The Marlowe Society
17 January 2014

2013 Hoffman Prize Winners Announced

Kirk Melnikoff and Dr Robert Sawyer Share the Award

At the start of the year, The King's School in Canterbury announced that Dr Robert Sawyer and Kirk Melnikoff had been jointly awarded the twenty-fourth Calvin & Rose G Hoffman Prize for a distinguished publication on Christopher Marlowe:

The two essays concern two very different time periods, and two very different aspects of Marlowe's plays. Kirk Melnikoff examines how the book trade in London at the end of the sixteenth century dealt with professional playbooks by considering the reception of the 1594 publication of Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage, and the impact that had on a planned reissue by two London publishers later in the decade. Robert Sawyer considers a far more contemporary reaction to Marlowe's work, and in particular looks at how the shocking 21st century terrorist attacks and associated conspiracy theories have impacted on the Authorship question.

The 1594 Quarto of Dido was published by the stationer Thomas Woodcocke. In relation to this, Melnikoff, who has researched and written extensively on the subject of the publishing trade in Elizabethan London, examines "what appears to have been a planned reissue by the bookselling partnership of John Flasket and Paul Linley in the late 1590s". His essay demonstrates how "Dido's early reception by the Elizabethan book trade underscores the uncertain market for printed professional playbooks before the turn of the sixteenth century. It also highlights the sophistication of book-trade publishers-as speculators, as readers, as marketers-when faced with unstable and largely untested print commodities. Some of this story is already known, but much of it has yet to be told. It involves not simply a relatively extensive cast of characters-drapers, printers, booksellers, and the like-but also lesser-known stationer practices, trade collaborations, and-perhaps most surprisingly-a 1590s literary vogue."

The Hoffman Prize award came as a pleasant surprise to Kirk Melnikoff. "I'd long hoped that I might have a chance at the prize during my career, but I've never been very confident about my chances." His essay will hopefully form one chapter of a monograph that he is currently writing on the subject of Elizabethan publishing practices and the development of literature in the vernacular.

Robert Sawyer's essay is also incorporated into a book ms under review, which traces critical assessment of Marlowe and Shakespeare over the last 400 years. His book will suggest "that when critics are writing about the connection between the two premier playwrights of the Elizabethan era, they are really writing about their own situated-ness in history, about their own historical context."

If it had not been for the conspiracy theories springing up post 9/11, Sawyer believes1, a number of recent books and films would not have been funded. His essay considers the effects of 9/11 and 7/7 on artistic productions of Marlowe's and Shakespeare's works in the US and UK. "After first looking at the effects on separately performed dramas of the two playwrights - specifically on one escapist, comic US Shakespearean production, Two Gentleman of Verona: The Musical (2005), and one tragic Marlovian UK performance of Tamburlaine (2005) - I consider an event that paired the playwrights in rotating productions of The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice, with F. Murray Abraham playing the lead in both."

Sawyer then uses Trauma Theory as a background to show "how the relationship of Shakespeare and Marlowe has been upended and re-shaped by current historical and aesthetic pressures. After suggesting that the climate of conspiracy theories birthed after 9/11 has led to an outbreak of new versions of the old, anti-Stratfordian fever in numerous printed works, I then conclude that this nebulous infection of conspiracy vis-a-vis the authorship question has spread into other works, including graphic novels and cinema, and even films such as Anonymous (2011). These assaults, both real and imagined, have exploded our simplistic world view generally, as well as reshaping the relationship between Marlowe and Shakespeare more specifically."

It seems that the award of the prize took Robert Sawyer by surprise too. "When I got the rather slim envelope in the campus mail, I was certain it was a polite 'thanks-but-no-thanks'. Once I read it, I had to re-read it to be sure I understood it correctly. My response then was one of immense gratitude to the governors of the Hoffman estate, as well as the adjudicator."

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 Peter Farey in 2007 and 2012, Ros Barber in 2011, Donna Murphy in 2010, 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).

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