing the Hundred Years War in 1453, which led to the long-running dynastic conflict called the War of the Roses. Henry VI ended up dying imprisoned in the Tower of London.

The authorship of Shakespeare’s works has long been disputed. Numerous scholars have posited that he may not have existed at all, and was instead the pseudonym for people like Marlowe, philosopher Sir Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere, or Sir Henry Neville, an English courtier and distant relative of the Stratford Shakespeare.

The Guardian reports that experts believe as many as 17 plays contain writing by other people, sometimes several hands.

Gary Taylor told the Guardian that scholarship has changed a lot in his field.

“The orthodox view was that Shakespeare didn’t collaborate at all,” Taylor said. “When the Oxford Shakespeare in 1986 proposed that eight plays of Shakespeare contained writing by other writers, some people were outraged. What has happened since 1986 is that the accumulation of new scholarship, techniques and resources has made it clear that, in 1986, we underestimated the amount of Shakespeare’s work that’s collaborative.” 

Marlowe was born in Canterbury in 1564 and died in 1593. He is believed to be one of the foremost writers of tragic dramas of his day, and few dispute the certain influence he had on Shakespeare’s work. According to the Marlowe Society, the playwright spent part of his life as a spy, and was ultimately murdered under mysterious circumstances.