Shakespeare Once Said



Shakespeare once said:
The Prince of Darkness is a Gentleman
(But never a lunatic)
Or a spy

That night when
Shakespeare saw Marlowe
Only briefly
In the mirror
When words came to him
In the silence
Of the night air or
From a bottle
Or a muse

When dreamers, poets were
Softly ever so softly
Without prayers
For convience

Under the shadow
Of the moon
Buried in books or
Buried in unmarked
Graves alone

Shakespeare never said
Anything about the dead

He only wrote about
All his ghosts second hand


Used to say alot
Of shit

Even twice


Shakespeare threw down his pencil, said I think I’m gonna start layin brick. There’s too much of this “Romeo stuff” enough to make anybody sick. To be or not to be I mean what’s that supposed to mean? I’m changing my image tomorrow, be a groupie, make the scene

~ John Cougar Mellencamp, Pray For Me

Death to the Death of Poetry


 By Donald Hall 

Some days, when you read the newspaper, it seems clear that the United States is a country devoted to poetry. You can delude yourself reading the sports pages. After finding two references to “poetry in motion,” apropos of figure skating and the Kentucky Derby, you read that a shortstop is the poet of his position and that sailboats raced under blue skies that were sheer poetry. On the funny pages, Zippy praises Zerbina’s outfit: “You’re a poem in polyester.” A funeral director, in an advertisement, muses on the necessity for poetry in our daily lives. It’s hard to figure out just what he’s talking about, but it becomes clear that this poetry has nothing to do with poems. It sounds more like taking naps.

Poetry, then, appears to be:

  1. a vacuous synonym for excellence or unconsciousness. What else is common to the public perception of poetry?
  2. It is universally agreed that no one reads it.
  3. It is universally agreed that the nonreading of poetry is (a) contemporary and (b) progressive. From (a) it follows that sometime back (a wandering date, like “olden times” for a six-year-old) our ancestors read poems, and poets were rich and famous. From (b) it follows that every year fewer people read poems (or buy books or go to poetry readings) than the year before.
    Other pieces of common knowledge:
  4. Only poets read poetry.
  5. Poets themselves are to blame because “poetry has lost its audience.”
  6. Everybody today knows that poetry is “useless and completely out of date”—as Flaubert put it in Bouvard and Pécuchet a century ago.

For expansion on and repetition of these well-known facts, look in volumes of Time magazine, in Edmund Wilson’s “Is Verse a Dying Technique?,” in current newspapers everywhere, in interviews with publishers, in book reviews by poets, and in the August 1988 issue of Commentary, where the essayist Joseph Epstein assembled every cliché about poetry, common for two centuries, under the title “Who Killed Poetry?”

Time, which reported The Waste Land as a hoax in 1922, canonized T. S. Eliot in a 1950 cover story. Certainly Time’s writers and editors altered over thirty years, but they also stayed the same: always the Giants grow old and die, leaving the Pygmies behind. After the age of Eliot, FrostStevensMoore, and Williams, the wee survivors were LowellBerrymanJarrell, and Bishop. When the survivors died, younger elegiac journalists revealed that the dead Pygmies had been Giants all along—and now the young poets were dwarfs. Doubtless obituaries lauding Allen Ginsberg are already written; does anyone remember Life on the Beat Generation, thirty years ago?

“Is Verse a Dying Technique?” Edmund Wilson answered yes in 1928. It is not one of the maestro’s better essays. Wilson’s long view makes the point that doctors and physicists no longer use poetry when they write about medicine and the universe. Yes, Lucretius is dead. And yes, Coleridge had a notion of poetry rather different from Horace’s. But Wilson also announced in 1928 that poetry had collapsed because “since the SandburgPound generation, a new development in verse has taken place. The sharpness and the energy disappear; the beat gives way to a demoralized weariness.” (He speaks, of course, in the heyday of Moore and Williams, Frost, H. D., Stevens, and Eliot; reprinting the essay in 1948, he added a paragraph nervously acknowledging Auden, whom he had put down twenty years before.) He goes on, amazingly, to explain the problem’s source: “The trouble is that no verse technique is more obsolete today than blank verse. The old iambic pentameters have no longer any relation whatever to the tempo and language of our lives. Yeats was the last who could write them.”

But Yeats wrote little blank verse of interest, bar “The Second Coming.” As it happens, two Americans of Wilson’s time wrote superb blank verse. (Really I should say three, because E. A. Robinson flourished in 1928. But his annual blank verse narratives were not so brilliant as his earlier work; and of course he antedated “the Sandburg-Pound generation.”) Robert Frost, starting from Wordsworth, made an idiomatic American blank verse, especially in his dramatic monologues, which is possibly the best modern example of that metric; and Wallace Stevens, starting from Tennyson, made blank verse as gorgeous as “Tithonus.” Read Frost’s “Home Burial” and Stevens’s “Sunday Morning” and then tell me that blank verse was obsolete in 1928.

Poetry was never Wilson’s strong suit. It is worthwhile to remember that Wilson found Edna St. Vincent Millay the great poet of her age—better than Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. In a late self-interview by Wilson in the New Yorker, he revealed that among contemporary poets only Robert Lowell was worth reading. It saves a lot of time, not needing to check out Elizabeth Bishop, John AshberyGalway KinnellLouis SimpsonAdrienne RichSylvia PlathRobert Bly, John Berryman…

Sixty years after Edmund Wilson told us that verse was dying, Joseph Epstein in Commentary revealed that it was murdered. Of course, Epstein’s golden age—Stevens, Frost, Williams—is Wilson’s era of “demoralized weariness.” Everything changes and everything stays the same. Poetry was always in good shape twenty or thirty years ago; now it has always gone to hell. I have heard this lamentation for forty years, not only from distinguished critics and essayists but from professors and journalists who enjoy viewing our culture with alarm. Repetition of a formula, under changed circumstances and with different particulars, does not make formulaic complaint invalid; but surely it suggests that the formula represents something besides what it repeatedly affirms.

In asking “Who Killed Poetry?” Joseph Epstein begins by insisting that he does not dislike it. “I was taught that poetry was itself an exalted thing.” He admits his “quasi-religious language” and asserts that “it was during the 1950s that poetry last had this religious aura.” Did Epstein go to school “during the 1950s”? If he attended poetry readings in 1989 with unblinkered eyes, he would watch twenty-year-olds undergoing quasi-religious emotions—one of whom, almost certainly, will write an essay in the 2020s telling the world that poetry is moldering in its grave.

Worship is not love. People who at the age of fifty deplore the death of poetry are the same people who in their twenties were “taught to exalt it.” The middle-aged poetry detractor is the student who hyperventilated at poetry readings thirty years earlier—during Wilson’s “Pound-Sandburg era” or Epstein’s aura-era of “T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams.” After college many English majors stop reading contemporary poetry. Why not? They become involved in journalism or scholarship, essay writing or editing, brokerage or social work; they backslide from the undergraduate Church of Poetry. Years later, glancing belatedly at the poetic scene, they tell us that poetry is dead. They left poetry; therefore they blame poetry for leaving them. Really, they lament their own aging. Don’t we all? But some of us do not blame the current poets.

Epstein localizes his attack on two poets, unnamed but ethnically specified: “One of the two was a Hawaiian of Japanese ancestry, the other was middle-class Jewish.” (They were Garrett Hongo and Edward Hirsch, who testified on behalf of American poetry to the National Council of the Arts, where Joseph Epstein as a Councillor regularly assured his colleagues that contemporary American writing was dreck.) Epstein speaks disparagingly of these “Japanese” and “Jewish” poets, in his ironic mosquito whine, and calls their poems “heavily preening, and not distinguished enough in language or subtlety of thought to be memorable.”

Such disparagement is pure blurbtalk. He does not quote a line by either poet he dismisses. As with the aging Edmund Wilson, Epstein saves time by ignoring particulars of the art he disparages.

Dubious elegies on the death of poetry shouldn’t need answers. A frequently reported lie, however, can turn into fact. In his essay, Joseph Epstein tells us that “last year the Los Angeles Times announced it would no longer review books of poems.” In the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley referred to the same event, which never happened, and applauded what never happened except in his own negligent error.

The editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review announced that his paper would review fewer books; instead, the Review would print a whole poem in a box every week, with a note on the poet. In the years since instituting this policy, LATBR has continued to review poetry—more than the New York Times Book Review has done—and in addition has printed an ongoing anthology of contemporary American verse. The Los Angeles Times probably pays more attention to poetry than any other newspaper in the country.

Yet when the LAT announced its new policy, poets picketed the paper. Poets love to parade as victims; we love the romance of alienation and insult.

More than a thousand poetry books appear in this country each year. More people write poetry in this country—publish it, hear it, and presumably read it—than ever before. Let us quickly and loudly proclaim that no poet sells like Stephen King, that poetry is not as popular as professional wrestling, and that fewer people attend poetry readings in the United States than in Russia. Snore, snore. More people read poetry now in the United States than ever did before.

When I was in school in the 1940s, there were few poetry readings; only Frost did many. If we consult biographies of Stevens and Williams, we understand that for them a poetry reading was an unusual event. In these decades, the magazine Poetry printed on its back cover Walt Whitman’s claim that “to have great poets there must be great audiences too” but it seemed an idle notion at the time. Then readings picked up in the late 1950s, avalanched in the 1960s, and continue unabated in the 1990s.

Readings sell books, When trade publishers in 1950 issued a third book by a prominent poet, they printed hardbound copies, possibly a thousand. If the edition sold out in three or four years, everybody was happy. The same trade publisher in 1989 would likely print the same poet in an edition of five thousand, hard and soft—and the book would stand a good chance of being reprinted, at least in paper. Recently, a dozen or more American poets have sold at least some of their books by the tens of thousands: Adrienne Rich, Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, Galway Kinnell, Robert CreeleyGary SnyderDenise Levertov,Carolyn Forché; doubtless others. Last I knew, Galway Kinnell approached fifty thousand—over the years—with Book of Nightmares.

It is not only the sales of books that one can adduce to support the notion that poetry’s audience has grown tenfold in the last thirty years. If poetry readings provide the largest new audience, there are also more poetry magazines, and those magazines sell more copies. In 1955 no one would have believed you if you had suggested that two or three decades hence the United States would support a bimonthly poetry tabloid with a circulation of twenty thousand available on newsstands coast to coast. Everybody complains about the American Poetry Review; nobody acknowledges how remarkable it is that it exists.

A few years back, a journal of the publishing industry printed a list of all-time trade paperback best-sellers, beginning with The Joy of Sex, which sold millions, on down to books that had sold two hundred fifty thousand. It happened that I read the chart shortly after learning that Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind, a trade paperback, had sold more than a million copies. Because the book was poetry, the journal understood that its sales did not count.

When I make these points, I encounter fierce resistance. No one wants to believe me. If ever I convince people that these numbers are correct, they come up with excuses: Bly sells because he’s a showman; Ginsberg is notorious; Rich sells because of feminist politics. People come up with excuses for these numbers because the notion of poetry’s disfavor is important—to poetry’s detractors and to its supporters. Why does almost everyone connected with poetry claim that poetry’s audience has diminished? Doubtless the pursuit of failure and humiliation is part of it. There is also a source that is lovable if unobservant: Some of us love poetry so dearly that its absence from everybody’s life seems an outrage. Our parents don’t read James Merrill! Therefore, exaggerating out of foiled passion, we claim that “nobody reads poetry.”

When I contradict such notions, at first I insist merely on numbers. If everybody artistic loathes statistics, everybody artistic still tells us that “nobody reads poetry,” which is a numerical notion—and untrue. Of course, the numbers I recite have nothing whatsoever to do with the quality or spirit of the poetry sold or read aloud. I include no Rod McKuen in my figures; I include only poetry that intends artistic excellence. My numbers counter only numbers—and not assertions of value and its lack.

But I need as well, and separately, to insist: I believe in the quality of the best contemporary poetry; I believe that the best American poetry of our day makes a considerable literature. American Poetry after Lowell—an anthology of four hundred pages limited, say, to women and men born from the 1920s through the 1940s—would collect a large body of diverse, intelligent, beautiful, moving work that should endure. Mind you, it would limit itself to one-hundredth of one percent of the poems published. If you write about Poetry Now, you must acknowledge that most poetry is terrible—that most poetry of any moment is terrible. When, at any historical moment, you write an article claiming that poetry is now in terrible shape, you are always right. Therefore, you are always fatuous.

Our trouble is not with poetry but with the public perception of poetry. Although we have more poetry today, we have less poetry reviewing in national journals. Both Harper’s magazine and the Atlantic have abandoned quarterly surveys of poetry. The New York Times Book Review never showed much interest, but as poetry has increased in popularity, the Times has diminished its attention. The New York Review of Books, always more political than poetical, gives poetry less space every year. The greatest falling-off is at the New Yorker. The New Yorker once regularly published Louise Bogan’s essays on “Verse.” Lately, when the magazine touches on poetry, Helen Vendler is more inclined to write about a translation or about a poet safely dead. In the past, men and women like Conrad Aiken, Malcolm Cowley, and Louise Bogan practiced literary journalism to make a living. Their successors now meet classes MWF. People with tenure don’t need to write book reviews.

Their absence is poetry’s loss, and the poetry reader’s—for we need a cadre of reviewers to sift through the great volume of material. The weight of numbers discourages readers from trying to keep up. More poetry than ever: How do we discriminate? How do we find or identify beautiful new work? When there are sufficient reviewers, who occupy continual soap-boxes and promote developing standards, they provide sensors to report from the confusing plentitude of the field.

Beside the weight of numbers, another perennial source of confusion is partisanship. When I was in my twenties and writing iambic stanzas, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was a living reproach. For a while I denigrated Allen: “If he’s right, I must be wrong.” Such an either/or is silly and commonplace: restrictions are impoverishments. In the 1920s one was not allowed to admire both T. S. Eliot and Thomas Hardy; it was difficult for intellectuals who admired Wallace Stevens and his bric-a-brac to find houseroom for Robert Frost and his subjects. Looking back at the long heyday of modern poetry, removed by time from partisanship, we can admire the era’s virtuosity, the various excellences of these disparate characters born in the 1870s and 1880s, who knew each other and wrote as if they didn’t. What foursome could be more dissimilar than Moore, Williams, Stevens, and Frost? Maybe the answer is: some foursome right now.

There are a thousand ways to love a poem. The best poets make up new ways, and the new ways mostly take getting used to. The poetry reading helps toward understanding (which explains how poetry thrives without book reviewing) because the poet’s voice and gesture provide entrance to the poetry: a way in, a hand at the elbow. The poetry reading helps—but as a substitute for reviewing it is inefficient. And sometimes it is hard to know whether we cherish the poem or its performance.

At least there are many poets, many readings—and there is an audience. For someone like me, born in the 1920s, which produced great poetry and neglected to read it—Knopf remaindered Wallace Stevens—our poetic moment is inspiriting. As I grew up, from the 1930s to the 1950s, poets seldom read aloud and felt lucky to sell a thousand copies. In the 1990s the American climate for poetry is infinitely more generous. In the mail, in the rows of listeners, even in the store down the road, I find generous response. I find it in magazines and in rows of listeners in Pocatello and Akron, in Florence, South Carolina, and in Quartz Mountain, Oklahoma. I find it in books published and in extraordinary sales for many books.

While most readers and poets agree that “nobody reads poetry”—and we warm ourselves by the gregarious fires of our solitary art—maybe a multitude of nobodies assembles the great audience Whitman looked for.

This essay comes from Harper’s magazine, 1989. Much of it appears in the Introduction to Best American Poetry 1989. Reprinted here from Death to the Death of Poetry by Donald Hall, published by University of Michigan Press. Copyright © 1994 by Donald Hall. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Shakespeare, The Debate Continues …

Shakespeare Debate

It is a great comfort, to my way of thinking,” Charles Dickens wrote in 1847, “that so little is known concerning the poet. The life of Shakespeare is a fine mystery and I tremble every day lest something should turn up.”

“Is it not strange,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in his journals, “that the transcendent men, Homer, Plato, Shakespeare, confessedly unrivalled, should have questions of identity and of genuineness raised respecting their writings?”

Strange, indeed. And not everyone has taken comfort, as Dickens did, from the paucity of information about the life and literary career of William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, considered by many the greatest writer in the English, or any, language. Henry James, the great American novelist, confessed, “I’m haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practised on a patient world.”

In “Much Ado About Something,” Australian filmmaker and veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Rubbo plunges gamely into the longrunning debate over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, picking up the trail of Christopher Marlowe — the 16th-century English playwright, poet, and spy who some believe was the author. Born in 1564, the same year as Shakespeare, Marlowe was at the height of his literary career in 1593 — having authored such plays as TamburlaineDoctor Faustus, and The Jew of Malta — when he was apparently killed in a “brawl” over a tavern bill. But Marlowe’s death, on closer examination, is cloaked in mystery, and some “Marlovians” insist that the playwright lived to write another day — under the name of Shakespeare.

Rubbo takes viewers across England and to Italy, the setting of some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, in his quest to unravel the puzzle. Along the way he seeks out some of Britain’s most respected Shakespearean scholars — including Prof. Jonathan Bate, author of The Genius of Shakespeare (1997); Prof. Andrew Gurr, director of research at Shakespeare’s Globe theater in London; and Prof. Stanley Wells, general editor of the Oxford edition of Shakespeare — and talks to a number of prominent Marlovians, including the late Dolly Walker-Wraight (who died in March 2002, shortly after the film’s completion) and various amateur scholars who have built a case for Kit (as Marlowe was also known).

Rubbo, intrigued by the mystery and the arguments for Marlowe, ultimately finds that there is insufficient evidence, on either side, to support a conclusive answer to this tantalizing authorship question. As the actor Mark Rylance, artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe theater, tells Rubbo, “The only rational response at the moment is to say that it has to be an open question, at least. It really has to be an open question, on the evidence.” What we’re left with, as in so many historical mysteries, is speculation. And yet, admits Rylance, “Whoever it is … it would take a lot to convince me now that it was the Stratford man by himself.”

· · Related Features:

· Quiz: Are Thou Learned?
Ten true-or-false questions to test your knowledge of the Shakespeare authorship debate.

· Debating Points
Michael Rubbo responds to six commonly asked questions about the Stratford man’s claim to authorship.

· Marlowe: What (Little) We Know
A brief look at what’s known about the life of Christopher Marlowe, and the competing theories of how, why — or whether — Marlowe died in 1593.

· The Reckoning Revisited
Michael Rubbo responds to Charles Nicholl’s revised edition of The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe.

· The Authorship Question

Christopher Marlowe, of course, is not the first candidate to be put forward as the “true author” of Shakespeare’s works. The “Authorship Question,” as it has come to be known, dates at least as far back as 1857, when Delia Bacon, an American woman, published a book arguing that Sir Francis Bacon, the great Elizabethan philosopher, was the author. (Delia was no relation to Sir Francis, although it seems she became confused on that matter late in her life and was committed to an asylum near Stratford after trying to open Shakespeare’s tomb.)

Mark Twain was another, perhaps saner, proponent of Bacon, and his book Is Shakespeare Dead? may be one of the most entertaining, if not the most convincing, of contributions on the subject. (The full text of the book is available online here.) Like other Baconians, Twain felt that literature of such great learning and wisdom could not possibly have been written by a two-bit actor with a provincial grammar school education at best, about whose life almost nothing has come down to us. The plays are full of philosophy and reveal considerable knowledge of the law; Bacon was not only a philosopher but the greatest legal mind of the age. Twain concludes that he cannot say for certain who wrote the plays, but says that he is “quite composedly and contentedly sure that Shakespeare didn’t,” and “strongly suspects that Bacon did.”

Thus is a pattern established, whereby the Stratford man’s qualifications to be the author are questioned — and found sorely lacking by the so-called “unorthodox” or “anti-Stratfordians” — and the case for an alternative author is made. John Michell, in his book Who Wrote Shakespeare?, has surveyed the field of candidates and their advocates. “It’s a great mystery,” he tells Rubbo at the outset of “Much Ado About Something,” standing in front of an entire bookcase on the subject in his London flat. “It’s a delightful mystery, too, because it takes you into very beautiful territory, the 16th-century mind.”

Michell is quick to add that there are still plenty of people, known as Stratfordians, who cannot accept any author but William Shakespeare of Stratford. “They’re believers, too,” Michell stresses. “Because of all the candidates, possibly Shakespeare, the man from Stratford, is the weakest.”

How can that be? Consider the questions anti-Stratfordians ask, and which Stratfordians cannot seem to answer to everyone’s satisfaction. Aside from the question of his iffy education, why is there so little concrete evidence that the Stratford man was even a writer? We have no manuscripts, no letters, not even a record that he was ever paid to write. Why did his death go virtually unremarked, when it was typical for the famous writers of the day to be publicly mourned and eulogized? How could a country lad, who never travelled (that we know) outside of England, have written so vividly of Italian cities and life? These are just a few of the questions raised by anti-Stratfordians. (See Michael Rubbo’s responses to standard Stratfordian answers to some of these puzzling questions.)

The most popular candidate in our own time is undoubtedly Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. In 1989, FRONTLINE’s “The Shakespeare Mystery” examined the case made by de Vere’s devotees, known as Oxfordians. The thrust of the Oxford case is that the plays of Shakespeare reveal an aristocratic sensibility, an intimate familiarity with the life and manners of the court, and a level of education and worldly experience that would seem beyond a barely educated commoner. Oxford was a poet and playwright himself, but as an aristocrat he could not sully his name by writing for the public stage, and so wrote under a pseudonym, the theory goes, allowing the actor from Stratford to play the part of author. (FRONTLINE’s website for “The Shakespeare Mystery” contains a collection of readings on the Stratford-Oxford debate.)

The fact that Oxford died in 1604, before such masterpieces as MacBethAntony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest are generally accepted to have been written, has never been conclusively explained by Oxfordians. But a recent doctoral dissertation, successfully defended at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, examining uncanny correspondences between de Vere’s copy of the Geneva Bible and Biblical references in Shakespeare’s plays, has added new fuel to the Oxfordian fire.

· The Case for Marlowe

So what got Michael Rubbo interested in the case for Christopher Marlowe? As he tells the actor Mark Rylance, “I read Calvin Hoffman’s book and I was shocked. Profoundly shocked.” Rylance, sitting on the stage of the Globe as Rubbo interviews him, nods knowingly.

Calvin Hoffman’s book, a kind of underground classic, is The Murder of the Man Who Was “Shakespeare,” published in the United States in 1955 and now long out of print. (Read Hoffman’s introduction to the book.) Hoffman — a Broadway press agent, amateur historian, and sometime writer who died in the late 1980s — spent 30 years trying to prove that Marlowe was in fact the author of Shakespeare’s works.

Hoffman’s theory, which is credited with launching the modern case for Marlowe, rests on his belief that Marlowe — known by historians to have been a spy in Elizabeth I’s secret service — did not die in 1593 in Deptford, on the banks of the Thames, but faked his own death and fled England to escape the notorious Star Chamber, Protestant England’s equivalent of the Inquisition. (Marlowe was said to espouse “atheistic” views, a serious charge in those days.) Hoffman believed Marlowe fled to Italy, where his artistic development accelerated amidst the late Italian Renaissance. Indeed, it was in Italy, some Marlovians say, that Marlowe wrote his masterpieces, which he then sent back to his patron in England, Sir Thomas Walsingham, cousin of Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spy master. After having the works recopied in another hand, Walsingham then passed the plays on to a convenient front man — the actor William Shakespeare — who brought them to the stage. In 1984 he obtained permission to open the Walsingham tomb in a small church in Kent, hoping to find a box of play scripts that would prove his case. He found nothing, but continued to defend his theory.

As Hoffman relates at the outset of his book, he first began to suspect that Marlowe was the author when he noticed striking similarities between Marlowe’s works and those attributed to Shakespeare. After comparing Shakespeare’s and Marlowe’s works, Hoffman claimed to have uncovered hundreds of “parallelisms”: lines and passages from Marlowe’s plays and poems that are echoed, if not quoted verbatim, in Shakespeare’s.

For example, Marlowe’s play Tamburlaine contains the lines, “Holla, ye pampered jades of Asia./ What, can ye draw but twenty miles a day?” Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II has it thus: “And hollow pampered jades of Asia,/ which cannot go but thirty miles a day.” Hoffman painstakingly compiled 30 pages of such parallelisms (Watch a video excerpt from “Much Ado About Something,” in which two actors trade lines of Marlowe and Shakespeare.)

Shakespeare’s supporters, however, dismiss such similarities as proof only that the Bard borrowed rather liberally from his contemporaries. As Jonathan Bate tells Rubbo, “What Hoffman noticed is that there are lots of phrases and ideas in Shakespeare’s plays that are derived from Marlowe. But I think we now see that Shakespeare was snapping up lines and ideas from all sorts of different sources, and it’s not remotely surprising that he should have borrowed a lot, stolen, indeed, from the greatest dramatist of his youth.”

Stratfordians also point out differences in the two playwrights’ styles. “Marlowe is more conspicuous as an innovator,” says Prof. Andrew Gurr. “He was really radical. Shakespeare was much more slow moving in terms of his innovation.” And Bate contends that Marlowe was deficient in some aspects of playwriting in which Shakespeare excelled. “[Marlowe] wasn’t able to write for women, and he wasn’t able to write comedy,” he says. “Shakespeare did those things consummately.”

Marlovians, however, attribute these differences to the natural maturation that would have occurred in Marlowe’s writing had he fled England and continued his career in Italy. “Think of Picasso — think of his Blue Period and what he painted before [that],” says Marlovian Dolly Walker-Wraight. “You would not think it was the same painter, would you?”

In the documentary, Michael Rubbo offers this variation on the Marlowe theory: “Imagine that we hear two voices in the plays. One’s the high voice; this is Marlowe. The other voice, the lower voice, that’s Shakespeare. So they become writing partners, with Marlowe providing the learning and the great themes. And Shakespeare [providing] the heart and soul of Merry England.”

What Marlovians are missing, Shakespeare supporters say, is solid proof that Marlowe lived beyond that day in Deptford in 1593. “There is no evidence whatsoever that Marlowe wasn’t murdered,” says Charles Nicholl, author of The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe. “And there’s a lot of evidence that he was killed.” Nicholl’s account of how and why Marlowe died has recently been revised. In a newly published edition of The Reckoning, he abandons his theory that Marlowe was caught in a factional fight between the powerful Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Ralegh, now favoring an explanation in which Thomas Drury, another figure of the Elizabethan spy world, set Marlowe up. (Michael Rubbo reacts to Nicholl’s new theory here on FRONTLINE’s website. For another take on Marlowe’s death, see “The Killing of Christopher Marlowe,” by Prof. David Riggs of Stanford University.)

· Myth and Mother’s Milk

“The English take in Shakespeare with their mother’s milk,” says Susan Hunt, the Stratfordian wife of Canterbury bookseller John Hunt, a Marlovian interviewed by Rubbo. “We love him.” But is it the man they love, or the immortal words of the plays and poems?

The late Walker-Wraight had no reservations about knocking the Stratford man off his literary pedestal. “Our culture thrives on myths,” Wraight concluded in her book, The Story that the Sonnets Tell. “It is entirely appropriate that the man we have revered for 400 years … should have been, in essence, a myth.” But to Walker-Wraight, it was all-important that the myth be dispelled, and that the true author, Christopher Marlowe, be given his rightful and long-overdue recognition.

Still, there is yet another way of looking at the question. As Harvard University’s Marjorie Garber suggests, in a Web-exclusive FRONTLINE forum on what’s at stake in the authorship question, if we learn too much about who “Shakespeare” really was, we risk losing something central to our culture. “In order to keep the ideal of Shakespeare,” Garber says, “as the playwright beyond play writing — the author beyond authorship, the poet who knows us all — we need, in a way, not to know him.”

Like Dickens, it seems, there are those who prefer the mystery, whether they tremble or not.

Read more:

Shakespeare, The Debate Continues …

Marlowe vs. Shakespeare: Wrongful Death and Double Identity



Marlowe versus Shakespeare: Wrongful Death and Double Identity
An excerpt from the Amazon Kindle collection “Encounters with Authors”:* “Marlowe versus Shakespeare: Wrongful Death and Double Identity”- Murder, deceit, fraud, espionage – brace yourself for a cloak-and-dagger mystery unlike any…

Marlowe vs. Shakespeare: Wrongful Death and Double Identity

Monkeys Are Rewriting Shakespeare …

William Shakespeare is often regarded as the world’s pre-eminent writer, but so what? Most of his complete works are so elementary, they could be written by monkeys. Don’t think so? Just ask Jesse Anderson.

NEWS: Monkeys Invent New Fishing Technique

Anderson, a software developer in Nevada, is up to some serious monkey business. He recently developed a computer program that simulated a few million virtual monkeys randomly bashing away on virtual typewriters. Their assignment? Randomly re-create the complete works of William Shakespeare.


And the virtual simian wordsmiths are close to doing so. They are 99.99 percent finished with Will’s entire catalog. The first work to be completed was the poem “A Lover’s Complaint.”

Anderson used Hadoop, Amazon EC2 and Ubuntu Linux to create his virtual monkeys. The sequence he wrote is nine characters long and has 5.5 trillion possible sequential combinations.

“The computer program I wrote compares that monkey’s gibberish to every work of Shakespeare to see if it actually matches a small portion of what Shakespeare wrote. If it does match, the portion of gibberish that matched Shakespeare is marked with green,” Anderson explained on his blog. “The parts of Shakespeare that have not been found are colored white. This process is repeated over and over until the monkeys have created every work of Shakespeare through random gibberish.”

Anderson developed the project to test Amazon’s Web servers but also to satisfy his curiosity about whether an infinite number of monkeys could randomly reproduce Shakespeare’s work by pecking away on an infinite number of typewriters.

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Anderson started the project on Aug. 21.

No word on when Anderson will complete his project. But when he has to “part” with his virtual monkeys, it will surely be “such sweet sorrow.”

Monkeys Are Rewriting Shakespeare …

Was Marlowe Really Murdered?

The Murder of Christopher Marlowe…

The Murder of Christopher Marlowe

Was Marlowe Really Murdered?


For the past 50 years or so, a theory has been put forth that Christopher Marlowe was not murdered at all. The proposition is that his killing was faked, and that Marlowe escaped from inevitable prosecution as a heretic by fleeing abroad. The main proponent of this theory, Calvin Hoffman, maintained in numerous writings that Christopher Marlowe was the author of the plays of Shakespeare. The outlines of his theory go something like this…

Was Marlowe Really Murdered?