Saturday, February 28, 2009

On Mendenhall and compelling evidence of Marlowe authorship by Daryl Pinsken

In 1887, physicist T.C. Mendenhall decided to study the word-length frequencies of writers − the frequency at which writers tended to use words of varying lengths − in a quest to find a mathematical way of proving or disproving authorship. To accomplish this he counted the numbers of one-letter, two-letter, three-letter words, etc., in a text, calculated the percentages of each word length used (the frequency), and displayed the results on a graph. He discovered that writers’ word-length frequency curves remained consistent, and more important, that each writer’s characteristic word-length frequency curve differed from those of other writers.1

In 1901, a wealthy Bostonian named Augustus Hemingway, having heard of Mendenhall’s work, commissioned him to carry out a comparative study of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, including Christopher Marlowe. Hemingway believed Francis Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare, and he was convinced that Mendenhall had found a way to prove it.

Using Hemingway’s money, Mendenhall hired two women to count the words of various lengths in each of the works. They had to manually count millions of words. Unfortunately for Hemingway, the overall word-length frequencies of Bacon and Shakespeare were very different (although, to be fair, Mendenhall compared Bacon’s prose with Shakespeare’s blank verse, two genres since shown to differ markedly in word-length frequency).

Mendenhall discovered that Shakespeare used significantly more four-letter words than three-letter words. Every other English writer Mendenhall studied, including Shakespeare’s playwright contemporaries, used more three-letter words than any other length. After a while, Mendenhall and his assistants could recognize unidentified blocks of Shakespeare from the four-letter-word spike alone. But when his assistants began to count the words in the Marlowe plays, Mendenhall realized that the Shakespeare curve was not unique after all. To his surprise, the Marlowe and Shakespeare curves were nearly identical. Here is Mendenhall’s reaction to the discovery:

“It was in the counting and plotting of the plays of Christopher Marlowe, however, that something akin to a sensation was produced among those actually engaged in the work. Here was a man to whom it has always been acknowledged, Shakespeare was deeply indebted; one of whom able critics have declared that he ‘might have written the plays of Shakespeare.’ … Even this did not lessen the interest with which it was discovered that in the characteristic curve of his plays Christopher Marlowe agrees with Shakespeare about as well as Shakespeare agrees with himself, as is shown in Fig.9” 2

(In Fig. 9, word length is shown on the horizontal axis, and frequency, in number of words out of a thousand, on the vertical axis. For example, Mendenhall found that Marlowe and Shakespeare both used 2-letter words about 175 times out of a 1000, or 17.5% of the time).

Mendenhall’s study made no impact on Shakespearean scholarship, but it did energize a small number of proponents of the Marlowe theory and persuaded others that perhaps the Marlowe theory was worth further investigation.

The study sat idle for decades until Peter Farey decided to extend Mendenhall’s work.3 Farey chose a group of authors and, using electronic texts and word-counting software, performed a comparison of two large chunks of text by each writer, calculating how closely each writer agreed with him or herself. All of the writers agreed with themselves quite closely.4

Next, Farey moved on to a comparison of Shakespeare and Marlowe. Mendenhall had not noticed that authors' word-length frequency usage could change over time and genre, but Farey had discovered that the word-length frequency curves for Marlowe's earlier works differed from his later ones, and that Shakespeare's comedies differed from his non-comedies. The differences were subtle but significant. Accordingly, Farey chose to compare Marlowe's later plays with Shakespeare's histories and tragedies (since none of the Marlowe works are comedies) to eliminate the effects of time and genre. In his Marlowe-Shakespeare comparison, Farey found the agreement was statistically closer than any other writer had been with himself.5

The match between the two curves is astonishing. Farey’s method is easily reproducible, and it is accompanied by rigourous statistical analysis. As such it merits serious attention from mainstream scholarship. Like Mendenhall before him, Farey’s work has not penetrated the mainstream to any large extent. The standard scholarly explanation of the origins of Shakespeare’s style, that he began his career by imitating Marlowe, is invoked to explain why the word counts of the two respective writers are so similar. But even allowing for this, it would still require a strong coincidence for Shakespeare to obtain this degree of match with Marlowe, especially since it would have to have happened unconsciously.

My contribution to the debate was to look at the word counts of individual Shakespeare plays. Did they all look more or less alike? Using a counting method shared with me by Peter Farey, I counted the words of twenty-one Shakespeare plays, randomly chosen across the whole canon. I plotted all twenty-one curves, along with the overall average, on a single graph.

What is immediately striking is the amount of variation between individual plays. What this variation tells us is that the average curve for Shakespeare could have assumed many different shapes. There was no underlying principle forcing it to average out in this manner.6

The graph emphasizes how remarkable Mendenhall's and Farey’s results actually are. The possibility that two writers, both showing variability in individual plays, could arrive at the same average curve by chance, is exceedingly small. Mendenhall's and Farey’s studies provide compelling evidence for a Marlowe authorship of the Shakespeare plays.

Daryl Pinksen

© Daryl Pinksen, February 2009

Daryl Pinksen, a regular contributor to MSC and author of Marlowe's Ghost, is a Fellow of the School of Graduate Studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Click here to reach Daryl Pinksen's website.

Click here for another piece by Daryl Pinksen on style similarities.

Click here to see what the scholars say about the similarities between Marlowe and Shakespeare (courtesy of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society).

1Mendenhall, T. C. 1887. The Characteristic Curves of Composition. Science Vol 9: 237–49.
2Mendenhall, T. C. 1901. A Mechanical Solution of a Literary Problem. The Popular Science Monthly Vol LX: 97–105.
3Peter Farey’s Marlowe Page
4Peter Farey’s Marlowe Page
5Peter Farey’s Marlowe Page
6Pinksen, Daryl. 2008. Marlowe’s Ghost: The Blacklisting of the Man Who Was Shakespeare. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse. (p. 55)

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(keywords: shakespeare and marlowe similarities and differences; marlowe shakespeare computer analysis))

Debunking Shakespeare & his "lost years": Mike Rubbo's John Baker interviews, circa 2000

The many strikes against the Shakespeare-as-author theory. Marlovian scholar John Baker on Shakespeare’s “lost years,” lack of education, time-management problem, daughters’ illiteracy, etc. A great clip to show to people still on the fence regarding the authorship issue. Click here for video.

Video outtake from Mike Rubbo's film Much Ado About Something. Courtesy of Mike Rubbo.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mike Rubbo explores Shakespeare authorship in Tampa

Click here to read Tampa Tribune's piece about Mike Rubbo's visit to Berkeley Prep in Tampa, Florida. Be sure to check out the online photo gallery and online video, as well.

(photo credit: Scott Iskowitz/ The Tampa Tribune)

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MSC Exclusive Video: Mike Rubbo on Marlowe-as-Shakespeare theory's "smoking gun"

We recently caught up with Emmy-winning filmmaker Mike Rubbo in Sarasota, Florida. Click here to watch our interview.

Click here to purchase Mike's critically acclaimed PBS/Frontline documentary Much Ado About Something, which explores the Marlowe-as-Shakespeare theory. Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times praises: " . . . an inviting piece of film . . . Much Ado About Something is a film of ideas - well, notions, anyway - that are bound to stimulate discussion, an aspect long missing from documentary."

Click here also for Mike Rubbo: Portrait of a Filmmaker by Violeta Braña-Lafourcade, on YouTube.

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© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, February 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Not Bacon! by Isabel Gortázar

There are so many reasons why I am sure Francis Bacon did NOT write Shakespeare, that to explain them all would exceed the limits of this article.

I shall leave aside, for the moment, the various clues in the texts of the First Folio, showing the undying resentment that Marlowe nursed against Bacon for his betrayal of the Earl of Essex - a betrayal that resulted in Essex’s death and, indirectly, in Marlowe’s dying in exile. Instead, I will focus on the strictly objective reasons provided by Bacon’s own work, and I shall attempt to prove that nothing in his highly talented, persnickety, sour, misogynist mind could be mistaken for the depth of understanding and compassion that is the essence of the Great Bard.

In the following poem, Bacon displays his un-Shakespearean banality, both in content and style.

Yet since with sorrow here we live oppressed,
What life is best?
Courts are but only superficial schools,
To dandle fools.
The rural parts are turned into a den,
Of savage men.
And where's a city from all vice so free,
But may be termed the worst of all the three?

Domestic cares afflict the husband's bed,
Or pains his head.
Those that live single take it for a curse,
Or do things worse.
Some would have children; those that have them none,
Or wish them gone.
What is it then to have or have no wife,
But single thraldom or a double strife.

Our own affections still at home to please,
Is a disease.
To cross the sea to any foreign soil,
Perils and toil.
Wars with their noise affright us; when they cease,
Wars worse in peace.
What then remains, but that we still should cry:
Not to be born, or being born to die?

Does this sound like Shakespeare? I don’t think so. The sour misogyny and querulous tone of the poem would have given Shakespeare the creeps. And what does he mean by: Those that live single take it for a curse, / Or do things worse?

Bacon’s homosexuality would be nobody’s business but his own, except for the misery that he seems to have felt on its account. Unlike other notorious homosexuals of his time, such as his brother Anthony and King James, whose licentiousness permeated the entire fabric of the Court, Francis Bacon’s writings distill barrels of bitterness against women for being women, and against himself for loathing them.

But before I move on, I would like to know in what way could the poem above quoted, published under Bacon’s own name, be less indiscreet, or dangerous in any way, than the various Shakespeare poems. What fearful secrets, not yet revealed after 500 years, are encoded in the 154 Shakespeare Sonnets, that made it necessary for Bacon to use an alias and to waive forever all the glory and profit that he might have derived from them? For a man that was endemically short of cash, this is difficult to understand. Nor could social status be the reason; the Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse contains poems from two monarchs and a number of aristocrats, including the Earls of Essex and Oxford, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Philip Sidney, to name only a few.

Now let’s look at Bacon’s Essays.2 They are not as interesting as Montaigne’s, but they are curious and well written. One cannot fail to admire the precise mind that produced them, even though most of what they say is by now irrelevant. And this is another major difference with the Shakespearean output, all of which is as relevant today as it was 500 years ago.

Bacon writes about down-to-earth reality such as he sees it, with a sententious, precise language worthy of better causes. He discourses on nearly all matters, divine and human, without room for a single smile, or a single flight of fancy. Here and there, we get a glimpse of the author’s bitterness, trying to explain himself to himself. As in, for example: Ambition is like Choler, Which is an Humour, that maketh Men Active, Earnest, Full of Alacritie, and Stirring, if it be not stopped. But if it be stopped, and cannot haue his Way, it becommeth Adust, and thereby Maligne and Venomous.3

And the Essays provide much information about his view of women. In his Essay: On Beauty, Bacon starts by stating that Vertue is like a rich stone, best set plaine; And surely Vertue is best in a body that is comely, though not of Delicate Features. (…) Neither it is almost seene, that very Beautifull Persons, are otherwise of great Vertue. Having established this general rule, he admits that there may be exceptions, and he then mentions six men in history, who were all High and Great Sprits; And yet the most Beautifull Men of their Times. Needless to say, women are not mentioned at all; not even Helen of Troy gets a line of commendation.

In Of Marriage and Single Life, we read that wives and children are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Certainly the best works and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men. And later: wives are young men’s mistresses, companions for middle age, and old men’s nurses.

His marriage must have been a lark. At the age of forty-five, Francis Bacon had married the fourteen-year-old Alice Barnham. The couple had no children; Bacon disinherited his wife for some unknown reason the year before he died. Alice Bacon married someone else two weeks after Sir Francis’s death.

A profound respect for, and understanding of, women is perhaps the most conspicuous characteristic in the Shakespearean Canon, which fact helps us to dismiss both Shakespeare and Bacon as possible authors, on the grounds of their well-documented family life. (Marlowe’s alleged homosexuality, based exclusively on the charges presented by his enemy,Richard Baines, cannot be taken seriously; and his early heroes, such as Tamburlaine and Faustus, are both heterosexual.)

It is important to realize how the capacity for rebellion and independence in women is important to Shakespeare, and how insistently he explores (both as Marlowe and later), the myriad nuances of the use that women make of whatever power they have, from the murderous power of Catherine of Medicis and Lady Macbeth, to the self-liberating power of Rosalind, Beatrice and Viola, or the self-serving power of Dido, Volumnia and Cleopatra. Even the angelic Cordelia and Desdemona show a considerable measure of self-respect and the capacity to make dangerous choices.

And there is no denying that the author loves and admires these women he has invented (or perhaps known): their panache, their wit. He loves those thoroughly modern Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford, the Merry but ruthlessly independent Wives of Windsor; he loves Rosalind and Beatrice. How could Francis Bacon, the woman-hater, have written those comedies?

In his Masonic Utopia, New Atlantis, 4 Bacon describes The Feast of the Family (my italics): “It is granted to any man that shall live to see thirty persons descended of his body, alive together and all above three years old, to make this feast. The Father of the Family, whom they call the Tirsan, (a possible anagram for artisan, with its connotations of the Masonic Craft)…taketh to him three of such friends as he liketh to choose…The Tirsan cometh forth with all his generation or lineage, the males before him,and the females following him; and if there be a mother from whose body the whole lineage is descended, there is a traverse placed in a loft above, on the right hand of the chair, with a privy door, and a carved window, leaded with gold and blue, where she sitteth but is not seen. …” etc.

Freud would have had a field day exploring the mind of a man who disliked and, possibly, feared women as much as that. Renaissance Freemasons were explicitly sexist, but this Tirsan seems to consider the exercise of procreation so distasteful to a man that he deserves a national feast to glorify his public- spirited effort for, he says, the King is debtor to no man but for the propagation of his subjects. The mother of those children, the woman he had to take to his bed out of duty to his King, will be allowed to attend the ceremony, as long as she remains out of sight!

Now, this was not the situation of women in Jacobean England, bad as it was. It is no good trying to explain this mise-en-scene in terms of the period’s social mores. This is a ceremony that Bacon is inventing for his Utopian New Atlantis, a ritual that he describes with obvious approval. The narcissistic treatment he lavishes on the Father and the subordinate role he gives to the Mother, is not just early Masonic, it is thoroughly Baconian. When Shakespeare creates his plucky heroines he does so in the very same period (actually some twenty-five years earlier), within the same social rules for women. But while Shakespeare obviously wishes his heroines more liberated than women actually were at the time, Bacon, in his ideal City of Bensalem,wishes them totally subordinate to the male, and invisible!

Here is Emilia’s rebellious speech (Othello FF- Act IV, 3):

But I do think it is their husbands' faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite;
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge.

Bravo, Emilia! Was Alice Barnham at all like her and is that the reason why she was disinherited? We can see that Shakespeare is openly on Emilia’s side, but such a wife would have been a nightmare for Francis Bacon.

Isabel Gortázar

© Isabel Gortázar, February 2009

Isabel Gortázar can be reached at

1The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse: Farnaby, Florilegium Epigrammatum Graecorum, 1629.
2 The Essayes or Counsels Civill and Morall of Francis Lo.Verulam Viscount St Alban, London. Printed by John Haviland for Hanna Barret, 1625.
3The Essays. Op cit; On Ambition.
4Francis Bacon: New Atlantis (Three Early Modern Utopias), Oxford World’s Classics, Ed. Susan Bruce, Oxford University Press, 1999.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Allure of Marlowe by D.K. Marley

Imagine this: meandering down a corridor in the great Globe Theatre full of relics of the past, all speaking William Shakespeare's name. But, of course, before that day you had no reason to consider any other name nor had any such thought been presented to you. And then, it happens. You round the corner and before you is a wall that displays the names and faces of five men that could have been the writer of the plays.

This is what happened to me. I perused the names with interest and amazement. Like finding a rare antique at a yard sale that someone missed, Christopher Marlowe's face stared back at me and my heart skipped a beat. How could the world have missed the obvious; how could I? The sparkling little trinket of truth that spoke to me as if his ghost whispered in my ear, "Tell my story. Foul deeds will rise though all the world o'erwhelm them to men's eyes."

I suppose I could have chosen any of the men, but something moved me. From the very moment, Marlowe's allure buried in his mysterious eyes made me know a story lay there hidden, waiting to burst forth. Within a week and endless hours on the internet and at the library, the clues he left behind, the secret little smile in his Cambridge portrait and the knowing glint in his eyes lay before me. The pieces of the puzzle fit together like never before: the treasured words of Christopher Marlowe, the Muse's Darling, and not the man from Stratford, linked into a beautiful and tragic telling of a man who knew the world. Here was the man who travelled the continent, who knew court life and country travails, politics and provocateurs, religion, science, languages, intrigue, love, betrayal, and exile. All the meaty experience to fill the pages of mighty plays and sonnets.

One of the first things that we are told as writers is, "Write what you know." The adage cannot have changed since the 16th century. Marlowe wrote what he knew, leaving behind the clues, which were a common and clever tool used by writers of the day. So I ask, why buy a reproduction when you can have the real thing? It's a lot more fun to dig for authentic Marlovian gold than float along with the crowd picking up synthetic Shakespearean souvenirs.

And if you listen closely, you may hear his voice, as well. "I have a whole school of tongues in this belly of mine, and not a tongue of them all speaks any other word but my name."

D.K. Marley

© D.K. Marley, February 2009

D.K. Marley is a historical fiction writer specializing in Shakespearean topics. She is the author of A Reckoning for the Sparrow, which imagines Christopher Marlowe as the true author of the Shakespeare works. The novel awaits publication. She is also the editor of Soliloquy Literary Magazine. D.K. resides in Georgia and is presently working on a novel about the life of the real Lady Macbeth. She can be reached at

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Clue in The Taming of the Shrew: a question for Isabel Gortázar

We caught up with veteran Marlovian researcher Isabel Gortázar, whose exceptional work has appeared in the Marlowe Society Newsletter and Marlowe Society Research Journal. After a lifetime in publishing, Isabel is now attempting to retire from business in order to spend more time researching the Marlowe-Shakespeare connection. Isabel shares her time between Spain and England.

Q: Isabel, your 2004 article, "The Clue in The Shrew" (Research Journal, Dec. 04), which you have recently revised and is now available in the Marlowe Society Research Journal (Vol. 6, 2009), presents a fascinating examination of The Taming of the Shrew's rather unusual Induction scene. Your brilliant exegesis makes a most compelling case that the Deptford incident, or "farce" as you call it, is strongly alluded to in the prelude, which you see as a kind of riddle containing clues about Marlowe's staged death on May 30, 1593. What triggered this reading of The Shrew for you, Isabel?

Isabel: I have great difficulty in accepting that any work of art by a major artist may be seriously flawed. In my experience, every time you come across a work of art that seems to be illogical or unfinished, all you need to do is to allow yourself an exercise in lateral thinking. This has never failed me so far. For example, Mozart has one allegedly “flawed” major opera, The Magic Flute, but there is nothing flawed about The Flute; all you need is to ask yourself the right questions. This is just one example of many.

When I re-read The Shrew by chance, previous to attending a performance in Stratford, I realized I was up against one of these “flawed” masterpieces; clearly the Induction made no sense, so lateral thinking was required. I knew there was an answer somewhere waiting to be found and, frankly, I was shocked by the absurdities that the critics of all times have offered as explanations for the “unfinished” Induction and the “disappearance” of Christopher Sly.

In these cases, my habit is to strip the – apparently - nonsensical part to its bare essentials. In this case: A man called Christopher Sly, after a quarrel with a Hostess in a Tavern over a bill is left in a ditch appearing to be dead. But Christopher is not dead at all; he is rescued by a Lord and his Servants, and invited to dine and watch a “comedy”. While this comedy is being performed and our attention distracted, Christopher Sly disappears and is never heard of again.

Once you focus on this abridged and simplified reading of the Induction, provided of course you are prepared both to question the authorship of William Shakespeare and the possibility that Marlowe did not die in Deptford, the so-called flaw disappears and the message of the farcical Induction becomes crystal clear.

After hitting on the basic message, it has taken me years to get to the bottom of the clues, and I am sure I am still missing something. In that respect, the recently revised version (2008) includes a few fascinating clues that I had not found four years ago.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, February 2009

Isabel Gortázar can be reached at

Editor's note: Click here for an excellent article by Isabel on the authorship issue, originally printed in the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia de Barcelona and now available online at the Spanish website

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Marlowe’s escape, Deptford to Dover; Nicholas Faunt, Marlowe in Italy: Mike Rubbo's John Baker interviews, circa 2000

Click here for video.

John Baker on Marlowe’s escape after his alleged death on May 30, 1593; Marlowe sails out of Deptford and arrives in Dover, where he probably meets intelligence operative Nicholas Faunt, who helps Marlowe escape to mainland Europe. Baker speculates that Marlowe eventually ends up in Italy.

Regarding Baker’s reference to Anthony Bacon: Anthony, erstwhile intelligence operative of Lord Burghley and Francis Walsingham and elder brother of Francis Bacon, was, by 1593, chief agent for the Earl of Essex.

Video outtake from Mike Rubbo's film Much Ado About Something. Courtesy of Mike Rubbo.

Click here for Peter Farey's response to Baker.