Christopher Marlowe and a Mashup of Stylometry and Theater History
Finding the hand of Christopher Marlowe in the plays of his contemporaries is nothing new, but the enterprise never had significant influence on the stories told by theater historians about his place in the playhouse world of early modern London. One reason why is that Victorian scholars and editors (given few biographical details) developed an implicitly antagonistic narrative in which Marlowe, having preceded William Shakespeare to London and professional success, remained somewhat apart. When documents of Marlowe’s final few years did surface in the 1920s and 1930s, they appeared to reinforce his otherness rather than a friendship network with players, fellow dramatists, and playing companies. Another reason is that the activity of disintegrating Shakespeare’s canon lost favor in the first quarter of the twentieth century due to the influence of Shakespeareans such as E. K. Chambers and W. W. Greg, who were at the same time codifying narratives of the history of the late Elizabethan playhouse world. However, practitioners of authorship studies have regained the attention of textual scholars and theater historians. Their computerized programs appear to make the identification of dramatists’ hands scientific (rather than impressionistic), and textual disintegration is again in fashion. In this essay, I consider the implications of current work in stylometry for theater historians. Not contesting the in- progress reportage of these claims, I consider how recent authorial attributions mash up with stock narratives of Marlowe as a radical personality at some professional distance from the workaday world of the 1590s theatrical marketplace.
Keywords: Marlowe, Stylometry, Theater history, Authorship, Elizabethan theatrical marketplace