One of my English professors, Dr. Cornelius, told us about a joke attempted during oral exams for his doctorate. He thought he had recognized a light-hearted spirit among his examining professors, so when the time came he offered a new line of study that fascinated him: The King James Bible had been translated by Shakespeare himself. Of course, the playwright would not openly take credit for this feat, but he did leave clues. Open up Psalm 46 and count to the 46th word, shake. Count again from the end of the psalm to the 47th word, spear.
I don’t remember how much further he was able to take the joke, but he could tell his audience wasn’t amused. Maybe it hit too close to home.
In 2016, The New Oxford Shakespeare strayed into that territory by way of “computerized textual analysis.” The edtiors believe they can attribute some new works to Shakespeare’s collaboration and other authors to other collaborations. Here’s a screenshot from the table of contents.
These new attributions came through comparing word choice and frequency. In this article from Oct. 2016, part of this analysis is described by the lead editor.
One piece of evidence identified five “Shakespeare-plus words”: gentle, answer, beseech, spoke, tonight. Taylor explained: “What we mean by Shakespeare-plus is that we’ve looked at the frequency of certain words which might seem commonplace like ‘tonight’ in all the plays of that early period, say up to 1600. Anybody could use any of these words. They’re not words that Shakespeare invented. But we can say Shakespeare used ‘tonight’ much more often than other playwrights in those 20 years.“Christopher Marlowe credited as Shakespeare’s co-writer,” The Irish Times, Oct. 24, 2106.
Brian Vickers and his team of researchers believe this new evidence proves just about nothing. He gets into some of the weeds in this piece in the Times Literary Supplement, and I’ll jump in the middle of it here.
Although he endorsed Word Adjacency Networks, Gary Taylor preferred a simpler approach. Middleton’s increased share of Macbeth in the recent edition derives from a method that he had invented himself, called “micro-attribution”. Where other scholars use segments of 2,000 or 5,000 words, Taylor claimed he could determine the authorship of a speech by Hecate in four rhyming couplets, or only “sixty-three consecutive words”. . . . On first view I thought this a daft method, treating words like counters in a board game and creating meaningless word-units, which the player would search for in texts by other authors. Taylor solemnly applied it to passages of matching length and verse form in plays by Middleton and Shakespeare, and by a lengthy process of calculation involving very small matches (nine to eight, or six to four), he assigned Hecate’s speech to Middleton. No reputable scholar would accept attributions made on such Lilliputian samples.Brian Vickers, “Infecting the teller,” Times Literary Supplement, April 17, 2020.
(Via Prufrock News)