Myth and Authorship in Shakespeare and Marlowe

Discover one of the greatest mythic artistic rivalries in literary history, that of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Over six weeks we will read two plays by each author (four plays total) in order to explore the similarities and differences in their productions: Marlowe’s Dr Faustus and The Jew of Malta, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice. Reading the plays works as the evidence in our quest to uncover the truth in the pair’s artistic relationship while simultaneously engaging with cutting edge theories and research involving the complexity of early modern authorship.

This class will be delivered online via the online platform Zoom. Enrolling students need to ensure they have an email, a reliable internet connection, microphone/speakers and access to a tablet, smartphone or computer.


  • Watch any and all scandalous films/media productions about Shakespeare and Marlowe (Shakespeare In Love, Anonymous, Upstart Crow, etc).
  • Taylor, Gary, and Gabriel Egan. The General Editor’s preface of The New Oxford Shakespeare. Authorship Companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018


  • 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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