Uncovering Shakespeare's Contemporaries

There’s a brilliant man strutting his stuff on the Southbank this summer. He’s a shrewd, witty Brit who swoops through time and space uncovering evil and rewarding virtue; however, he is eternally condemned to dwell in the shadow of his travelling companion, an eloquent magician of universal renown.

No, I’m not talking about Arthur Darvill, who stars as Mephistopheles in Matthew Dunster’s new production of Doctor Faustus at the Globe - and just so happens to also play Rory, humble sidekick to Matt Smith’s barnstorming Doctor Who, on the BBC. I’m actually referring to Christopher Marlowe, the enigmatic Elizabethan writer who penned the play about Faustus’s devilish pact. You know, Marlowe. The one who isn’t Shakespeare.

There is such as glut of great Shakespeare in London - this year alone you’d be mad to miss Tate and Tennant’s sparkling Much Ado or Kevin Spacey’s iconic Richard III  - that can be easy to feel that your annual quota of worthy blank verse has been amply filled by Bill. But, as Dunster’s fast, funny production shows, the big bard’s contemporaries are worth seeking out. Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Thomas Kyd, Philip Massinger, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher all produced works full of humour and wisdom, beautiful language and ferocious action, and they retain the advantage of still having something fresh to offer to theatregoers who have been saturated in Shakespeare since their schooldays.