Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Marlowe: The Sega of Playwrights!

Let's hear it for Christopher Marlowe! Yeah, who? Exactly. The playwright, a contemporary of William Shakespeare, is probably best known today as Joseph Fiennes' rival and accidental quote machine, played by Rupert Everett in Shakespeare in Love. But he was actually kind of a big deal in 16th century London's theatre scene and now some fancy scholars are giving him credit for co-writing three of Shakespeare's plays.
"Alright, alright, I'll settle my tab. God, how sharper than
a serpent's tooth it is to have an impatient bartender..."
-Marlowe in Shakespeare in Love, and yes, the whole 
movie is like that. Shakespeare is basically Forest Gump
Or to put it into SAT analogy terms:
Marlowe is to Shakespeare as
Sega Genesis is to Super NES. 
Yeah, buckle up, we're going into theatre nerd territory. William Shakespeare, as it turns out wasn't the entire English entertainment industry between the years 1589 and 1616. In fact, Elizabethans had lots to do to pass the time: there was bear-baiting, catching the plague or watching any of the five or six million (source: blind guess) other plays that people who weren't Shakespeare wrote and performed. Among the most talented and popular non-Shakespeare of the time was tortured artist Christopher Marlowe.

Yes, they had tortured artists back then too, both in the sense of emotional problems and in the literal sense of thumbscrews and the rack. Elizabethans were basically savages.
Yeah, the culture that gave us Shakespeare also used to make
bears and dogs murder each other for fun. Let that sink in...
Pictured: Steve and Ellen Marlowe, looking
disappointed in their son's choice of career.
Anyway, Marlow, in addition to pissing off his parents by taking his fancy college degree and then going into theatre, was also gay and an atheist. A gaythiest! Which, as you can imagine, didn't go over well at a time when heretic burning wasn't completely off the table. Oh, and he might have been a spy too and that might have played a role in him getting stabbed in the eye in a random bar fight, but then again, this is ye olden times, and eye-stabbings were fairly common. Again, I refer you to my broad characterization of early-modern English people as barbarians.

"Plagiarism? No, it was an homage..."
-Alexander Pope, the 
Shia LeBoeuf of his day
So back to the thrilling world of scholarly theatre research. Remember awhile back when Shakespeare, despite being dead for four hundred years put out a new play? No? That's because he didn't, but he was posthumously credited for a play because researchers used some kind of sophisticated analysis software on a comedy called Double Falsehood and by comparing vocabulary and writing style discovered that it was actually the lost Shakespeare play Cardino, but with some guy called Alexander Pope's name on it.

Based on comparisons with some of Marlowe's other works, the editors of The New Oxford edition of The Complete Works Of Shakespeare have decided to credit him with co-authorship on the three parts of Henry VI. Which is kind of a-huh? No, you're thinking of Henry V with Kenneth Branagh. That was totally good. This is Henry VI. It's, uh...well it's a trilogy which, in a surprising move is not as good as its prequels.
Yes, I'm still picking on these movies and no, I will not move on.
"Because, like all writers, my dream
was to die in obscurity. That's why."

-Christopher Marlowe
Ok, so Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare activated their wonder twin powers and wrote a kind of boring trilogy of plays, who cares? Not a lot of people actually, unless you're like super-into the conspiracy theory that Marlowe secretly was Shakespeare. Wai-huh? It's called the Marlovian theory of authorship, and the idea was that there never was a Shakespeare and instead Marlowe just put on a different hat or something and wrote all his best plays under an assumed identity. Why? Because shut up, that's why.

Anyway, I suppose evidence suggesting that the two worked together on some plays would kind of make it difficult for them to be the same person. Unless he deliberately cultivated two different writing styles and then pretended to collaborate with himself as part of an elaborate scheme to throw future generations off the scent so that he can be remembered as the other playwright who was almost as good as Shakespeare...who is also him. Marlowe, you magnificent bastard, it looks like you got us.
Batman pulled off something similar by dressing Robin up as Batman
and then casually strolling in as Bruce Wayne. Of course he was motivated
by a desire not to get sued for property damage, so what's Marlowe's deal?

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