Friday, November 1, 2013

The Marlowe-Shakespeare Continuum

It's been several years in the making, but well worth the wait. Donna N. Murphy's new book is out: The Marlowe-Shakespeare Continuum: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, and the Authorship of Early Shakespeare and Anonymous Plays.  Inspired by Hoffman’s list of linguistic similarities between Marlowe and Shakespeare, Murphy refined the technique and became a specialist on the attribution of authorship of English Renaissance works, publishing a series of articles in Notes & Queries. 

When she co-won the Hoffman Prize in 2010 for her entry on Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and anonymous plays, she said her submission was a work in progress, and she needed to further investigate Marlowe’s friend, Thomas Nashe. She has finally published her path-forging work, which develops a vast web of linguistic interconnections indicating Marlowe, sometimes with Thomas Nashe, wrote certain Shakespeare and anonymous plays. Let’s ask her about it.

Q:  You’ve said that The Marlowe-Shakespeare Continuum takes the Shakespeare authorship question directly to the doorsteps of Stratfordian scholars. What do you mean by this?

DM:  My approach is scholarly. I make my case using linguistic Matches, Near Matches, Rare Scattered Word Clusters, Image Clusters, Logic, Biographical Connections and other similarities. I indicate when language similarities are due to deliberate parody as in the cases, I believe, of Marlowe and Nashe’s The Taming of a Shrew and Thomas Kyd’s Soliman and Perseda, as opposed to when they help flag authorship. Some Stratfordians claim that stylometrics or computational stylistics show that Marlowe didn’t “become” Shakespeare. I find that Marlowe co-authored certain Shakespeare plays with Thomas Nashe, so that works scholars have been using as “pure Shakespeare” to determine Shakespeareian attributes are actually by two authors. With these kinds of studies, you have to compare apples and apples. They’ve been comparing apples and oranges.

Q:  Why do you call it a “Continuum”?

DM:  “Both” Marlowe’s and Shakespeare’s styles changed over time, and Eliot Slater found that in Shakespeare, uncommon words tended to cluster chronologically, so I think chronology is quite important. I present clues that point to Marlowe’s Edward II and the first versions of II Henry VI and III Henry VI all being composed c. 1590, and then show that linguistically and stylistically, they are amazingly similar. But with the first version of II Henry VI, you also have to factor in co-authorship by Thomas Nashe of the Jack Cade scenes.

Q:  The “Thomas Nashe” angle is something new for Marlovians. Why do you keep raising him?

DM:  Because Nashe is a key piece in the Shakespeare authorship puzzle, plus I want to give him his due. Nashe was an incredibly funny author who possessed a bottomless vocabulary. Here are two excerpts from I Henry IV, written c. 1596-7, one Marlovian, the other Nasheian. In The Marlowe-Shakespeare Continuum, I go into detail about how I attribute authorship, but you can hear the difference:

King Henry IV. So shaken as we are, so wan with care,
Find we a time for frighted peace to pant
And breathe short-winded accents of new broils
To be commenced in strands afar remote.
No more the thirsty entrance of this soil
Shall daub her lips with her own children’s blood.
Nor more shall trenching war channel her fields,
Nor bruise her flow’rets with the armed hoofs
Of hostile paces. Those opposèd eyes,
Which, like the meteors of a troubled heaven,
All of one nature, of one substance bred,
Did lately meet in the intestine shock
And furious close of civil butchery. (I.i.1-13)


Falstaff. Bardolph, am I not fallen away vilely since this last
action? do I not bate? do I not dwindle? Why my
skin hangs about me like an like an old lady's loose
gown; I am withered like an old apple-john. Well,
I'll repent, and that suddenly, while I am in some
liking; I shall be out of heart shortly, and then I
shall have no strength to repent. An I have not
forgotten what the inside of a church is made of, I
am a peppercorn, a brewer's horse: the inside of a
church! Company, villanous company, hath been the
spoil of me.  (III.iii.1-12)

Q:  So one person didn’t write everything in the Shakespeare canon?

DM:  No, although Marlowe wrote the lion’s share of it. Co-authorship of plays was common at the time, and in Shakespeare, Co-Author, Brian Vickers provided ample linguistic evidence of co-authorship in Shakespeare’s I Henry VI (with Thomas Nashe), Titus Andronicus (with George Peele), Pericles (with George Wilkins), Timon of Athens (with Thomas Middleton), and Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen (both with John Fletcher). What scholars haven’t been able to do is break out a play between Marlowe and Shakespeare, because the “two” sound so much alike.

In the “Shakespeare” portion of Titus Andronicus, I present intriguing evidence of the presence of Marlowe and the presence of the author of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, i.e., “Shakespeare.” For example, regarding Christopher Marlowe, we know that he read the first three books of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (FQ) at least three years prior to their publication in 1590 (the rest of FQ appeared in 1596). The language of FQ heavily influenced I and II Tamburlaine, c. 1587. The 1590 edition of FQ was 18,081 lines long (606 pages), not counting dedications.

So far as I can determine, the earliest occurrence of the phrase “distressed plight” was in the FQ manuscript Marlowe read, where it appears twice: “Into most deadly danger and distressed plight” (II.12.11), and “To comfort me in my distressed plight” (III.5.35). Marlowe's I Tamburlaine picked up the last half of FQ’s III.5.35: “Ah, shepherd, pity my distressèd plight” (I.ii.7).

In the "Shakespeare" portion of Titus Andronicus, c. 1591-3, we find: “And rather comfort his distressèd plight” (IV.iv.32). Titus Andronicus did not take this language from I Tamburlaine, but rather directly from the line I Tamburlaine echoed in FQ, stitching on the word “comfort” from FQ III.5.35. It is not logical that two separate authors would remember the same line from Spenser’s 18,081-line poem.

Q:  Wow, that’s incredible! I can see that The Marlowe-Shakespeare Continuum has the potential to be a real game changer for the Shakespeare authorship debate.  You can read more about Donna’s book and order a copy at

Donna Murphy is also the author of The Mysterious Connection between Thomas Nashe, Thomas Dekker and T. M.: An English Renaissance Deception? Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012. 

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, November 2013 


daver852 said...

I think you are spot on here. There are many passages in both Marlowe and Shakespeare, especially some of the comedic scenes, that just sound so much like Nashe that I have always thought he must have written them.

Maureen Duff said...

This sounds very plausible, Donna. In the absence of hard evidence of authorship, ie authentic sworn statements signed by the real author(s) and/or their contemporaries, an analysis of the language and style of the "Shakespeare" plays is the best indicator we have of who lies (no pun intended) at the heart of this fascinating mystery. I look forward to reading your book.

Donna Murphy said...

Thank you, daver852 and Maureen. To me, looking at uncommon linguistic connections yields a logical solution, whereas the notion that William Shakspere of Stratford wrote the works, given what we know about his biography, is decidedly illogical.