Prize for Sheffield professor who brings lost Marlowe play ‘back to life’

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A Sheffield Hallam professor who used state-of-the-art computer technology to investigate a lost play attributed to Christopher Marlowe has been awarded a top literary prize.

Professor Matthew Steggle from the University’s department of humanities used the Early English Books Online database to examine a lost play widely regarded to have been penned by the Dr Faustus writer. He found that it swapped Marlowe’s familiar violent style for a more pastoral approach.

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Matthew’s award-winning essay ‘Marlowe’s Lost Play: “The Maiden’s Holiday” and the Early Reception of “Come Live With Me”’ re-examines The Maiden’s Holiday, which is thought to be one of eight Marlowe plays, but was never published and believed to have been lost in the 18th century.

The only manuscript, in the library of the book-collector John Warburton, was mistakenly thought to be waste paper by his cook, who used the pages to light fires and line the tins of pies.

Matthew used computer databases of other writing from the period to re-examine the work.

He said: “The title suggests it was pastoral writing, set in the countryside, and shows that Marlowe’s early reputation was not just about violence and tragedy, but also linked to comedy, pastoral, and lyric tenderness.”

Matthew will give the Annual Marlowe lecture next year at the playwright’s old school, the King’s School in Canterbury.

He added: “Marlowe wrote seven brilliant, controversial tragedies, of which the best known is Doctor Faustus. Up until his murder in 1593, he was far more successful than his contemporary Shakespeare.

“The Maiden’s Holiday is sadly lost, and generally forgotten, but there’s a lot that we can gather about its style and content based on other writings of the time and the title itself, which is all that remains of the work.”

Professor Chris Hopkins, head of the Humanities Research Centre, added: “This is a prestigious international prize, and one in which Sheffield Hallam has had success in the past. Our previous winners include Professor Lisa Hopkins in 1994 and our alumnus Dr Andrew Duxfield in 2009.

“It’s a significant achievement for Matthew and adds to his formidable reputation as one of the most respected authorities on Christopher Marlowe in the world today.”

A version of the essay will be in Booking Christopher Marlowe: Cultures of Performance and Publication, eds Kirk Melnikoff and Roslyn L. Knutson (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2016).