Marlowe or Shakespeare?

christopher marlowe with arms folded

Someone recently asked me, who was a better writer, Marlowe or Shakespeare?

To me, Shakespeare was a better writer. Why? Not only did he speak of the human condition but he would dive into the psychological aspects of a character. He deftly moved beyond the stereotyping of characters which is a problem with Marlowe.

Shakespeare and Marlowe

If you compare The Jew of Malta written in 1594 by CM to The Merchant of Venice by WS, you will see that in both plays, there is a Jewish man with a beautiful daughter. But in TJOM, the Marlowe view of Jews is antisemitic and racist. Jews are seen as gold-loving money-grubbers to be loathed and hated. In the case of Barabas, (the Jewish star of TJOM) he is a nun-poisoning and priest-killing villain. Back in 1594, Jews were excluded from living in England so isn’t Marlowe giving us a good reason why all Jews should be excluded from England?

But in the MoV, we hear Shylock’s anguished speech in which he asks to be seen as a human, not merely pigeonholed as a Jew. He says,“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

We, the audience sympathize with him — even though later, Shakespeare panders to the tastes of his audience when Shylock demands his pound of flesh from Antonio.

My belief is that Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford wrote the plays of William Shakespeare. Oxford was 14 years older than Marlowe and they were both highly-educated men. Both were atheists. At one time, Marlowe worked for Oxford and lived at Fisher’s Folly, a house owned by Oxford so Marlowe may have even been mentored by Oxford. They most likely collaborated on some plays until Marlowe went his own way, and in fact, I believe the plays of Shakespeare should be rearranged as “pre-Spanish Armada”, “the Spanish Armada History plays” and “post-Spanish Armada.”

One of the biggest differences between the two, however, is that Oxford suffered from bipolar disorder and Marlowe did not. Oxford was also bisexual while Marlowe was a homosexual and not attracted to women. We know, according to the sonnets, Oxford was in love with a “dark” woman.

Finally, Edward de Vere may have written The Merchant of Venice in 1596, two years after The Jew of Malta, as a response to Marlowe’s open antisemitism.

Here the Jewish star, Shylock is portrayed as a human being and not a Jewish cartoon character. This was Oxford’s great gift – allowing a person who might in life be seen as a cast-off or undesirable to dive into our hearts and be memorable in a kind of social justice way.

By Robert Boog