Below, A.D. Wraight writes about Marlowe’s authorship of King Henry VI Parts 2 and 3: The First Part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster and The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of Yorke.

Chapter IV from A.D. Wraight's Christopher Marlowe and Edward Alleyn


Three Plays of the Pembroke Players



THE CANON of dramatic works accredited to Marlowe’s name numbers only seven over the period of his creative activity which most critics judge to be from about 1586 to the winter of 1592-3, for The Massacre at Paris was on the boards as a new play in January 1593 and was probably his last dramatic work.

His accepted canon comprises:

The Tragedie of Dido Queene of Carthage, printed 1594
Tamburlaine the Great, Devided into two Tragicall Discourses, Parts 1 and 2, printed 1590
The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta, printed 1633 (extant edition)
The Tragicall History of D. Faustus, printed 1604
The troublesome raigne and lamentable death of Edward the second, King of England, printed 1594
The Massacre at Paris, printed undated

For a writer of his genius barely one play per year is a meager achievement. The Shakespearean canon of thirty-six plays over a span of eighteen years from, say, 1593 to 1611, gives a steady production of two plays a year, and most Elizabethan dramatists matched or exceeded this output. John Bakeless comments:

‘Presumably . . . some of Marlowe’s plays have been lost, especially if we accept Fleay’s assertion that “Marlowe probably wrote two plays a year from 1587 – 1593” though we now have but seven “acknowledged as his”.

In the hot-bed of London ‘s theatrical world at this time one would expect at least two plays a year from the fecund, creative powers of the vigorous, young Marlowe. Even if we accept the inclusion of Edward III, as his first essay in English historical drama, and the lost Scanderbeg, and the Kentish domestic tragic-comedy Arden of Faversham, we are still short of four plays to fill the period of his apparently dormant creativity’ and this at a time when the evidence of his established works reveals the wide range of his quest for ever new fields in which to diversify and develop his great dramatic and poetic gifts which were rapidly maturing and gaining in power.

Especially relevant to this problem is the disputed authorship of the two related history plays on the Wars of the Roses, which were fi8rst published in two ‘bad’ quartos under the titles, The First Part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster, in 1594, and The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of Yorke, in 1595, by the printer Edward Millington, who states that the True Tragedy was acted by the Earl of Pembroke’s Men, and hence doubtless was also its companion piece The Contention, although,  as so often, he annoyingly omits to name the author. Both plays have a distinctly Marlovian ring, but almost thirty years later they take their place in the First Folio as The Second Part and The third Part of Henry the Sixt respectively, each play bearing considerable additional material and signs of internal revision of the text. This is seen as the contribution made by William Shakespeare, thus providing justification for Heminge’s and Condell’s claim that they were plays from Shakespeare’s hand. These two ‘bad’ quartos comprise approximately one half and two-thirds of the text in the Folio version of Henry VI 2 and 3 respectively.

These two plays on the Wars of the Roses have been the battleground of Shakespearean scholars for the last two hundred years. The authorship of these anonymous works has been seen as crucial to the problem of Shakespeare’s ‘lost years’ from the last documentary evidence of his marriage to Anne Hathaway, and the christening of their children, a daughter Susanna, followed by the twins, Hamnet and Judith, the latter two on 2nd February 1584/5. Thereafter history draws a blank, until the record of the Christmas performances given by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men at the Court at Greenwich for which payment was received on the following 15th March 1594/5, when the payees on behalf of the company were Kempe, Shakespeare and Richard Burbage. It is the only occasion  when Shakespeare’s name appears in this particular capacity during the reign of queen Elizabeth, and is the only evidence that is wholly reliable. History is not always as liberal with its evidence as we would wish, and it is this blank that Shakespearean scholars, whose discipline tends to be that of English literature rather than history, seem to find so insupportable disturbing that they are tempted to elaborate all kinds of fancies to fill it. Consequently these two history plays of the Pembroke’s Men have been seized upon as neatly filling the gap of Shakespeare’s hypothetical activity as a dramatist in London prior to 1594. For this reason alone has their authorship been so hotly contested in an atmosphere emotionally charged with the commitment to Shakespeare at all costs, without regard for the claims of Marlowe, who is quite unfairly denigrated in the process, as is clearly demonstrated in the quotations from the writings of Peter Alexander and Dover Wilson in the ensuing review of this controversy. Fortunately, Marlowe has found formidable champions in Tucker Brooke and Bakeless and Allison Gaw, and, the battle being joined, presents an interesting intellectual exercise.

I make no apology for reopening the issue and challenging the ‘new orthodoxy’ to answer the evidence here put forward afresh. For too long has the self-imposed necessity of providing evidence of Shakespeare’s earlier emergence as a practicing playwright clouded the issue, and the attribution of these plays to Shakespeare has been allowed to override the validity of both the external and the strong internal evidence identifying these plays as of Marlowe’s authorship.

In 1921 Dr C.F. Tucker Brooke undertook a detailed textual analysis of these two plays, because he found that no adequate textual examination had been conducted, although argument and counter-argument concerning the authorship of the plays continually exercised the minds of scholars. The result of his objective, critical and, indeed, exhaustive investigation of their authorial problems was to ascribe both plays without any doubt to Marlowe’s hand in his thesis The Authorship of the Second and Third Parts of ‘King Henry VI’, published in Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1921. He has been supported by Dr Allison Gaw in his masterly expose of the vexed question of the authorship of the companion work in the trilogy, the Folio’s The first Part of Henry the Sixt in The Origin and Development of I Henry VI published in 1926, in which he has brilliantly demonstrated that this is clearly a collaborative play, which is mainly, but not all Marlowe’s work, with a remarkable theatrical history that is the subject of Chapter VIII.

Today the orthodox school adopts a diametrically opposite view attributing the authorship of the entire Henry VI trilogy to Shakespeare’s hand alone, despite the fact that it has been impossible to refute Tucker Brooke’s or Dr Gaw’s finely argue theses. The orthodox position has been achieved by the expedient, not of refuting Tucker Brooke’s irrefutable arguments, but by misrepresenting them; and in the case of Dr Gaw’s great thesis, by simply ignoring its existence, apart from a mere passing reference to it – a courtesy nod as from one scholar to another. This nod comes from Peter Alexander, who is the man responsible for having staged a feigned refutation of Tucker Brooke’s findings concerning Marlowe’s authorship of The Contention and True Tragedy as will be established in the following examination of the argument the present firmly entrenched orthodox view of the authorship of the Henry VI trilogy as by Shakespeare’s hand alone exists, therefore, on unsound and contentious foundations.

Significantly, the only scholar of stature who has in more recent years re-examined Tucker Brooke’s evidence in the detail it deserves has endorsed his findings as conclusive. This is John Bakeless in his monumental two-volume biography, The Tragicall History of Christopher Marlowe, published in 1942, in which he has added yet further confirmatory evidence to support Dr Brooke’s thesis.

Marlowe’s other important biographer, Frederick S. Boas, in his Christopher Marlowe, 1940, gives an overall brief review of the opposing arguments concerning the authorship of these plays, but remains cautious about taking any side in this contentious contention; but, for our purposes, his concise resume of Tucker Brooke’s thesis will suffice as introduction to the problems.

‘The literary quality of The Contention and The True Tragedy, in Brooke’s view, points to Marlowe as being their author. They exhibit “a brilliant synthesis of plot and emotion”, and “the whole tangled story is resolutely pitched in a single key”. Moreover, the respective relations of Henry VI, Queen Margaret, Suffolk, and Prince Edward in these two plays are closely akin to those of Edward II, Queen Isabel, Mortimer, and Prince Edward in [Marlowe’s] Edward II. The versification, with its predominant number of end stopped lines, and its absence of double endings, is characteristic of Marlowe. But the most concrete support for Marlowe’s claim is found by Brooke in the remarkable number of passages in The Contention and The True Tragedy which have in Marlowe’s accepted plays or which are repeated in the quartos themselves. Such parallelism and repetition are both characteristic of Marlowe’s technique. Brooked gives a list of Twenty-eight parallels with plays in the recognized Marlovian canon, fourteen of which are with Edward II and nine with The Massacre at Paris. He gives also fifteen examples of repetition within The Contention and The True Tragedy.’

Dr Gaw gives acknowledgement to Tucker Brooke’s work and amplifies Boas’s statement:

‘In 1912 Dr C.F. Tucker Brooke, through a careful examination of the external and internal evidence relating to The Contention and The True Tragedy, and especially of a series of forty-three groups of parallel passages strongly typical of Marlowe and interweaving those plays with the entire list of Marlowe’s undoubted dramas, proved conclusively, to my mind, his thesis that both of these plays were originally the sole work of Marlowe.’

Surprisingly, in view of the intense interest in this problem, there has been no commensurate in-depth study of the texts of these two plays since Tucker Brooke, apart from Peter Alexander’s treatment in 1929, which has again been refuted by Bakeless. Nevertheless, modern scholarship has elected to follow Alexander in uncritical obedience and has contrived to steer a devious course, which avoids actual confrontation with this mass of carefully collated evidence by substituting subjective opinion and hypothesis for objective research.

The ‘new orthodoxy’ that has become established claiming these plays as solely the work of Shakespeare is based on the not-so-new theory first put forward by J.S. Smart in 1928 and developed by Peter Alexander in his Shakespeare’s Henry VI and Richard III, published in 1929. Alexander is clearly interested, not so much in objectively examining the textual evidence of The Contention and The True Tragedy in relation to Marlowe’s works, but in finding a plausible explanation for the beginning of Shakespeare’s career in the absence of anything linking him with any of the acting companies before Christmas 1594.

The texts of the quartos of The Contention and The True Tragedy constitute one half and two-thirds respectively of 2 and 3 Henry VI in the First Folio, showing the typical abbreviated version of texts printed in so-called ‘bad’ quartos of the period, and both plays were performed by the Earl of Pembroke’s Men, as also was Marlowe’s Edward II. This association of all three plays with Pembroke’s Men gives Alexander his starting point. To summarize, his hypothesis is as follows:

1. The two curtailed versions of 2 and 3 Henry VI published in ‘bad’ quartos as The Contention and The True Tragedy represent surreptitious copies of Shakespeare’s plays furnished by the actors of Pembroke’s company to the printer, Thomas Millington. [ASSUMPTION]

2. Shakespeare had already written the complete Henry VI, Part 2 and 3 for the Pembroke company in or about 1590, or the actors could not have obtained the text for their surreptitious copy to sell to the printer. [ASSUMPTION]

3. Since Shakespeare had written these plays in about 1590 for the Pembroke Men he must already have been installed as a member of that company as actor or resident playwright before Marlowe arrived on the scene to write his Edward II for them. [ASSUMPTION BUILT UPON AN ASSUMPTION]

4. Marlowe, therefore, wrote his Edward II after Shakespeare’s two history plays and in imitation of them.   Marlowe is thereby revealed as the follower of Shakespeare and not the innovator of the English history play, as had always hitherto been accredited to him. He was only Shakespeare’s imitator and it was Shakespeare who was the true innovator of this popular genre of drama. [CONCLUSION BASED ON THREE ASSUMPTIONS]

This neatly turns the tables in favour of Shakespeare’s authorship of The Contention and True Tragedy and additionally gives him the credit as the originator of great English historical drama. Nothing so mundane as ‘evidence’ is produced to support any of these bold assertions, and not the slightest evidence of Shakespeare’s connections with the Earl of Pembroke’s Men in 1589/90 exists. All this is pure guesswork on the part of Alexander; nevertheless, he is adamant on the matter, citing the First Folio, published 33 years later, as his ‘Bible’:

‘Marlowe, when he came to write for Pembroke’s men, found Shakespere one of the company, and his 2 and 3 Henry VI in their repertoire: that these pieces were by Shakespere is attested by Heminge and Condell, Shakespeare’s editors.’

 And he confidently asserts when repeating this argument in his more recent work, Shakespeare, published in 1964:

‘Marlowe, finding these plays popular, set himself to write something on the same lines. The notion that Marlowe was the originator of the English history play, and that Shakespeare was, in Mr. Bakeless’s words, beginning slowly and clumsily to follow in the way Marlowe had marked out for him, is an assumption that rests on the assumption that Shakespeare could not yet write for himself and completely misrepresents the relationship between Edward II and 2 and 3 Henry VI’.

Leaving aside the quite unjustified accusation against Bakeless (who uses no such words as ‘slowly and clumsily’ to describe Shakespeare at any point in his comparative study of Marlowe and Shakespeare), it is clear from the start that it is Alexander who is basing his entire hypothesis on assumption based on assumption. He cites the First Folio, printed thirty-three years later if we date these plays to 1590 (and Heminge and Condell were not associated with the Pembroke Players), as his sole ‘evidence’ that these plays were in origin and throughout their development entirely Shakespeare’s work: a claim that anyone knowing anything about the vagaries of the Elizabethan theatrical world in relation to the dramatic works it handled must realize is not, and cannot be cited as, conclusive evidence. A great deal of rewriting and revision of old plays went on at this time, and Bakeless is not disputing that Shakespeare later revised and added to the Henry VI plays to present them in the form in which they appear in the Folios, neither is Tucker Brooke. They are, after all, both great Shakespearean scholars, though not blind to Marlowe’s genius. Fortunately for Marlowe his Edward II was printed in a what we may take to be a reasonably fair copy by William Jones in 1594 and bears on its title-page the rate authorial ascription ‘Written by Chri. Marloe, Gent.’ But the two other Pembroke history plays bear no such ascription and they are clearly representative of the many ‘bad’ quartos surreptitiously published during Elizabethan times by actors seeking a little extra cash, or by the literary pirates who took down plays in short-hand during performances and sold their texts to the eager printers. Play texts were difficult to come by, since the acting companies owned the scripts and guarded them jealously against publication, for their repertoire of playscripts was their stock-in-trade investment for which the exploited playwright was but meagerly paid when he parted with the creation of his Muse for a few pounds to the actors’ company, probably after a first reading of his manuscript in some tavern. Thereafter the dramatist had no further rights, no copyright, or claim on his work; the actors’ company owning it could revise it, interpolate scenes, or adapt it by cutting and so on the suit their theatrical purposes, and they alone could sanction its publication, which often bore testimony to the company or companies who had performed the play, but omitted any mention of the author.

It was just such a publication of playscripts which evidently brought the Pembroke plays onto the printers’ market in 1594 and 1595, as a result of the dire straits in which the Pembroke Men found themselves from the long closure of the theatres during the severe plague year of 1593, which extended well into 1594 before all restraints on theatrical performances was lifted. The Pembroke company had not gone on tour into the provinces, or abroad, as had most of the other players, and we know that they were reduced to selling off their stage properties, apparel and play scripts in order to keep the wolf from the door. Philip Henslowe’s letter to Edward Alleyn (quoted on page 345) confirms this.

It is in these circumstances that Alexander seizes on a convenient explanation for the great number of parallels noted by Tucker Brooke and Bakeless in the three Pembroke plays – The Contention, The True Tragedy and Edward II. Alexander claims that all these parallels are due to the poor memories of the actors who were putting together the scripts from their recollection of their parts in The Contention and The True Tragedy to sell them

Surreptitiously to the printer, and, as they had all also acted in Edward II, they muddled up some of the lines from that play with their parts in the other two somewhat similar history plays. So it was, that the actors produced a garbled version of the texts of The Contention and The True Tragedy for the printer, and what emerged was a kind of hybrid between what Shakespeare had written in his two history plays, and what Marlowe wrote in his Edward II.

This blatantly sophistical argument falls apart at first glance for if this is really the explanation of the many parallels in these plays – that they derive from the actors’ faulty memories of their parts – why is it that they are still there in the Folio versions after Shakespeare had revised the plays? This point does not seem to have occurred to Alexander.

Dr Alexander first expounded his argument at some length in 1929 when he made a strenuous attempt to demolish Dr Tucker Brooke’s thesis, not by refuting it, but by substituting his own assumptions for Tucker Brooke’s meticulously assembled evidence. He reiterated his arguments in his Shakespeare in 1964, but this time making no reference whatsoever to Tucker Brooke’s great work, harking back instead to the long outdated work of Edmund alone, who was writing two centuries ago, between 1778 and 1790, on the same theme without, however, having made any thorough textual examination on which to base his opinions as Tucker Brooke had done.

‘In his dissertation on the Henry VI plays, Malone had attributed the quartos, The Contention and The True Tragedy to Greene and Peele. At the further prompting of Farmer, his evil genius in this affair, Malone changed his mind and decided they were the work of Marlowe. It is true the quartos contain many passages and lines identical with or similar to lines and passages in Marlowe’s Edward II. These passages, however, were not inserted by Marlowe but by the actors who put together these quartos from memory; and the inserted the passages from Marlowe because, having played in 2 and 3 Henry VI as well as in Edward II, they failed to keep clear and distinct the differences between many situations in Shakespeare’s pieces and Marlowe’s history that might very easily be confused. That the same company of actors played in these pieces is clear from the title-pages of The true Tragedy and Edward II where they are described as having been acted by Pembroke’s company The Contention clearly belonged to the same company.’

This explanation conveniently begs the question of the parallels with Marlowe’s other dramas, The Massacre at Paris (nine in number), Dido (one) and Tamburlaine (three parallels). However, this does not give Alexander a moment’s pause. He curtly dismisses the first two mentioned plays on the grounds that the parallels are only a few in number (they total ten in all). He states categorically:

‘These groups may therefore be ignored. The recollections from Tamburlaine, though few, are more convincing.’ [He feels he can allow himself this show of impartiality because he has the answer already up his sleeve.] ‘As Tamburlaine was a widely known play by 1594 there is nothing surprising in these interpolations. That the echoes from Edward II are The Contention’s largest debt to Marlowe is also what the date and circumstances of its production would lead us to expect.’

This is strange because Alexander maintains that The Contention had already been written before Edward II, so how could it owe that play any ‘debt’? Alexander’s facile answer to Dr. Tucker Brooke’s thoroughly resea4rched textual evidence, then, is that the parallels between what he considers to be Shakespeare’s plays and Marlowe’s Edward II are not true parallels at all but merely actors’ ‘interpolations’, and as such cannot be taken as evidence of authorship; while those from Tamburlaine represent ‘recollections’ (it is not clear whether he means Shakespeare’s or the actors’ ‘recollections’ here), and the rest of the parallels can be ignored because they are so few in number. As we shall see, Alexander is not consistent about this last point either. He uses an argument when it suits him, and when it does not he discards it.

In the main, Alexander’s hypothesis rests on his claim that the ‘bad’ quartos of the two Henry VI plays represent the product of the actors’ faulty memories, who, while reconstructing these plays surreptitiously for the printer without resort to a script, muddled up their lines from the three disparate but rather similar history plays that were in their repertoire, with a result that is unique even in the extensive genre of ‘bad’ quartos that have come down to us!

In support of this argument, Alexander goes to considerable length to present examples of how actors in the eighteenth century constructed pirated versions of Sheridan’s popular theatrical works. Sheridan’s School for Scandal was for some time only available to theatrical managers under constraint that it was not released to other theatres. The theatre manager of the Exeter theatre at this time, being unable to obtain a script and desperately wanting to put on this play, persuaded an actor, John Bernard, to produce a piratical script for him, and this is how he did it. (Bernard left an account of how he worked at reconstructing his play script which Alexander quotes in full.) Bernard had himself played three main characters in the successful run of The School for Scandal at Bath, while his wife had played two of the principal female roles (at alternate times in each case) and from recollection of their parts, and the additional help of three other actors who had been in the company, Bernard produced a fair script for the theatre manager at Exeter, Hughes, who put on this version of the play as an undetected piracy at his theatre where it played to full houses until the end of the season.

The above “proof’ of his arguments, however, has no bearing on his hypothesis in fact since only one play, The School for Scandal, is involved, and not three plays as required to substantiate his claim that actors muddle up their parts from different plays.

As further evidence Alexander gives a second example of a theatre manager who himself, without the help of any actors, having seen a performance of Sheridan’s operatic work, The Duenna, managed to construct a piratical version using a book of the songs, which he had obtained; relying on his own memory of certain jokes in the work; and cobbling up the rest of the dialogue by cribbing from a collection of old plays on Spanish themes. Thus he put together a production that somewhat resembled Sheridan’s popular musical play.

These examples Alexander triumphantly presents to us as proof to substantiate his hypothesis that the Pembroke Men reconstructed a somewhat confused version of the plays in which they had performed, in which they muddled up the lines from one play, Edward II, with the other two. His second example of The Duenna has no relevance whatsoever as it is not a parallel situation, the manager working from song sheets and play scripts on Spanish themes and some recollection of jokes.

The first example of The School for Scandal is, of course, exactly what we all accept ass the way in which actors compiled their surreptitious copies, usually with a fair degree of success, and without confusing tow or three plays together as Alexander maintains the Pembroke Men did. So this, again, is not proof of his theory at all. On the contrary, The School for Scandal is an example of what actors generally would be well capable of doing, the Pembroke Men included. Namely, that actors collaborating to reproduce a play script can provide a fair approximation of the text for the printers from their recollection of the parts they had played. This represents no great feat for an actor. I well recall that, having had the good fortune to go to a school where Shakespeare’s plays were performed as a regular end of term event, we readily absorbed everyone else’s part. I found I knew the whole play by the end of the performances. Once my two friends and I gave a ‘send-up’ performance of the entire Tempest after the show to the delectation of a hilarious circle of our peers – though I hardly remember a word of it now. This kind of nonsense is fairly common in amateur dramatic clubs. Actors who are trained to perform in repertory acquire prodigious memories, and are able to take over another actor’s part at split second notice. But as for confusing two play scripts, let alone three plays with each other –impossible for an actor! Such a muddle-head would not survive long in a repertory company. An actor trained o perform alternating plays in repertory has no problem in keeping the scripts of his plays discrete for the text is linked in his mind with the character he is portraying, which is of the essence of the art of acting – even at its most superficial level – and such confusion as Alexander suggests is unheard of.

Peter Alexander shows that he is out of his depth in this context, and his whole hypothesis is based on a fallacy about how an actor’s memory works. The actor has quite a different problem relating to faulty memory, that which is known as ‘drying’ on stage, either in performance or rehearsal. This it is which is clearly demonstrated in the many ‘bad’ quartos which show how the actors’ faulty memories work, for when an actor’s recollection fails and he ‘dries’ his mind will characteristically leap forward to pick up the same speech some lines further along, thus omitting several lines and curtailing the text to produce a shortened version. Here we have the origin of the abbreviated speeches in The Contention, for instance, which is half the full length of version of 2 Henry VI and The True Tragedy which is two-thirds of <3 Henry VI. But since we cannot now tell for sure whether the longer version of a given speech >is that which resulted from later revision, which is what we have in the First Folio, I give an example of such an abbreviated speech from a scene in Marlowe’s The Massacre at Paris, an obviously truncated piratical text which only runs for barely one and a half hours in performance, compared with the extant manuscript from this scene believed to be in Marlowe’s hand, which reveals a text double the length of the printed edition.

In this scene a soldier has been told off by the Duke of Guise to kill his rival in love, the courtier Mugeroun, one of King Henry’s favourites, who is having an affair with the Guise’s Duchess. A comparison of corrupt printed and manuscript versions shows that the soldier’s bawdy prose speech is well recalled, if not word perfect, but a fair rendering, given here in the curtailed printed text.

Soldier: Sir, to you, sir, that dares make the duke a cuckold, and use a counterfeit key to his privy-chamber door; and although you take out nothing but your own, yet you put in that which displeseth him, and so forestall his market, and set up your standing where you should not [omission] and whereas he is your landlord, you will take upon you to be his, and till the ground that he himself should occupy, which is his own free land; if it be not too free – there’s the question; [omission] and though I come not to take possession (as I would I might!) yet I mean to keep you out;; which I will, if this gear hold.

The first omission is: ‘But you will saye you leave him rome enoughe besides: that’s no answere hes to have the choyese of his owne freeland’. The second is a reference to legal terms: ‘and will needs enter by defaulte, whatt thoughe you were once in possession yet Comminge vpon you once vnawares he frayed you out againe. Therefore your entrye is mere Intrusione this is againste the lawe ser:’

Mugeroun’s death cry, ‘Trayterous guise ah thou has murthered me’, is also omitted. But the biggest cut is in the Guise’s speech over the dead body of his victim, of which only four lines are given in the printed text out of fifteen in the manuscript. I have italicized the printed text lines in the speech below; these provide the sense to carry on the play’s momentum, but no more. This is typically how a corrupt text makes its cuts, leaving the bare bones of a play. The Guise enters and pays off the soldier before soliloquizing:

Guise: Hold thee tale soldier take the this and flye (Exit.)
Thus fall Imperfett exhalatione
Wch our great sonn of fraunecee Cold not effected
A fiery meteor in the fermament
Lye there the kinges delight and guises scorne
Revenge it henry yf thow liste or darst
I did it onely in dispyght of thee
Fondlie hast thow in Censd the guises sowle
yt  of it self was hote enoughe to worke
thy Iust degestione wth extreamest shame
the armye I have gathered now shall ayme
more at thie end then exterpatione
and when thou thinkst I have forgotten this
an yt  thou most reposest one my faythe
then will I wake thee from thie folishe dreame
and lett thee see thie self my prisoner.


The above is a typical instance of how a piratical text appears in usually somewhat abbreviated form, occasionally with words altered but keeping the sense of what is being said, whilst in blank verse the lines may be shortened losing their metical quality. Actors were used to having speeches cut, for when the Elizabethan companies went on tour they often gave abbreviated versions of the plays in their repertoire for country audiences. Another characteristic ploy is paraphrasing the content of a speech, of which the actual words are only half remembered but the gist of the text is clear. Of all these typical memory failings there is plenty of evidence in the ‘bad’ quartos. But there is not one jot of evidence to substantiate Peter Alexander’s claim that the parallels in The True Tragedy and The Contention could be construed as actors’ interpolations from another play by faulty memory, or that actors are inclined to make this kind of confusion of texts between different plays in their repertoire. The only instance Alexander himself is able to offer of anything remotely resembling something like it is the following:

 ‘Such transferences are found in the later piracies from Shakespeare: the Bad Quarto of Hamlet incorporates in its text a line from Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602) borrows a line from Hamlet.’

 This is hardly convincing evidence. Firstly, these are only single lines in each case, and since he himself has dismissed ten lines in Tucker Brooke’s parallels as being too insignificant so that they can be ‘ignored’, the same standard, by his own dictum, must apply. Secondly, these parallels or ‘interpolations’, transferences or borrowings, according to how you view them, are both from the same author’s works, and not from author to author, so that they fall into the category of self-repetitions of which Tucker Brooke has given copious examples within Marlowe’s own works. Alexander omits to give either line  references or the quotations themselves, which supposes that the examples are not particularly convincing as evidence or he would surely be less casual about demonstrating them to us. Presumably these errors are present in the Folio?

Writers, it is generally recognized, have a tendency to repeat themselves, just as Tucker Brooke has shown that Marlowe does – the same phrases, imagery, vocabulary, and modes of expression come out again and again, sometimes with disturbing frequency that has to be guarded against, as anyone re-reading a type-script or manuscript must know. A totally different mental activity is involved in creative writing to that of memorizing a play script by heart, and the revealing verbal parallelisms which bestrew a writer’s work unconsciously are the basis of the identification of authorship by means of parallelisms. Although Alexander does not go so far as to disclaim the validity in general of the parallelism as the yardstick by which authorship may be assessed, he rejects it in this particular case because it does not suit his purpose!

 One is bound to acknowledge the subtlety with which Alexander has contrived to bedevil the argument surrounding the attribution of these plays to the authorship of Shakespeare versus Marlowe by a devious evasion of the issue. If he insists – as he does – that the two ‘bad’ quartos under discussion are the ‘muddled scripts’ of plays by two different authors, while Tucker Brooke identifies them on the basis of internal evidence as being solely the work of Marlowe, even though in corrupt texts, there is no common ground for criticism as each is arguing from a totally different standpoint. By this means Alexander has skillfully altered the ground of this particular contention and has voided the necessity of meeting Tucker Brooke on his ground, which Alexander must know is unassailable. Having thus shifted the interpretation [me: watch the walnut!] to that of ‘interpolations’, which concept is foreign to Tucker Brooke’s thesis, [me: and so it is this smoke and mirrors that is the foundation for contemporary scholars  he yet implies that he is concerned with this idea by asking:

‘How does he [Tucker Brooke] distinguish between the repetitions of Marlowe and the repetitions of the actors, and how can he  decide whether an echo from Edward II or The Massacre at Paris is original to the text, or an interpolation?’

Alexander should ask this question of himself, for the confusion is in his own mind, not in Tucker Brooke’s. He is not in the least concerned with notions of actors’ memory failings, which I have shown are fallacious, nor is he concerned to hypothesize to seek to superimpose explanations on his findings so that by ‘interpretation’ they will yield evidence that is otherwise entirely lacking of Shakespeare’s activity and presence in London. Tucker Brooke’s whole concern is with the text he has undertaken to study with which he applies all the scholarly techniques available to us to elucidate identification of authorship, and in which he has performed a task of masterly clarification and exhaustive detail to present his objectively reasoned and scholarly conclusions. By comparison Alexander’s hypothesis, based on fallacy, which he presents as his challenge to the redoubtable Professor Tucker Brooke, emerges as mere feigned fencing, fighting the shadow and evading the substance of Tucker Brooke’s thesis.

The Contention Continues

Having shifted the ground from parallels to interpolations by the actors, Peter Alexander then proceeds to use similar tactics to disparage Tucker Brooke’s assessment of the metric and verse characteristics of these plays which further confirm Marlowe’s hand. Alexander therefore casts serious doubt on the value of versification tests as having validity in such authorial investigations. He turns his attention next to two putative scripts, which he calls X and Y texts, which may have been available to the printer Pavier to supply a small number of extra lines. Tucker Brooke considers these of slight importance, but Alexander elevates them to a place of paramount importance, imputing arguments to Tucker Brooke which he never hade! This part of Alexander’s contorted contention is found in Appendix A, ‘The X and Y Texts’, in which his arguments are sufficiently exposed to discredit him.

There is, however, another aspect of this scholarly battle of the texts that requires an airing here, for it concerns the dramatic technique of Marlowe’s works.

Alexander, having had his feigned fencing bout with Tucker Brooke in his 1929 criticism, and evidently feeling he has satisfactorily disintegrated his thesis, encouraged by the approving support he had received from his scholarly orthodox colleagues, subsequently drops Tucker Brooke’s name from all further reference, perhaps fearful lest this ghost has not really been laid. In writing his popular Shakespeare in 1964 he reverts instead to attacking the antiquated Malone as though this protagonist for Marlowe’s authorship of these Pembroke plays had been the only one over the last two hundred years, and, having dealt with Malone’s long out-dated case, he asserts with superb confidence:

‘It is now possible to reconstruct the evidence of Shakespeare’s connexion with Pembroke’s company, the errors of Malone and those who have been misdirected by him put aside.’

Alexander’s use of the words ‘evidence’ and ‘hypothesis’ might also be queried. In the above statement he speaks of reconstructing evidence, whereas since it is non-existent in the first place it cannot be ‘reconstructed’, and he should properly speak of ‘constructing a theory’ about Shakespeare’s connections with Pembroke’s company. In presenting his case Dr. Alexander consistently refers to Tucker Brooke’s carefully amassed internal evidence as a ‘hypothesis’, whereas he insists on calling his own hypothesis ‘evidence’. However, it seems that his bold assertions and forcible championship of Shakespeare have won him the following of the majority of orthodox Shakespeareans for the last sixty years, including many eminent names, and he gains strong support from Dover Wilson in the recapitulation of his argument in his (Alexander’s) Shakespeare (1964):

‘Now that The Contention and The True Tragedy can be dismissed as unauthorized versions put together after the failure of Pembroke’s company in 1593, and that the suggestion that the recollections from Edward II that these pieces contain are evidence of Marlowe’s authorship is seen to be baseless, it is possible to compare 2 and 3 Henry VI directly with Edward II. This comparison reveals a number of parallels between them; but as Professor Dover Wilson in his Introduction to 2 Henry VI has summed up the matter:

Once the parallels are studied in relation to the sources of Henry VI Marlowe is revealed as unquestionably the borrower, since, in three cases, the passages in Edward II are neither guaranteed by history nor required by the dramatic context, [my italics, A.D.W.] while those in Henry VI are obviously taken from the chronicles.”

This objection is so extraordinary and so transparently aberrant as to requite an answer.. in the first place, it was Tucker Brooke who first pointed out the three examples in Edward II in which historically inaccurate transferences are made, but to suggest, as Dover Wilson does, that they are not so used for dramatic relevance is patently absurd as I shall show by quotation. But even more important is to demonstrate that Shakespeare’s plays provide numerous examples of exactly the same kind of wresting of historical facts for dramatic purposes when it suits the context of his play to do so. The comparison below shows identical examples of unhistoricity on the part of Shakespeare in his Richard II in which he borrows very significantly from Marlowe’s Edward II. Shakespeare’s debt to Marlowe is far greater. Dr. Bakeless has well demonstrated the close similarities in the two plays;

‘Each king makes a levy upon his subjects’ property, and each dramatist uses this fact to help on the catastrophe. Each king is caught unprepared by the return of an absent enemy. Each is forced, after a hesitation of which each author makes full dramatic use, to abdicate. Each, in his anger, destroys a physical object: Edward a letter, Richard a mirror. Each is eventually murdered, and the coffin of each is brought on the stage in the final scene.

Granting that most of this is history, that each play contains other elements not used in its companion-piece, and that the emphasis – especially on the exact roles of the two sets of favorites – is different, it is nevertheless hard to believe that Shakespeare’s choice and his structural combination of historical incidents were uninfluenced by Marlowe’s’.

And next we come to the crux of the accusations leveled – the borrowings of historical elements transferred from one play to another without historical validity, for which Messrs Wilson and Alexander so severely criticize Marlowe. John Bakeless, an orthodox Shakespearean, says of this in his Tragicall History of Christopher Marlowe:

‘The favourites are put to death on much the same grounds in each play. In Edward the Second Mortimer says

The proud corrupters of the light-brainde king
Haue done their homage to the loftie gallowes.

In Richard II Busby and Green are executed after Bolingbroke’s accusation,

You have misled a prince, a royal king.

This is especially striking because Shakespeare’s version does not accord with history. [My italics, A.D.W.] The Busby, Bagot, and Green of actual fact were not responsible for the real king’s misdeeds. Gaveston and the Spensers were. Shakespeare found the accusation dramatically effective and took it over from Marlowe in blithe indifference to fact.

Again, in Richard II, Bolingbroke condemns Busby and Green because

You have in manner with your sinful hours
Made a divorce betwixt his queen and him,
Broke the possession of his royal bed,

Which is true enough of Edward’s favorites but not of Richard’s. Shakespeare’s king and queen were actually in entire harmony. In both these cases Shakespeare kept Marlowe’s play a little too closely in mind.’

The Marlowe Studies: Of course, Marlovians would say it was Marlowe keeping to Marlowe.

These examples do not exhaust the incidence of such misuse of historical facts in Shakespeare’s plays, as I would have thought Alexander and Wilson would be aware. In the case of Marlowe’s borrowings from his own but recently written history play, The Contention, he re-used selected historical facts in the context of the play he had in hand in order to enhance the dramatic situation and  this is certainly done intentionally for this is precisely and superbly what his ‘borrowings’ achieved, as demonstrated below.

1. The first two historical inaccuracies in Marlowe’s Edward II are directly lifted from The Contention verbatim and appear closely together in a scene in which Marlowe uses them to paint a picture of a kingdom threatened and in chaos in the crumbling reign of the weakly Edward II. They are dramatically valid here for he is carefully building up the mounting tension between the incompetent, effeminate and increasingly despised Edward and his nobles, which shortly leads to his deposition.

Lancaster: Look for rebellion, look to be depos’d
They garrisons are beaten out of France,
And, lame and poor, lie groaning at the gates;
The wild Oneil, with swarms of Irish kerns,
Lives uncontroll’d within the English pale;
Young Mortimer: The haughty Dane commands the narrow seas,
While in the harbour ride thy ships unrigg’s.
Lancaster: What foreign prince sends thee ambassadors?
Young Mortimer: Who loves thee, but a sort of flatterers’

Edward II 964-974

Although no O’neill was rampaging in Ireland during the reign of Edward II, and the Danes were not threatening invasion either, the references to Ireland would immediately have awoken a response in his Elizabethan audiences for there Raleigh and Gray had fought the wild Irish kerns, and there was unceasing resurgence of rebellion; while the threat of invasion, not by the Danes, but by Spaniards, created dramatic tension by the reawakening of recent memories in the hearts of Londoners hen the Armada threatened. Marlowe, the dramatist, knew exactly how to play on topicalities to evoke the responses from his audiences that he desired. He was not the favourite dramatist of the theatre-goers without good reason. [me: His motive here for Burghley, Walsingham].

Far from weakening his claim to authorship of these plays, these examples underline the correctness of Tucker Brooke’s findings. Only a man who knew his chronicles almost by heart for this period, having recently based two plays on them, would so confidently wrest the information he needed to spice his drama so pointedly.

2. Yet another example, which is not a direct quotation but exemplifies the use of historical facts relating to one historical character as applied to another (as has also been done regarding Talbot, the hero of 1 Henry VI, quoted in Chapter VIII page 244) is the reference, historically inapplicable to Edward II, though dramatically and poetically justified, to King Edward’s jousting exploits in France when he was wooing his queen, Isabel, which Marlowe uses to add poignancy to the portrayal of the king’s sufferings in his dreadful final imprisonment.

Edward: And there, in mire and puddle, have I stood
This ten days’ space; and, lest that I should sleep,
One plays continually upon a drum;
They give me bread and water, being a king;
So that, for want of sleep and sustenance,
My mind’s distemper’d, and my body’s numb’d,
And whether I have limbs or no I know not.
O, would my blood dropp’d out from every vein
As doth this water from my tatter’d robes.
Tell Isabel the queen, I look’d not thus,
When for her sake, I ran at tilt in France,
And there unhors’d the Duke of Cleremont.

Lightborn: O, speak no more, my lord! This breaks my heart.


To pathos is added irony, for Lightborn has come to murder Edward. It is a powerful scene which moves its audiences as few other can do to the same intense degree of pity and horror. The sharp contrast Marlowe introduces with the picture of the jousting, victorious, young king and the pathetic figure in dripping, filthy rags, adds to the pity evoked. This aspect seems to be unaccountably lost on Dover Wilson who pronounces the verdict that these parallels are not ‘required by the dramatic context’. Neither Wilson nor Alexander appears to have much interest in Marlowe as a dramatist.

Tucker Brooke has demonstrated that Marlowe typically borrows from his own works., Such self-quotations occur in almost all creative artists; Beethoven quotes Beethoven, Bruckner echoes Bruckner, and Berlioz repeats himself. There are other examples of Marlowe quoting Marlowe verbatim, so that these verbatim parallels in The Contention and Edward II argue strongly for the same authorship.* Examples of parallelisms culled from Tucker Brooke’s thesis and Bakeless’ work on these Henry VI plays are given in Appendix B.

In conclusion, it will be clear from the foregoing exposition that the irrefutable case presented by Dr. Tucker Brooke stands essentially unaffected by Dr. Alexander’s battery of assault, which turns out to have been misdirected and fuelled by some rather suspect gunpowder that has backfired on him.

Finally, when Alexander turns to comparing the texts of the two “bad” quartos of The Contention and The True Tragedy with the First Folio texts he is able to cease hypothesizing and emerges as the scholar he is when his judgement is not bedeviled with pro-Shakespearean bias. His final dismissal of Tucker Brooke’s argument is unconsciously revealing;

‘When, however, the Quartos are more closely examined Professor Tucker Brooke’s concession shrinks into nothing at all; there is no evidence for assuming the existence of the Marlowe originals for these defective Quartos other than 2 and 3 Henry VI; and if the Marlowe parallels prove anything about authorship it is that 2 and 3 Henry VI are by Marlowe.’

Alexander is thereby admitting that the parallels in Henry VI are strongly present and strongly redolent of Marlowe. They are no figment of the imagination, no mere hypothesis. One cannot escape them. He has attempted to explain them with the assumption of Shakespeare’s presence in London as a member of the Pembroke players this assumption is given credence by the assumption that Greene is referring to Shakespeare as ‘Shake-scene’ in his Groatsworth of Wit in September 1592. This is the second misconception which has so misled scholars which needs to be objectively and thoroughly re-examined.