One of the most important documents of the Elizabethan theatre is Henslowe's Diary, which covers the years 1591-1609. Philip Henslowe, perhaps the most powerful theatre owner and impresario of his day, kept a detailed log of financial transactions with writers and actors, the dates of a play's performance, box office receipts, etc. (the full text of Henslowe's Diary is available on Google Book Search). In the diary, Christopher Marlowe's popularity as a playwright--even after his supposed death in 1593--is obvious, as we see records of his many plays that Henslowe produced, such as Tamburlaine I and II, Doctor Faustus, and The Jew of Malta. Yet an intriguing issue and omission, according to Samuel Blumenfeld in The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, is with the payouts Henslowe made to playwrights. As Blumenfeld states, "In those days, plays and all their rights were bought by the theater owners . . . writers were paid a single amount no matter how popular the play became, or how many performances were staged." Among the transactions (advances, IOU's, etc.) with the leading writers of the Elizabethan/Jacobean era--Jonson, Heywood, Middleton, et al.--there is no mention of any pay to William Shakespeare, despite the diary indicating that some plays we attribute to Shakespeare (Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew) were produced by Henslowe. As Blumenfeld succinctly puts it (and based on other evidence he lays out in his book), Shakespeare's name is not among the writers because "he was not one of them. He may have been an actor and part owner of a theatre, but he was clearly not a writer." In fact, the "prolific" Shakespeare has no mention of his name anywhere in the diary.
© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008
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