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Shaul Ezer and Jen McGregor - The Real William Shakespeare... As Told By Christopher Marlowe Interview

The authorship debate of did William Shakespeare really write his plays is brought to life in a witty play by Shaul Ezer and directed by Jen McGregor

Matchmaker Productions are producing Shaul's script which investigates Christopher Marlowe's work abroad as a spy and his encounters with theatrical Morrocan diplomat, Ahmed Bilqasim, whose writing changes the course of Marlowe’s life and literature forever.

The production features an international cast and creatives and has sparked fierce debate during its rehearsed readings in Los Angeles. 

Ahead of the show playing at The Edinburgh Fringe in August, I sat down with Shaul and Jen to delve deeper into the piece. 

Can you tell me where the inspiration for the piece came from?
Shaul: I was in high school when I started hearing theories about Shakespeare, and how the Stratford man may not have been the real writer of those plays. However, the inspiration for this play was a 2019 article in The Atlantic magazine in 2019 that proposed the theory that the real William Shakespeare was an Italian woman called Emilia Bassano. That got me thinking, and a play was born.

What were your first introductions in to Marlowe's work and the work of Shakespeare?
Shaul: I studied Shakespeare in high school and university, including Julius Caesar, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and my favourite, King Lear. I memorized Shakespeare’s sonnets, and as an adult, I would recite them to my children to stay awake on long drives in  the country. As for Marlowe, I recently became interested in his life and work because of his biography. He was a genius, an atheist, and gay, the later two were criminal offences in his time. I also became fascinated with the idea that in addition to being a poet and playwright, he was also a spy for England.

Jen: I discovered Shakespeare when The Animated Tales were broadcast on TV – half-hour distillations of his greatest hits, retaining (drastically cut) original language and using multiple different animation techniques. I was eight, and nobody had told me yet that Shakespeare was supposed to be difficult, so I fell head over heels for the drama and heightened emotions of these unusual cartoons. As for Marlowe, I think I first encountered his work when I was 14 or 15 and saw a production of Dr Faustus at the Edinburgh Fringe, late at night in some gorgeous old church. It spoke to my gothy little teenaged heart.

What research have you been doing in creating the piece?
Jen: I’ve been reading about various authorship theories and the lives of Shakespeare and Marlowe on and off for years, so for this piece I’ve mostly been focusing on the question of why people get so invested in the authorship question. I’m interested in the ways in which it’s personal to them, so I’ve been trawling forums that discuss the question and paying attention to what contributors say (whether directly or subtextually) about their need for answers.

Shaul: I read several biographies of Marlowe, including ones by Park Honan, David Riggs, and Anthony Burgess, as well as the many books written about the likely collaboration between Marlowe and the writer of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. I also read The Sultan and the Queen by Jerry Brotton, but you’ll have to see the play to find out why.

What is the process like for you both when creating and crafting together a new piece of work?
Shaul: I'm all about outlines and matrixes of columns and timelines. It sounds technical, but it helps me to move the characters through the play and find the best narrative structure.

Jen: Once Shaul’s draft is ready, I go through it and come back with a list of questions and thoughts about the dramaturgy of the piece, character motivations, etc., and we start thinking about how it might function on stage. And of course, as a Fringe veteran of many, many years, I’ve always got an eye on the running time!

The script has already caused some serious debate in rehearsed readings, how has that been for you both to have that conversation around the piece?
Shaul: It’s actually been fascinating and instructive. I’m proposing a theory that, to my knowledge, has never been proposed before, and I knew it would provoke strong opinions. I’m looking forward to seeing the response at the Fringe and the conversations it hopefully inspires.

Jen: It makes my shoulder devil very happy. Although we’re not presenting the events of this play as hard fact, it’s interesting that the mere possibility of our scenario provokes such intense responses in some people. If that leads to people thinking a bit more about Shakespeare as a cultural icon, how his works have historically been utilised for political purposes, and what role he occupies today, then perhaps my shoulder angel will be happy too.  

What are your own personal thoughts on the Shakespeare authorship debate and have they changed because of working on this show?
Jen: I think the debate has its roots in classism and fundamental misunderstandings of how both history and playwriting work, and that hasn’t changed. I’m open to the possibility that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays, but I’d need a better reason than “only an Oxbridge man could have written such great works” (a hypothesis very popular with Oxbridge graduates, funnily enough), or “nobody could possibly write that much” (his total works add up to less than Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu or most major fantasy series, but I don’t see an authorship debate around those).

Shaul:  It is my opinion that many of the theories on the Shakespeare authorship question fail to take into account the context of the time. It’s a gap I hope to address with this play.

You're taking the show to the Edinburgh Festival this summer, what do you want an audience to take away from seeing the show?
Shaul: I want audiences to be inspired by the authorship question, and even if they are not persuaded by my theory, I hope they will at the very least be entertained by the idea of it.

Jen:  Hopefully a smile and a laugh, as well as some thoughts about how many interesting historical happenings have gone undocumented. They can decide for themselves whether that’s unfortunate or whether it’s fun to speculate about what might have been. 

The Real William Shakespeare... As Told By Christopher Marlowe plays at Greenside @ Riddles Court - Thistle Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe from 4th to 19th August (not 13th) at 1.50pm. Tickets are available from

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