Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kyd, Marlowe, Shakespeare: Who Wrote Edward III? by Daryl Pinksen

A recent announcement1 from Brian Vickers claims to have settled the longstanding mystery of who wrote Edward III.2 The play, likely written around 1590, has come down to us without attribution, but there are clues in its style that have guided speculation about its authorship. These efforts have tended to focus on Shakespeare and Marlowe as possible authors, since the play bears apparent hallmarks of their styles, expressions and diction.

Edward III is a significant play as it spans the historical gap between Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II and the early Shakespeare play Richard II. It’s a good play, good enough to be considered in the same league as the Marlowe and Shakespeare plays, but its lack of attribution has led some commentators to wonder if perhaps some third party were responsible; in the nineteenth century, J.A. Symonds speculated, without irony, that Edward III may have been written “by some imitator of Shakespeare’s Marlowesque manner."3

Vickers, noting passages in the play which reminded him of the voice of Thomas Kyd (famous in his day as the creator of the influential and successful Spanish Tragedy), used word counting software to compare the play to the acknowledged works of Kyd and Shakespeare. Vickers came to the conclusion that Thomas Kyd had written some 60% of Edward III, with Shakespeare contributing the other 40%. This raises some interesting possibilities. If Vickers is right, then it would appear that Shakespeare would have collaborated with Thomas Kyd before May 1593, and therefore before Shakespeare’s name first appeared as a writer in June 1593.

In May 1593 Thomas Kyd had been arrested after “fragments of a disputation”—portions of a book which outlined the anti-trinitarian Arian heresy—were found in his possession. He was imprisoned for some time, and according to his own account, treated harshly by his jailors. Kyd emerged from prison a scandalized and broken man, shunned by his former employer, Lord Strange (the patron of Lord Strange’s Men, the group of players which would soon evolve into the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the company in which Shakespeare became sharer in 1594). Kyd never worked again; despite his protestations, he was unable to re-establish his reputation and win back the favour of Lord Strange or any other theatre company’s patron. By August 1594, Thomas Kyd was dead.

Vickers assigns to Shakespeare the first three acts of Edward III, plus another scene later on, suggesting that Shakespeare’s involvement predated Kyd’s. If true, this would mean that Shakespeare could have known Thomas Kyd and worked with him during the period when Kyd was associated with Lord Strange’s players. It’s an intriguing thought, and opens up wide latitude for speculation about Shakespeare’s involvement with Kyd, as well as others in Kyd’s circle, such as Lord Strange and Christopher Marlowe. There’s only one problem: there is no evidence that Shakespeare ever met Thomas Kyd. There is however, a writer who did know Thomas Kyd, and knew him quite well—Christopher Marlowe.

Kyd’s room had been searched when he fell under suspicion of being the author of the so-called “Dutch Church Libel,"4 a posted threat against London Huguenots, written in blank verse and laden with allusions to Marlowe’s plays. After his release, suspicion still hung over him and Kyd wrote to Sir John Puckering asking to have his name cleared. In the course of the conversation, Kyd revealed several details about his relationship with Marlowe, who by that time had been declared dead. The papers found in his possession that got him arrested, Kyd said, belonged to Marlowe.5 It must have gotten mixed in with his own papers, Kyd explained, during the period when he and Marlowe were writing together in the same chamber. Kyd reported—or perhaps reminded—that Marlowe had affirmed that the offending papers indeed were his.6
When I was first suspected for that Libel that concerned the State, amongst those waste and idle papers (which I cared not for) and which unasked I did deliver up, were found some fragments of a disputation touching that opinion, affirmed by Marlowe to be his, and shuffled with some of mine unknown to me by some occasion of our writing in one chamber two years since.7
What were Kyd and Marlowe doing writing in the same chamber? Marlowe, according to Kyd, was a difficult man to deal with. If they were working on separate projects, there was no need for them to work in the same space. We do not know, but it is possible that they were working collaboratively, which would explain their writing in close quarters. If so, then their collaboration might still be in existence, given that Marlowe and Kyd were arguably the most popular playwrights in London at that time.

It turns out that Brian Vickers is not the only scholar who has done computer-assisted research trying to establish the authorship of Edward III. Tom Merriam, using a different yardstick, argued in 2000 that the play was “suggestive of a Marlovian framework, reworked and added to by Shakespeare."8 Merriam and Vickers both use what appear to be sound methodologies, yet arrive at very different conclusions.9

There is a solution which might satisfy both the literary and the historical evidence, but we would need to suspend for a moment the assumption that the Marlowe and Shakespeare plays were written by two different writers. When Tom Merriam identifies passages in Edward III that are similar to Marlowe’s and other passages that resemble Shakespeare, this is exactly what we would expect if Marlowe were the writer of both bodies of work.10 The play would necessarily resemble Marlowe’s plays in some places, and in other places would resemble the plays printed in Shakespeare’s name.

And when Brian Vickers identifies Thomas Kyd’s influence in the play, there is a ready answer for this, where none exists for Shakespeare, if it were Marlowe, not Shakespeare, whom Kyd collaborated with on Edward III. Documented evidence that he and Marlowe spent time writing together in the same chamber, during the period when Edward III was created, helps support this hypothesis.

There is a real possibility that a Marlowe/Kyd collaboration happened. The work of Tom Merriam and Brian Vickers suggests Edward III may be that play.

Daryl Pinksen

© Daryl Pinksen, May 2010

Daryl Pinksen, a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, is the author of Marlowe's Ghost, Grand Prize Winner of the 17th Annual Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Awards.

See Daryl on YouTube discussing the Marlowe theory of Shakespeare authorship.

1Time Magazine. “Plagiarism Software Finds a New Shakespeare Play.” Oct. 20, 2009.,8599,1930971,00.html
2Full text of Edward III available online at Project Gutenberg.
3Brooke, C. F. Tucker, ed. 1908. The Shakespeare Apocrypha: Being a Collection of Fourteen Plays Which Have Been Ascribed to Shakespeare. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. (1967 printing at the Oxford University Press, London). p. xxii.
4See “Peter Farey’s Marlowe Page” for a transcription.
5“On 12 May, in a dark scratchy hand, one of them [Kyd’s interrogators] endorsed the document with these words:
Vile hereticall conceipts denyinge the deity of Jhesus Christ our Savior, founde amongst the papers of Thos Kydd, prisoner.
Then, in a different ink, he added: ‘wch he affirmeth that he had ffrom Marlowe’.” Nicholl, Charles. 2002. The Reckoning. Vintage: London. p. 50-51 for a transcription of Kyd’s arrest.
6Both Charles Nicholl (2002. The Reckoning. p. 353) and Constance Kuriyama (2002. Christopher Marlowe. p. 144) interpret Kyd’s claim of what Marlowe “affirmed to be his” was the opinions contained in the fragments, rather than the fragments themselves.
7Modern translation of a transcription from “Peter Farey’s Marlowe Page.”
8Merriam, Tom. “Edward III.” Literary and Linguistic Computing. Volume 15, No. 2, 2000. p.157.
9“[identifying co-authorship] is initially ‘subjective’, in the sense that all knowledge of the world is mediated through individual perceiving agents, but it can be formulated and tested objectively, once adequate methods have been evolved.” Vickers, Brian. 2002. Shakespeare, Co-Author. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 47.
10For a discussion of the closeness of the Shakespeare style to Marlowe’s, visit
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Luanna255 said...

What a beautifully logical piece! The theory makes absolute sense and all of the evidence does seem to point that way.

Daryl Pinksen said...

Thanks Luanna,

"Beautifully logical" is high praise, and if I have come close to achieving this, it was not without help. I have to thank Peter Farey for taking the time to critique this piece and hammering off the rough edges. I also received input from Ros Barber, Isabel Gortazar and John Hermann which was very helpful. And of course, Carlo DiNota for editing and publishing the work.

That's how we roll at the IMSS!

Daryl Pinksen

Isabel Gortazar said...

Well done, Daryl!

DresdenDoll said...


RobertW said...

I agree with Luanna.

Reasonable people would certainly agree (based on Pinksen's post) that there is a strong likelihood Kyd and Marlowe collaborated.

Peter Farey said...

Daryl wrote: "I have to thank Peter Farey for taking the time to critique this piece and hammering off the rough edges". I appreciate his saying this, but what Daryl doesn't mention is how, by several of us reviewing each others drafts, the learning usually goes in both directions. For example, I was very much against his interpretation of Kyd's words "some fragments of a disputation toching that opinion, affirmed by Marlowe to be his". It had never occurred to me that it might be the "fragments" themselves rather than the "opinion" which Marlowe had affirmed to be his. By discussing it between us all, however, it eventually dawned on me that this made much more sense than any interpretation offered by Marlowe's biographers so far! As Daryl says: "That's how we roll at the IMSS!"

Peter Farey

Rado Klose said...

This whacks the nail on the head. Kyds' little remark has always seemed extraordinarily significant. One comes across an enormous amount of Stratfordian bluster when they confront Marlowe. " facts of life thin" "almost nothing known" name attached to plays later" "double standards "etc etc. Except we know for absolutely sure he was a writer other than by title pages. This they never mention. Apropos of Marlowes relationship with Kydd isn't there a tantalizing connection with the mythical Ur-hamlet? Said to be by Kydd (or in collaboration) later developed by "Shakespeare" into the surviving play.

Ros Barber said...

It's a great piece, Daryl, well done. I loved the discussion that came out of it, too.

Peter Farey said...

The trouble is that the older one gets, the slower on the uptake one becomes too. Thanks to something said by Anthony Kellett - who hasn't had a mention so far - I finally accepted that Daryl was most probably right to say that what Marlowe had affirmed was that the pieces of paper were his, and not necessarily the opinions expressed on them as I had always assumed. What has only just dawned on me is that this does in fact solve a problem for me concerning Marlowe's beliefs which I had until now tucked away in the "too difficult" drawer.

As everyone here knows by now, I believe that Marlowe was the real author of the works of Shakespeare. I have also shown, I think, that the Sonnets (particularly numbers 109, 110, 111, 112 and especially 125) show the author to have been an out-and-out "there is no God" atheist. (See the essay Hoffman and the Authorship on my website.)
The views expressed in the "vile heretical conceits" found among Kyd's papers weren't atheistic, however, but antitrinitarian, which is a very different matter. So if these weren't affirmed by him to be his opinions, only his papers, what would have otherwise been at least one impediment to my argument that his views were completely atheistic are in fact removed.

Peter Farey

Isabel Gortazar said...

I would think twice before asserting that the man who wrote Hamlet was and atheist. The plot does not make it imperative that Hamlet should be a "believer," and yet: "There is Providence in the fall of a sparrow" and "I wish that the Everlasting hath not fixedt his Canon 'gainst self-slaughter." Etc.

It seems to me that your first impression was perhaps the right one: he certainly was anti-trinitarian and he distrusted all organized religions, but someone as "occupied" by religious themes as Marlowe/Shakespeare was, from Dr Faustus to Hamlet, could hardly be an atheist.

However, people change. A man who is an agnostic at twenty may become and atheist at forty. And then again, he may turn back to be an agnostic at sixty. "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio..."

My own impression of the works is that he doesn't like the Churches, any of them, but as for God, he simply doesn't know.

Treat said...

first time here, great website!

Rado Klose said...

What word counting software? Different and more reliable than Mildenhall or Peter Fareys' later refinement and expansion thereof? I think we should be told

Daryl Pinksen said...

"The problem with Vickers' and Merriam's assumptions."


I don't know which program was used, but I would imagine that Microsoft Word would be able to perform the necessary tasks, such as finding and counting word strings.

The methodology would proceed like this: First, established works by a writer are analyzed, then idiosyncratic words or word clusters used by that writer (but not others) at high frequencies are established as that writer's literary fingerprint.

Once established, these become points of comparison with scenes (or whole acts) in plays of contested authorship like Edward III. If the frequencies of use of the comparison words and phrases matches a known writer's works, it is taken as evidence of that writer's hand in the scene or act of the contested work.

Ideally, a number of different comparisons would all yield the same result, increasing confidence in the attribution. However, in this case Merriam and Vickers separate methodologies lead to different conclusions, even though both seem equally valid.

The problem with their methods is that words and phrases that are common to both Marlowe and Shakespeare must be ignored by the experimenters, since their occurrence in cases of contested authorship would not be able to distinguish between them.

Here's the problem: While words and phrases of similar frequencies in both bodies of work are ignored, phrases which occur in one body of work with greater frequency than the other would be taken as proof of separate authorship, even though we are looking at two clusters of plays separated by time.

The obvious problem with this method is that an evolution in style is seen in both the Marlowe and Shakespeare plays, with only a short period of chronological overlap. But Merriam and Vickers must treat the two bodies of work as discrete entities in order to obtain the required distinctions between them.

In short, the assumption that Marlowe did not write Shakespeare affects the assumptions made by the experimenters, first in identifying points of distinction between the two bodies of work, and second in ignoring the frequent and sustained commonalities between them, brushing them off as the result of Shakespeare echoing/emulating/copying/following Christopher Marlowe.

Echoes of Marlowe in Shakespeare said...

From Brian Vickers "Shakespeare:Co-Author" 2002

“The second approach to authorship studies that I wish to discuss derives, like the first, from the familiar experience of reading or seeing a play and being reminded of some other’s work.” p. 57

Space is too limited here to detail all of the instances where passages in Shakespeare have reminded readers of Marlowe's work. In the 19th century many scholars openly considered the possibility that some portion of Shakespeare's early plays were written by other writers, with Marlowe the name most mentioned. That era ended with an absolute prohibition against "disintegrators" challenging the purity of the First Folio.

The prohibition has now vanished, led by Vickers, and seconded by Wells and Shapiro, with most scholars now acknowledging that large chunks of the Shakespeare Canon were written by collaborators. What is different about the modern discussion of collaborative influence in Shakespeare is that Marlowe's name is absent from the list.

This is telling. No other writer comes to mind more than Marlowe when reading Shakespeare. Yet every line, every passage, every scene in Shakespeare which vividly recalls Marlowe has been dismissed by scholarship as conscious or unconscious plagiarism on Shakespeare's part.

Rado Klose said...

Thanks Daryl for your informative and lucid reply. In a nutshell then Shakespeare and Marlowe can only be separated on the basis of an apriori
judgement. This may be scholarship among certain literary folk but it wouldn't get past the lab door.

Rado Klose said...

Hi Daryl (or anyone )
has anyone speculated how these multiple colaborations might have worked? Modern examples seem to indicate that writing partnerships tend to be rather stable. as they surely depend on a comfortable personal and professional relationship ( Where for example does Galton end and Simpson start.)Did they write alternate scenes or lines? Did one finish a bit send it on get it back etc.? Did the theater companies farm the work out to jobbing writers? Cue scene in tavern "Great news Will I've got a scene in Macbeth and a bisto advert to do this week". If these secondary writers can can be securely identified how does this work with an exiled Marlowe? Surely he would have to be holed up somewhere in the U.K. To me it all looks a little like a furious concentration on the trees in the hope that not too many people notice the wood that is being ignored.

Daryl Pinksen said...


Commenting on how each collaborative effort worked is a risky business. I can comment on the Henry VI plays, which are taken to be collaborations between Shakespeare, Peele, Nashe and Greene, and Titus Andronicus, which is now assumed to have been begun by George Peele. These playwrights were all close acquaintances of Christopher Marlowe, while there is no mention of any relationship with Shakespeare (Greene's "upstart Crow" comment, about Edward Alleyn, included).

As to the later claims of co-authorship: Wilkins on Pericles, Middleton on Timon of Athens, and Fletcher on Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsmen, I could argue that these were plays begun by one man, then finished by the other, but since I have no proof of this, nor is there proof against this explanation, we are no further ahead. There's a vacuum.

This might help. Look at the 1597 edition of Hero and Leander. The first 2 sestiads by Marlowe, the last 4 by Chapman. We know this because Chapman details what happened in his dedication. But if there had been no dedication, as is the case with most plays, then all we would have would be a single work with two separate and distinct patterns of writing and unprovable speculation about how it happened.

This proves nothing about the collaborative plays, but it does illustrate the point that collaboration does not have to be contemporaneous.

Rado Klose said...

Hi Daryl
Thanks again for your reply. It seems that if your method of analysis doesn't produce the result you want then you look for one that does. I remain suspicious. Apropos of Hero and Leander there is a stylometric procedure ( a pure counting method which leaves out all subjective judgments ) that says that the man who wrote the first two sestiads wrote the last four. That is, it's all Marlowe.

Ros Barber said...

Then I would say there's something wrong with that particular method of stylometrics. I'm not convinced that *all* stylometric methods aren't, in fact, fundamentally flawed.

That aside, if we are adopting the idea that Marlowe is Shake-speare, there are very good reasons for believing Chapman wrote the completion of Hero & Leander: the Rival Poet sonnets. Bear in mind that Chapman was put forward as the Rival Poet by William Minto as early as 1874, and rejected only because no-one could find a biographical link between Chapman and William Shakespeare. Chapman claimed to have been visited by the ghost of Homer ("by spirits taught to write"). If you read Sonnets 78-86 as addressed to Thomas Walsingham (re "both your poets"), the completion of Hero and Leander by Chapman, and Chapman's relationship with Marlowe's friend and patron, looks like a clear cause.