Frontline: Much Ado About Something
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His name is synonymous with great literature, but was William Shakespeare really the greatest writer who ever lived? FRONTLINE explores the controversy over whether literary masterpieces attributed to Shakespeare were written by his contemporary, Christopher Marlowe, reportedly killed in a brawl in 1593. But some still insist he lived and continued to write under Shakespeare's name, in the biggest cover-up in literary history.
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I first read Dr Faustus immediately after reading Hamlet, and was immediately struck by the curious parallels between the opening soliloquy of Faust, and Hamlet's famous meditation on life and death.
Faust philosophises about life and death,..'and live and die in Aristotle's works'..'bid On Kai me On farewell (bid being and non being farewell)..Que Sera Sera.. what will be, will be.
If you're like me, the more you read Marlowe, the more parallels you find between him and the Shakespeare canon. Marlowe is credited with revolutionising and popularising the use of blank verse (unrhymed) on the Elizabethan stage, a style repeated throughout Shakespeare.
Unfortunately, with serious Atheism charges pending against Marlowe, (who also was a spy), he was supposedly killed in a tavern knife fight in May 1593. Two of the three people at the scene were spies, the third, the accused killer Frizer (who stabbed Marlowe through the eye is self defense), an employee of his patron Walsingham, a cousin of the former head of Intelligence, Francis Walsingham.
Frizer was pardoned, and continued to work for the patron for many years.
Twelve days before Marlowe died Venus and Adonis was registered anonymously with the Stationer's Office.
Twelve days after, with the printing of Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare's name appears in print as a published writer for the first time.
The documentary itself, is very balanced, with contributions from Marlovian Scholars such as Dolly Wraight, who has written several good books on the subject. I particularly enjoyed the segments with Calvin Hoffman, who was probably the premier investigator of Marlowe within the Shakespeare canon.
There is also a segment with Charles Nicholl, who wrote The Reckoning, another essential read. I was particularly impressed with his research and use of primary sources, and his attention to detail.
Their commentary is balanced by contributions by Stanley Wells, who has written numerous books about Shakespeare, and is the editor of the Oxford Shakespeare.
The documentary is very well done, and I have now read Hoffman's Murder of the Man who was Shakespeare. He uncovered numerous clues, such as the scorning of the uneducated William in the woods of Arden, in As You Like et. Why would Shakespeare create a character named William whom he would then attack for his lack of learning in a play? A reversal of the name Sir Oliver Mar-Text yields Is Marlos veri text. This play registered in 1600 was stayed from publication, making its first appearance in the First Folio of 1623.
Whatever your interest in Marlowe is, at some point this is a must see. Even if you believe that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, it's interesting to see two actors quoting exact lines that appear in both Shakespeare and Marlowe plays, to see how profoundly one influenced the other.
I also recommend The Life & Complete Works Of Christopher Marlowe as an inexpensive yet factually comprehensive way to jump into Marlowe's world. If you're like me, it's a rich rewarding experience.
I think you will enjoy it, and I hope this was helpful.
2. Very convincing in arguing that Marlowe faked his own death and fled to the Continent.
3. Unconvincing in arguing that Marlowe wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare.
I used to make an annual pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where I would attend seven plays in five days. I have always heard people comment about Shakespeare's wonderful use of language. Because of my dyslexia, I tend to be 'tone deaf' to many of the subtleties of language (both spoken and written), but I always enjoyed the plots and the interesting characters, especially as they were brought to life by the wonderful actors in Ashland, Oregon.
One year the festival presented one of Marlowe's most popular plays. In spite of the excellent staging and fine acting, the play didn't particularly grab me. The next night I saw Shakespeare's 'Richard III' and, for the first time in my life, I finally heard how Shakespeare's language indeed did soar (in stark contrast to the Marlowe play that I had seen the night before). I could never believe that the person that wrote that Marlowe play could possibly be the author of 'Richard III.'
I wish that the Frontline program 'The Shakespeare Mystery,' which presents a very convincing case for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, were also available on DVD. 'The Shakespeare Conspiracy' (which also presents the case for the Earl of Oxford) fortunately is available. Most of the scholars interviewed are German(!), but that merely suggests to me that the footage with the German scholars might have been borrowed from a German documentary on the subject.