Exit Shakespeare, for He Had a Coauthor
November 22, 2016
Shakespeare is regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. Many studies, however, are devoted to the theory that he did not pen all of his plays and poems. Some attribute them to Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, Christopher Marlowe, and others. Whether Shakespeare was a singular author or one of many, two facts remain: he was a dirty, old man and it could be said he plagiarized his ideas from other writers. Shall he still be regarded as the figurehead for English literature?
Philly.com takes the Shakespeare authorship into question in the article, “Penn Engineers Use Big Data To Show Shakespeare Had Coauthor On ‘Henry VI’ Plays.” Editors of a new edition of Shakespeare’s complete works listed Marlowe as a coauthor on the Henry VI plays due to a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania. Alejandro Ribeiro used his experience researching networks could be applied to the Shakespeare authorship question using big data.
Ribeiro learned that Henry VI was among the works for which scholars thought Shakespeare might have had a co-author, so he and lab members Santiago Segarra and Mark Eisen tackled the question with the tools of big data. Working with Shakespeare expert Gabriel Egan of De Montfort University in Leicester, England, they analyzed the proximity of certain target words in the playwright’s works, developing a statistical fingerprint that could be compared with those of other authors from his era.
Two other research groups had the same conclusion with other analytical techniques. The results from all three studies were enough to convince the lead general editor of the New Oxford Shakespeare Gary Taylor, who decided to list Marlowe as a coauthor to Henry VI. More research has been conducted to determine other potential Shakespeare coauthors and six more will also be credited in the New Oxford editions.
Ribeiro and his team created “word-adjacency networks” that discovered patterns in Shakespeare’s writing style and six other dramatists. They discovered that many scenes in Henry VI were non-written in Shakespeare’s style, enough to prove a coauthor.
Some Shakespeare purists remain against the theory that Shakespeare did not pen all of his plays, but big data analytics proves many of the theories that other academics have theorized for generations. The dirty old man was not old alone as he wrote his ditties.