An academic takes aim at perhaps the biggest mystery in English literature.
According to the traditionally accepted narrative, William Shakespeare’s star in London’s theatrical universe began to rise in 1593, immediately following the demise of Christopher Marlowe, who until that time had been England’s pre-eminent playwright. Pinksen offers another scenario: The quarrel over a bar bill during which Marlowe was supposedly stabbed to death was merely a staged ruse to fake his death, arranged by his friends to allow him to flee the country. At the time of his disappearance, Marlowe was facing a slate of serious charges, including heresy, which would have most likely led to imprisonment, torture and execution. Pinksen argues that Marlowe went into exile, perhaps to Scotland, and continued to write. The man known as Shakespeare was simply a front employed by Marlowe’s friends so that his works could continue to be performed and published, though he would never receive credit for them. Pinksen shows through comparison and analysis that the writing styles of Shakespeare and Marlowe are very similar, and that works supposedly written by Shakespeare frequently allude to and borrow from earlier pieces by Marlowe. The author also demonstrates how many of the mysteries that have surrounded the sonnets for centuries suddenly make sense when viewed as having been written by Marlowe in exile. In examining what we know about Shakespeare the man, Pinksen shows that while there is abundant evidence that he was concerned about his material wealth, there is nothing that exhibits his life as a writer. His detailed will discusses his property at length, but doesn’t mention a word about any wishes he might have had regarding his literary works. It’s difficult to fathom just how far the implications of overturning the Shakespeare legacy might extend, but Pinksen makes a compelling argument based on both historical and literary evidence, and presents it in a well-documented, accessible manner.
A worthy take on the fascinating debate over Shakespeare’s true identity.