Or so they say. I confess that while I accept in theory the idea of computer analysis of word use to determine, or at least provide evidence for, authorship, it makes me uneasy. At any rate, here‘s what Helen Anders writes in The Daily Beast:
Nearly 300 years ago, an editor named Lewis Theobald published a drama called Double Falsehood that he called an adaptation of a lost Shakespeare play. Nobody believed him, primarily because any Shakespeare original was, indeed, lost.
Now, two University of Texas researchers say they have proof that the Bard really did write the play, in collaboration with playwright John Fletcher—not because of the composition of iambic pentameter soliloquies but largely because of how the writers used little words like a, the, of, by, for, thee, and ye. What’s more, the validation in a newly published article in the journal Psychological Science comes not from literary scholars but from social psychologists using a computer program.
Essentially, works by Shakespeare, Fletcher, and Theobald were fed into a computer and examined for each writer’s signature use of what researchers Ryan Boyd and James Pennebaker call “function” words—little words such as articles, prepositions, pronouns, and simple verbs such as will and be—as well as social words such as brother, sister, and mother. The computer determined what the researchers call “psychological fingerprints” for each writer, and then looked for them in Double Falsehood.
I had read about the lost Cardenio, but didn’t realize it was supposed to have been reused for Double Falsehood (as part of a collaboration). At any rate, with regard to the reasons the play no longer exists, “Pennebaker says Shakespeare might have been complicit in its suppression because he wasn’t very proud of it, saying that scholars at the UCLA conference largely felt it was a ‘shitty play.'” So I guess I won’t worry my head too much over it. (Thanks, Paul!)