Columbus, the play of

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Falsely attributed to Marston, John (falsely attributed to 1603)

NB This purported lost play is a hoax. It is listed here simply to document that it is indeed inauthentic.

Historical Records

In 1841 John Payne Collier described an undated letter in the archives at Dulwich College, in which John Marston wrote to Philip Henslowe asking for a payment of £20 in connection with the “playe of Columbus” which he was then writing (Collier, Memoirs of Edward Alleyn, 1841, 154n). The letter is indeed to be found in the archives at Dulwich (MS i.103), but it is a complete forgery by Collier himself, carefully modelling its handwriting and language upon the Marston manuscripts that were available to him.

Theatrical Provenance


Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues


References to the Play


Critical Commentary

James Orchard Halliwell cited this letter, using it as biographical evidence in the Introduction to his 1856 edition of The Works of John Marston. Halliwell also included the supposed play in his Dictionary of Old English Plays (1860), 55. [1] The letter was also reprinted in its entirety in Edwin Percy Whipple’s The Literature of the Age of Elizabeth (1869), 127, from where it made its way into other sources, including, most recently, Harold Bloom, ed., The New Moulton’s Library of Literary Criticism (1986), 1299.

In 1860 and 1861, the fraud was exposed by N.E.S.A. Hamilton and C.M. Ingleby, who re-examined the manuscript and discovered traces of the pencil marks used to construct it, still visible underneath the ink (Hamilton, An Inquiry [1860], 94; Ingleby, A Complete View [1861], 2; Freeman and Freeman, John Payne Collier [2004], 1034). As noted above, though, even this did not completely stop the forgery’s subsequent spread.

For What It's Worth

Works Cited

Collier, J.P. Memoirs of Edward Alleyn, Founder of Dulwich College. London, 1841.
Freeman, Arthur and Janet Ing Freeman. John Payne Collier: Scholarship and Forgery in the Nineteenth Century. 2 vols. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004.
Hamilton, N.E.S.A. An Inquiry into the Genuineness of the Manuscript Corrections of J. Payne Collier's Annotated Shakespeare, Folio, 1632. London, 1860.
Ingleby, C. M. A Complete View of the Shakespeare Controversy. London, 1861.
Whipple, Edwin Percy. Literature of the Age of Elizabeth (1869)

Site created and maintained by Matthew Steggle, University of Bristol: updated 18/12/2020.