The Marlowe Society
11 February 2012

2011 Hoffman Prize Winners Announced

Society Member Ros Barber Amongst Winners

In December, the King's School in Canterbury announced that Marlowe Society member Ros Barber had been jointly awarded the annual Hoffman Prize. There were no fewer than three winners of the twenty-second Calvin & Rose G Hoffman Prize for a distinguished publication on Christopher Marlowe:

Ros Barber's submission was highly unusual in that it did not take the form of an essay. Rather, as Ros explains, "The Marlowe Papers is a novel in verse (admittedly with 25 pages of notes and a bibliography) and is being published by Sceptre" at the end of May 2012. Marlowe is portrayed recounting how "his 'death' was an elaborate ruse to avoid his being hanged for heresy; that he was spirited across the channel to live on in lonely exile, longing for his true love and pining for the damp streets of London; and that he continued to write plays and poetry, hiding behind the name of a colourless man from Stratford - one William Shakespeare." The publishers describes the work as "memoir, love letter, settling of accounts and a cry for recognition as the creator of some of the most sublime works in the English language; this is Christopher Marlowe's testament - and a tour de force by an award-winning poet: provocative, persuasive and enthralling."

In contrast, Fox, Ehmoda and Charniak attempt to apply some strict scientific rigour to the question of the Authorship Debate by analysing the statistical stylometrics in different works. They have developed a model based around stylometrics which include "how often [the author(s)] use certain function words and general part of speech usage frequencies, as well as the likelihoods of transitions between them" to try and "represent the 'fingerprint' of an author". They apply this model to the works attributed to both Shakespeare and Marlowe to see how close the two are by these measures, but conclude that their "results indicate that we are actually quite good at distinguishing between them." Their work further performs comparative analysis between Marlowe's works and Shakespeare's early works using the same approach.

The Hoffman Prize was again adjudicated this year by Professor Park Honan, Emeritus Professor of English and American Literature at Leeds University and author of one the best biographies written about our playwright: Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy (2005). The prize itself was established as a bequest by Calvin Hoffman, author of the 1955 book The Murder of the Man Who Was Shakespeare, which posited that Marlowe's death in Deptford in 1593 was in fact faked, and that he rather went on to write the works now attributed to Shakespeare. A substantial Trust Fund was set up that will be awarded to anybody who can produce "irrefutable" evidence that Marlowe was the real author.

In the meantime, an annual prize is also awarded for the essay that "most convincingly, authoritatively and informatively examines and discusses the life and works of Christopher Marlowe, and the authorship of the plays and poems now commonly attributed to Shakespeare". Both prizes are administered by the King's School, who appoint an appropriate adjudicator each year to make the judgement.

Previous winners of the annual Prize have included Marlowe Society members Donna Murphy in 2010, Peter Farey in 2007 and Society Vice-President Prof. Lisa Hopkins (1994). Other winners have included Prof. James Shapiro (Columbia University, also 1994), Prof. Jonathan Bate (University of Liverpool, 1995), Prof. David Riggs (Stanford University, 1998), and Prof. Michael Hattaway (University of Sheffield, 2001).