Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shakespeare: to be or not to be

Shakespeare - or the myth surrounding him - has always fascinated me. His life, his death, his works, the myth of his "true" identity.

So here's a fascinating article from Jack Malvern at Times Online, which claims that the Bard had help with his writing.
The 400-year-old mystery of whether William Shakespeare was the author of an unattributed play about Edward III may have been solved by a computer program designed to detect plagiarism.

Sir Brian Vickers, an authority on Shakespeare at the Institute of English Studies at the University of London, believes that a comparison of phrases used in The Reign of King Edward III with Shakespeare’s early works proves conclusively that the Bard wrote the play in collaboration with Thomas Kyd, one of the most popular playwrights of his day.

The professor used software called Pl@giarism, developed by the University of Maastricht to detect cheating students, to compare language used in Edward III — published anonymously in 1596, when Shakespeare was 32 — with other plays of the period.

He discovered that playwrights often use the same patterns of speech, meaning that they have a linguistic fingerprint. The program identifies phrases of three words or more in an author’s known work and searches for them in unattributed plays. In tests where authors are known to be different, there are up to 20 matches because some phrases are in common usage. When Edward III was tested against Shakespeare’s works published before 1596 there were 200 matches.

There has been lots about the Bard in the tabloids over the past few years - here's a selection:

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