Myth and Authorship in Shakespeare and Marlowe

This course will explore one of the greatest mythic artistic rivalries in literary history, that of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Over 6 weeks we will investigate the dynamics of authorship in early modern England by reading the work of both playwrights and thinking through questions of influence, imitation, and inspiration.


  • Hybrid (F2F & Online simultaneously)


  • Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Plays (Penguin Edition) Eds: Frank Romany, Robert Lindsey (2003).
  • Any copy of the complete Shakespeare will do, but e-copies of the plays will also be provided weekly.


  • What is authorship? How was authorship understood in early modern England? How does contemporary scholarship configure authorship? What is the role of the New Oxford Shakespeare (2016)? What is the squabble over the Shakespeare and Marlowe relationship all about? Why is this important to how we understand the plays?
  • Who was Christopher Marlowe? What makes a play ‘Marlovian’? Exploring Dr Faustus.
  • Who was William Shakespeare? What makes a play ‘Shakespearean’? Exploring Hamlet.
  • Marlowe vs Shakespeare. Who does it better? Exploring The Jew of Malta.
  • Shakespeare vs Marlowe. Was Shakespeare a plagiarist? Exploring The Merchant of Venice.
  • Wrapping up. What do we know about the two playwrights after reading their work side by side? How does new attributionist scholarship inform our understanding of the concept of authorship, and what does this mean for the plays? Does it mean anything to the texts themselves? Why does authorship matter?


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Have a complex understanding of authorship in the early modern period.
  2. Identify the particular qualities of Shakespeare and Marlowe’s plays.
  3. Have a nuanced understanding of the artistic concerns exemplified by each playwright, and of the thematic content of the plays studied.
  4. Think critically about the way media presents the act of artistic creation.

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