Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Shakespeare: Playwright or Plagiarist?

My guest today has written a novel about some intriguing and controversial questions. Was the famous Bard nothing but an ambitious actor and plagiarist? Is Christopher Marlowe the writer who deserves to be a household name centuries later? Novelist DK Marley provides one possible answer to these questions in her new book, Blood and Ink. Learn more about it in the interview below.

~ Samantha


So much has been written about Shakespeare. How is your novel different?

Yes, there are many novels on Shakespeare, expounding the continued belief that he wrote the plays and sonnets attributed to him, but this novel gives wing to the possibility of someone else being the writer.

Would you say this novel is of historical importance?

I would rather say it is of historical interest. I am not a historian. Even though I love doing research for my novels, my passion is fiction and a story like this that is rich with intrigue and theories, well, it is the stuff historical fiction writers dream about. Both characters, William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, have a world full of questions surrounding them. There are endless avenues any writer can traverse when it comes to these two men.

What made you want to write about Marlowe and Shakespeare?

The first time I visited England in 1997, I took a tour of the Globe Theater and there in the museum was a wall dedicated to the five other men who may have written the plays, a thought I had never imagined before. To this day, I truly don't know why Marlowe stood out to me, but I took out my notebook and began writing notes about him, knowing a story was there.

When I came back home and started researching on the Internet about the possibility, I came across some amazing discoveries. The more and more I delved, the more the theory sounded plausible. Given the fact that Marlowe was already a playwright and had access to far greater resources than Shakespeare ever did, the idea had merit, but the problem was the issue with his death at the age of twenty-nine in Deptford.

William Shakespeare
When I came across Peter Farey's discussion, the problem resolved and all of my questions melded together into one solution: he never died, but was exiled. This was truly a sixteenth century case of conspiracy and identity theft. The idea of a crime novel or suspense was quite interesting to me, even something on the line of Dan Brown's books, but in finding my own voice, historical fiction felt more like home, especially the time period of the Tudors. The Elizabethan era has always been my favorite period and I love tackling the job of weaving a bit of the old language with our modern tongue. While I tried to stay true to history, I did use artistic license, such as the additions of the subplot of Marlowe's imaginary friend, to round out a writer's torture who is plagued with a “muse,” as was Marlowe who was referred to as the “muse's darling.”

My grandmother gave me my first book of the complete works of Shakespeare when I was eleven years old. The language, the history, and the style of writing has intrigued me ever since. During my school years, I immersed myself into English Literature, even acting the part of Calpurnia in Julius Caesar when we studied that play.

Many will scoff at the idea that Shakespeare was merely an ambitious actor who stole the works of Marlowe. How do you approach this?

Of course, there will, and I expect that, but again, I do not claim to be a Shakespearean scholar or historian. Yet, sometimes the simplest of explanations lean more toward truth than elaboration. That is why I used the quote from Francis Bacon, who himself is another candidate for writing the plays - “The forbidden idea contains a spark of truth that flies up in the face of he who seeks to stamp it out.”

There may be a spark of truth to the idea that Shakespeare did not write the plays and there always will be those who wish to stamp out debate.

This is the same kind of wall the writers and men of ambition and progress, those of the “School of Night” faced during the Elizabethan era. I have been to some delightful debates over the years discussing the question of Shakespeare's authorship, the first and foremost being the lectures held at the Globe Theater in 2007.

There is even a petition people can sign on the internet called the Declaration of Intent for the Shakespeare Authorship Debate, although the site supports Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, as being the writer, which is fine with me, for any support for anyone other than the man Shakespeare shows I am not alone in believing that this actor from Stratford was not the man who wrote such eloquent and astounding verses; and yet, I am not against those who do believe.

The question reminds me of a small episode where this very thing took place. I was standing in a group at the first debate held at the Globe and a gentleman looked at me when he discovered I was a Marlowan, and said, “O, you are one of those. I suppose you believe he was exiled.” Very calmly, I replied, “Well, you have to admit that the idea makes for a great story, and that is what I am, a story teller.”

Christopher Marlowe
What kind of evidence is there that Marlowe survived the tavern brawl in Deptford? And what evidence is there against William Shakespeare being the writer?

To me, Marlowe was as a brilliant writer as he was a spy. A man who could create such astounding characters, even if you only attribute those we know about – Faustus, Tamburlaine, Edward – shows he had the ability to form well-rounded characters. Walsingham was known for recruiting boys of genius at a young age for the underground spy ring, so a boy of Marlowe's caliber, a boy and man who could morph characters, would have fit into Walsingham's plans. It would not have been a difficult thing for Marlowe to do as a writer, for oftentimes writers use this technique for getting into the minds of their characters.

What kind of questions should a person ask who is looking to do some research on this topic?

1. Do we know Marlowe survived the death in Deptford without a doubt? No, but tell me this:

2. Why was one of the most beloved playwrights of his day, before Shakespeare, buried in a common churchyard?

3. Why did the Queen provide her own coroner for the inquest when she herself was not within the verge of the murder, and then give instructions that no one delve further into questionings about Marlowe's death?

4. Why was Marlowe with three other well-known spies instead of presenting himself before the Privy Council at eleven o'clock, which was his punishment for the supposed seditious writings found in Kyd's apartments?

5. Who is the mysterious man known simply as Monsieur Le Doux during those years Marlowe would have been dead?

6. Why do we not hear anything about Shakespeare's writings until after Marlowe dies?

7. Who is the Mr. W. H. to whom the sonnets are dedicated?

8. Who is the “dark lady” of the sonnets?

9. What kind of education did the two men have?

10. What is the secret riddle of the epitaph above Shakespeare's tomb?

11. Why was his grave dug twelve feet deep instead of the normal six foot?

12. Why did Shakespeare's son-in-law, Dr. John Hall, leave off any mention of the day Shakespeare died in his journal?

There are so many questions, I could go on and on. If a person holds up all of these in relation to Shakespeare, the questions loom; and yet, when I held up each of these questions to Marlowe, all the answers, for me, fell into place.

Shakespeare did not have the education for such lofty writing, he did not have the background and there is no evidence of his having traveled. Even his friend, Ben Jonson, railed him on his lack of languages. Also, maybe just to me, but I thought it odd, there is no mention of his writings, or any books he may have had in his possession for his own research, in his will. For those in favor of Shakespeare, I am sure they will say it is because the plays belonged to the playhouse and the actors, but still, to me, there is a question.

There is no doubt Shakespeare was an ambitious man and a brilliant actor, and considering the time period he lived with poverty and sickness so rampant, a man might do anything to make sure of the survival of his family, the legacy of his name and his own ambition.

When you read some of the sonnets, many of the ones I have quoted in the novel, the desperation of a man writing the words resounds. Clearly, the sonnets show a man desperate for someone to recognize the hidden clues, clues that smack of the life of Marlowe, not Shakespeare. It was a common practice in those days to hide clues or riddles within writings, so this style of writing would not have been unusual for Marlowe. Also, he had all the means available to him to undertake a masque to save his own life – the money, the backing, the patrons, and a favor from the Queen herself, who was known to take great pains to protect those who protected her.

Any final thoughts on the Shakespeare authorship question?

Yea, simply this – an early American author, Napolean Hill, said, “All great truths are simple in final analysis, and easily understood; if they are not, they are not great truths.”

Are you saying after all of this that you are a strict Marlowan and not a Stratfordian?

Well, no. I am saying that there are reasonable questions to the debate, and I am saying that the premise makes for a great story; but in truth, we will never know unless someone stumbles upon some profound letter one day revealing to the world the true author. Until then, I will remain an avid Shakespeare-lover. There are questions I have, but I have no questions about the beauty and genius behind the works themselves.


If you loved Ken Follett's A Column of Fire, take another journey into 17th-century England with the 5-star reviewed historical fiction novel, Blood and Ink. History shows Kit Marlowe died in a tavern brawl in Deptford in 1593, but did he? England is torn apart by religious metamorphosis and espionage. The stages of England and bright intellectual boys are used to bolster Queen Elizabeth I's reign and propagate the rising Protestant faith. At the age of eight, Christopher Marlowe, the muse's darling, is sucked into the labyrinth of secret spy rings, blood, murder, and betrayal, while his own ambition to become England's favorite playwright drifts further from his grasp. As Christopher grows to manhood, he sinks further into the darkness, and a chance meeting with an unknown actor from Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare, sets him on a path of destiny - a fate of forced exile and the revelation that the real enemy is not an assassin of Rome, but a man who stared into his eyes and smiled. One he did not expect...
Read the editorial review by the Historical Novel Society here.

Blood and Ink is available in ebook, audio, & paperback on Amazon or in hardcover at Barnes and Noble.

Connect with DK Marley

DK Marley is a historical fiction writer specializing in Shakespearean themes. Her grandmother, an

English professor, gave her a volume of Shakespeare's plays when she was eleven, inspiring DK to delve further into the rich Elizabethan language. Eleven years ago she began the research leading to the publication of her first novel Blood and Ink, an epic tale of lost dreams, spurned love, jealousy and deception in Tudor England as the two men, William Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe, fight for one name and the famous works now known as the Shakespeare Folio. She is a true Stratfordian (despite the topic of her novel Blood and Ink), a Marlowe fan, a member of the Marlowe Society, the Shakespeare Fellowship and a signer of the Declaration of Intent for the Shakespeare Authorship Debate. Her new series titled The Fractured Shakespeare Series will tackle adapting each play into a historical fiction novel. She has traveled to England three times for intensive research and debate workshops and is a graduate of the intense training workshop "The Writer's Retreat Workshop" founded by Gary Provost and hosted by Jason Sitzes. She is also a blogger for The Jabberwocky Blog. She lives in Georgia with her husband and a Scottish Terrier named Maggie.


Prince of Sorrows - A Fractured Shakespeare Series, Book One – Hamlet – Now Available in Paperback, Ebook and Audible

Child of Love & Water - available in paperback and ebook

Connect with DK Marley on Facebook, Twitter, or her website.