A retired Kiwi academic is behind the decision to name Christopher Marlowe as co-author of three of William Shakespeare's plays.

Emeritus Professor Mac Jackson, formerly of the University of Auckland, was among five of the world's most senior Shakespeare scholars who edited a new anthology of the Bard's complete works.

Marlowe will be listed as co-author of the three Henry VI plays in the New Oxford Shakespeare, due to be published in several instalments over the coming weeks by the Oxford University Press.

The issue of whether Shakespeare wrote all the plays attributed to him has been the subject of endless conjecture, with one persistent theory being that they were actually written by Marlowe - a notion rejected by Shakespeare scholars.


Jackson and his fellow editors concluded that 17 of 44 works associated with Shakespeare had input from others. The scholars used computerised data sets to reveal patterns, trends and associations - analysing not only Shakespeare's words, but also those of his contemporaries.

Gary Taylor, a professor at Florida State University and the principal investigator of the new work, said Shakespeare had now "entered the world of Big Data".

"There are certain questions that we are now able to answer more confidently that people have been asking for a very long time."

Taylor said academics had known for a long time that Shakespeare worked with other writers on some plays. The idea that he collaborated with Marlowe on the Henry VI plays had been debated for centuries, but had not been possible to demonstrate before.

Taylor said scholars had used databases of plays and other writings by many artists working in the Elizabethan period to search for distinctive words or combinations of words.

"That kind of Big Data was never available until very recently."

The academics who worked on the New Oxford Shakespeare, and others who had provided peer reviews of their findings, were extremely confident about Marlowe's authorship of some parts of the Henry VI plays, Taylor said.

"There are parts that are very clearly by Shakespeare and there are parts ... very clearly by Marlowe."

The previous edition of Shakespeare's complete works by the same publisher, issued in 1986, identified eight of 39 plays as collaborative.

- staff reporter, agencies