The Shakespeare Authorship Question: Background information when reading A Prisoner in Malta

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

A Prisoner in Malta

A Christopher Marlowe Mystery

by Phillip DePoy

A Prisoner in Malta by Phillip DePoy X
A Prisoner in Malta by Phillip DePoy
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Jan 2016, 320 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick
Buy This Book

About this Book

The Shakespeare Authorship Question

This article relates to A Prisoner in Malta

Print Review

Christopher Marlowe, Renaissance playwright and poet – and protagonist of Phillip DePoy's A Prisoner in Malta – produced a handful of dramatic masterpieces in his relatively short life. That is, if you believe he died at age 29 in a bar fight at a public house in Deptford, in southeast London. But some believe his death was staged and that he went on not only to live for decades abroad but also to produce the greatest dramas of all time – under the name William Shakespeare.

Almost since the death of Shakespeare in 1616, some skeptics and critics have continued to raise what has become known as "the authorship question," a challenge to the notion that the lightly educated man from Stratford could actually have written the plays ascribed to him.

It's a complex issue that has been argued in hundreds of books and articles but the gist of the argument comes down to training and experience. Shakespeare's plays are filled with numerous and detailed allusions to British royal history, the military, the law, theology, foreign locales, and arcane issues such as falconry. Some critics say Shakespeare, who likely lacked any kind of education beyond elementary school (or at least there is no record testifying to such) would not have possessed the depth and breadth of learning that fills the plays under his name. Marlowe, however – a celebrated playwright and a Cambridge-trained scholar – would have been exposed to exactly the sort of learning found in the plays. As one critic has written, "Marlowe was a divinity student and a classicist, a translator of Ovid. His learning was of the kind and quality that scholars find in Shakespeare."

Christopher Marlowe It has been argued by many biographers and historians that Marlowe worked clandestinely as an English spy while a student at Cambridge, gathering intelligence in England and abroad against Catholic conspirators who were seeking to eliminate the Protestant Elizabeth and put a Catholic on the throne. When Cambridge University authorities withheld Marlowe's degree due to an extended trip to Reims and the Jesuit seminary there (which was regarded as a center of anti-Protestant ferment), the Queen's Privy Council sent a letter to Cambridge, stating, in part: "Because it was not her Majesties pleasure that anie one emploid as he had been in matters touching the benefit of his Countrie should be defamed by those that are ignorant in th' affaires he went about." He was thus awarded his degree.

At the time of Marlowe's supposed murder, he was out on bail, awaiting an appearance before the infamous Star Chamber to answer for the crime of "heresy," a charge based on his private writings as well as his association with some secret societies. Is it possible that he faked his death – assisted by a few friends in high places – to avoid prosecution and relocate abroad, perhaps continuing to spy for England and to continue writing plays?

Proponents of this theory – who point out that the first Shakespeare plays began appearing right after Marlowe's death – find clues in many of Shakespeare's works to bolster their argument. For example, in As You Like It, the character Touchstone is said to be a stand-in for Marlowe and William, an unlearned rustic from the Forest of Arden, is said to be Shakespeare. Here's one brief exchange:

Touchstone: Give me your hand. Art thou learned?
William: No, sir.
Touchstone: Then learn this of me: to have is to have; for it is a figure in rhetoric that drink, being poured out of a cup into a glass, by filling the one doth empty the other.

It should be noted that Marlowe is one of almost a dozen candidates for authorship that various eminent authorities have proposed as the "real" Shakespeare. But as one theorist has argued, "Were it not for the record of his early death, Christopher Marlowe would be the strongest of Shakespeare candidates." Given the paucity of hard evidence, modern readers are left with a bit of a conundrum: To believe or not to believe – that is the question.

Picture of Christopher Marlowe by Cropbot

Filed under Books and Authors

Article by James Broderick

This article relates to A Prisoner in Malta. It first ran in the January 20, 2016 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Where Coyotes Howl
    Where Coyotes Howl
    by Sandra Dallas
    Where Coyotes Howl may appear to be a classically conventional historical novel — a wide-eyed ...
  • Book Jacket: After the Miracle
    After the Miracle
    by Max Wallace
    Many people have heard one particular story about Helen Keller—how the saintly teacher, Annie ...
  • Book Jacket: The Lost Wife
    The Lost Wife
    by Susanna Moore
    The Lost Wife is a hard-hitting novella based in part on a white settler named Sarah Wakefield's ...
  • Book Jacket
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Voted 2021 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Angeline Boulley's young adult ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Girlfriend on Mars

30 Copies to Give Away!

A funny and poignant debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.