DMU expert helps discover Shakespeare's co-author in landmark study

Breakthrough research carried out by a Shakespeare expert from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has helped identify a co-author to many of the Bard’s famous plays

For years, experts have debated whether or not Shakespeare worked alone, or whether some pieces were the result of collaboration.

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To try to finally provide a clear answer, Professor Gabriel Egan joined a team of 23 international scholars to carry out an exhaustive study of Shakespeare’s work, looking for words or phrases commonly used by other known authors of the day.

The result is the publication of the New Oxford Shakespeare, a four-volume collection of Shakespeare’s work which credits Christopher Marlowe as a co-author on three Henry VI plays, Parts One, Two and Three.

The collection is the follow-up to the original Oxford Shakespeare, published in 1986 by Oxford University Press and, as Professor Egan said, represents the latest in academic thought, following extensive research.

That research involved a mixture of traditional textual analysis and in-depth linguistic examination by sophisticated computer software.

Prof. Egan said: “The analysis is really to do with how often certain words and phrases occur in a person’s writing. We each have words we prefer to use or use less often than other people.

“The work involved counting across all Shakespeare’s plays and all those other dramatists of the period. These habits we identified leaded to the conclusions here about Marlowe’s co-authorship.”

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He said he felt the discovery of the depth of collaboration with Christopher Marlowe – famous in his own right for works like Doctor Faustus and The Jew of Malta – would not change Shakespeare’s stature as a literary giant.

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Prof. Egan said: “I don’t believe this diminishes Shakespeare’s reputation. It gives us a more sociable Shakespeare, a man more engaged in the writing processes of others.

“It puts Shakespeare among that milieu of writers rather than some aloof figure writing on his own. It tells us that these people were working together more than was suspected and that gives us a new way of thinking about authorship in the theatre.”

The publication of the New Oxford Shakespeare’s four volumes, as well as a digital edition, will be staggered between 27 October and December.

It includes the complete works in both original and modern spelling and punctuation, explanatory notes and essays and an authorship companion, with research in attribution studies.

Posted on: Monday 24 October 2016

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