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21 December 2004

On Marlowe’s Possible Authorship of all Three Parts of Hero and Leander

This case is not of central importance to the Marlowe was Shakespeare thesis. Indeed an early Hoffman Prize Paper on this subject (by me) was rejected because even though it strove to prove Marlowe completed the poem, it was found to have " no standing" for the Hoffman Prize, because Shakespeare was never thought the author of Parts Two and Three.  That’s true. But it is also true if Marlowe survived 1593 to complete Hero and Leander c. 1597/8, Marlowe’s claim for Shakespeare’s works is greatly enhanced.

The back-story is that Hero and Leander was allegedly left unfinished when Marlowe "died" on the 30th of May 1593. It entered history on the 28th of September 1593. Likely in remembrance of the so-called Bradley Duel, which had taken place on the 18/28 September 1589, during which Dr Watson, a real life Leander and hero, stepped into the fray and saved Marlowe's life.  Hero and Leander does not seem to have been printed until 1598, when an edition published by Edward Blount (~Blont), Marlowe’s friend and publisher, appeared. The book was dedicated to Sir Thomas Walsingham, Marlowe’s patron and friend, with whom Marlowe had been staying in May 1593, as we learn from the Privy Council warrant:

A warrant to Henry Manuder, one of the messengers of her Majesty's Chamber, to repair to the house of Mr. Tho. Walsingham in Kent, or to any other place where he shall understand Christofer Marlow to be remaining.... (18 May 1593)

Marlowe was allegedly slain by one of Sir Thomas’ retainers, one Ingram Frizer, who continued to work for Walsingham in the years to come, having been quickly pardoned by the Queen for his part in the reckoning.

Because of the oddness of this fact, Ziegler (c. 1890) suggested Frizer, not Marlowe, had been killed in Deptford, Kent and Marlowe’s simply took his place in the days before forensic science complicated these grisly substitutions.

The Frizer/Marlowe case been abandoned, since period records indicate Frizer never rose above his station with Sir Thomas.  Surely if he had been Marlowe, he would have quickly risen within Walsingham’s team. But this did not happen. Modern Marlovians now suppose Frizer was there to identify the body said Marlowe's and take the rap, as we Yanks say, for killing it.  They suggest the body was already dead, before it arrived in Deptford, ala Measure for Measure.  Marlovians, following the lead of David More, have proposed it as John Penry's missing body.  The unfortunate Penry, the Protestant martyr, had been hanged the evening before, a mile or so away, and his body disappeared.  Penry, from the same station in life, overlapped at Cambridge with Marlowe and John Greenwood and was in daily contract with Marlowe’s master, Lord Burghley, begging him on the 28th of May to see to his body after his hanging.  The letter would have reached Burghley on the day of Penry’s execution.  A fate which Burghley would have circumvented if he could have. (As we can see from letters cited by Read.)  So Burghley may well have dispatched Marlowe and his three friends to handle that unpleasant chore. 

In any case the body promptly vanished.  It could easily have done Marlowe service the following night, because the stiffness of death, or rigor, leaves a body after twenty-four hours or so.  Meaning the body could be made to look freshly dead, particularly with the addition of Frizer’s knife in its forehead,  for as the poet reminds us in Measure for Measure,  “death’s a great disguiser.” With Frizer and his two friends standing by to swear to the identity of the body, who could dispute it in a village where Marlowe could not have been widely known?  Assassins would, surely, have abandoned the body.  So, the only conceivable reason, for Marlowe’s three companions to have remained with that gruesome corpse, was to identify it.  Modern theories suggested by Charles Nicholl and David Riggs are thus found wanting.  Professional assassins would have either killed Marlowe, where he could be dumped quickly in the river and never found (only a few yards from the scene of the crime) or left him to be discovered by others.  I belabor this point because so many seem to have overlooked it for so long.  The only sensible reason for Marlowe’s three companions not dumping Marlowe’s body into the river and vanishing quietly into the night, was their desire to identify the body as his.  

Moving ahead to 1598, Marlowe was attributed with having completed 1/3 of the poem. Blount then ascribed the latter two thirds to George Chapman, dedicating those parts to Sir Thomas’ wife, Lady Audrey (Shelton) Walsingham.  Audrey Shelton was the first cousins of Sir Thomas, and would have known him all her life.  Biographers simply do not know when Marlowe’s friendship with Sir Thomas began, but they do know that young Sir Thomas was with Sir Francis Walsingham on the night of the St Bartholomew Massacre, in Paris at the English House.  The same Massacre Marlowe wrote about as if he’d witnessed it.  

With them were young Francis Walsingham (Sir Francis’ five year old daughter) Nicholas Faunt, Marlowe’s Canterbury analog, and young Sir Philip Sidney, who would, eventually, wed Frances Walsingham.  (After Philip’s death, she would wed Essex.)  Faunt is not nearly as well known as he should be.  His father was the “singing man” at Canterbury’s celebrated Cathedral and would have taught Marlowe to sing.  Young Nicholas attended the same schools Marlowe would, even earning the same Parker scholarship.  And he would work for the same masters, in the same order, first for Sir Francis, then for Lord Burghley and afterwards for the Bacon brothers.   Faunt was literate, able and a linguist.  He had been carefully groomed to become a diplomatic attaché or a secretary’s secretary.   Though still in the King’s School that summer, Faunt was obviously getting was we Yanks call, some “on the job training,” and though just a boy, he would carry Sir Francis Walsingham’s important diplomatic dispatch about the Massacre home to Queen Elizabeth I. in his head, safe from interception.  Since Marlowe followed an identical path, we can suppose that this was how young Marlowe had first come to the Queen’s attention, an attention we know of from the Privy Council’s conciliar to Cambridge demanding Marlowe’s MA and attesting to his “faithful dealing” for the Crown.  We still do not know if Marlowe was in Paris that night, but if he was, he was most likely, there as young Sir Thomas’ companion.  Thomas Walsingham was a year his junior and, according to Blount, a lifelong friend of Marlowe’s.  It was the habit, then as now, to pair a young peer with a bright companion, who could act as his tutor through out their childhoods.  Faunt was seven years older than Marlowe and must have been working with Frances and Thomas.  

Marlowe can be proven to have known Sir Philip’s sister and brother, so it is easy to suppose he knew Philip as well.  Indeed Philip picked up a new page, Daniel Batchelor, in 1579 or at the same time Marlowe entered the King’s School, already a well groomed and widely traveled young man.  Marlowe is missing, conspicuously, from the Canterbury record prior to his entry in the King’s School and Sidney visited the King’s School at this same moment (Urry) so it is certainly possible that Marlowe did some duty with Philip, just as Faunt had.  This would explain how he had come to know Mary (Philip’s remarkable sister) who became the Countess of Pembroke and William Herbert’s mother.   Herbert’s initials grace the Sonnets and the First Folio was dedicated to him and to his brother, Philip Herbert.

Due to title page attributions and what must be called obvious stylistic differences between Parts One and Parts Two and Three, the world came to believe that George Chapman was the author of those parts, while Marlowe the author of Part One only.

However, once computer studies of the text(s) became possible, so called "stylometric" evidence began to suggest Marlowe had actually written all three parts of Hero and Leander. (Ule, 1980) I gave a paper on this subject in 1988 at Oxford and published results in Oxford’s peer review journal Literary and Linguistic Computing in 1988, under the title "Pace A New Test For Authorship, Based on the Rate at which New Words Enter An Author’s Text."

It offered a study of some eighty Elizabethan texts, based on Ule’s work, and strongly suggested that Marlowe became the writer William Shakespeare. In regards Hero and Leander, Pace noticed all three parts were nearly identical in gross length. Here they are:

Parts One and Two

Parts Three and Four

Parts Five and Six

Total Words or tokens:




Total Vocabulary or Types (tokens counted once)




Now that’s quite a remarkable state of affairs. Not only where all three parts within a few words of one another in over all length, but in the entirely unseen category of actual vocabulary, the three parts were within fifty words or Types of each other. How could this be? Are we to believe that two different writers had identical skills in generating Types among their tokens?

Pace also noticed that when all three Parts were artificially combined into a single text of 18,892 words, the entire poem contained precisely 3919 types. Notice that means about two thousand types were being reused or shared between the three texts:

Types in Parts One, Two, Three and All Parts





One might call this a “core vocabulary.”  It is expected, since the subjects and languages are similar.

In any case what was so remarkable was that Pace then placed the complete Hero and Leander text into a table of 80 some Elizabethan texts ranked simply by their T/tr. Guess what happened?

Hero and Leander (all) ended up as part of a cluster of  three Marlovian works that included Dido, Faustus (1604) and Ovid’s Elegies, in that order.   All four, thus, sit shoulder to shoulder, when they could have been divided by more than 70 other Elizabethan works.



H&L All

Ovid’s Elegies

I’d hate to try to calculate those odds. But the computers assure us that all of Hero and Leander appears to have been written by someone with precisely the same command of his T/tr as the man who wrote Dido, Faustus and Ovid Elegies. Which is to say, Marlowe.

No computer study is 100% certain. But it would seem highly unlikely that "George Chapman" completed Hero and Leander. The evidence is much stronger that Marlowe completed it. He is the most likely to have planned its perfect three-part, tripartite, division.  He seems most likely to have counted words and made certain the parts were essentially equal in length. He is, overwhelmingly so, the only reasonable person who could have produced the T/tr "signature," one that makes the entire poem cluster with three of his works.  How could another writer have managed this?  Indeed the a priori expectation in a collaborative work is that the second writer will bring extra Types to it.  These extra types will not fit within the piece as a “core vocabulary” will.  They constitute an “overburden” of Types.  The result will be that the computer will discover more Types than anticipated, certainly more than it discovered here.

The obvious stylistic differences, relate, I suggested at Oxford, to the fact that the underlying Greek text, which also has a tripartite division, changed radically in tone and in structure at the end of Marlowe’s part. The final two parts are tragic and require a different tone and this tone, in the Greek, was reflected in longer sentences, which carry over to the "Chapman" portions.

In summary, Marlowe would appear to have completed Hero and Leander c. 1597/8 and he and Blount simply attributed it to Chapman to take the heat off them. 

One additional point needs be said.  Blount could not have risked dedicating this work to Sir Thomas Walsingham and his wife, if something remarkable had not happened behind the scenes.  For five years Marlowe had been a persona non grata.  An unmentionable.   Then suddenly, somehow, Marlowe or his reputation had been repatriated privately, as he was publicly in his problems with Cambridge ten years earlier.  There the Privy Council, citing the Queen’s displeasure, certified Marlowe’s good standing and demanded his MA.  If something similar to this had not happened c. 1597, Blount simply could not have connected Marlowe to Sir Thomas in the deeply personal terms of the dedication.

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