Shakes-lowe (another hijacked post by Naomi)

The controversy surrounding Marlowe and Shakespeare is something that has been discussed for hundreds of years, and now there is a definitive answer to at least part of it. News broke yesterday that the Oxford University Press will begin to credit Christopher Marlowe as a co-author of three of the Henry VI plays. I immediately emailed my undergraduate Shakespeare professor. Up is down! Left is right! What is happening in the world?!

As someone who primarily studied classic and canonical literature throughout my undergraduate education, this certainly newsworthy. While I don’t think that it will change the way that these plays are taught, I do think that it opens the door for more discussion about collaboration and, perhaps, plagiarism. One of the things that I found most interesting about this is they way that it was determined that Marlowe did contribute. According to The Washington Post, different academics went through a very rigorous process:

“To find out if collaboration occurred, 23 international scholars performed text analysis by scanning through Marlowe’s (and other contemporary writers’) works, creating computerized data sets of the words and phrases he would repeat, along with how he did so — all of the idiosyncrasies that comprise one’s writing. Once they had a solid sample set of unique patterns, the Times noted, they cross-referenced it with Shakespeare’s plays.

The result? Seventeen of 44 of Shakespeare’s works probably had some sort of input from others. The three Henry VI plays proved to have enough of Marlowe’s literary footprint that his name deserved to be added as a co-author”.

I’m interested in what the rest of the class thinks about this development.


4 thoughts on “Shakes-lowe (another hijacked post by Naomi)

  1. I don’t know Naomi–I feel like I’ve been around long enough that this kind of development has happened before. I suppose not crediting someone else as to writing co-author. I appreciate the quantitative approach the researchers took toward this, but I really feel like this is jumping the gun a bit. As with any scientific endeavor, they have a dataset they’ve created, but to be honest, it seems highly dubious. The article doesn’t account for extraneous variables that were accounted for in the computer code, and my own intuition tells me this feels like a retroactive Minority Report–instead of predicting what I will do in the future, someone is looking in the past and rewriting history based on an algorithm.

    What kinds of tests were performed with this computer algorithm with modern authors as a type of double-blind study that could be actually verified? The article doesn’t mention this. The extraneous variables mentioned by other researchers of how Marlowe’s supposed imprint seems more than reasonable enough to cast doubt on the argument the researchers set out to explore. In a scientific endeavor, we aren’t seeking to affirm our question as true, only to validate it/replicate it. If we can’t do that, the research isn’t a loss, it just means we need to rethink the research design. The researcher who disagrees with the findings brings up a good enough point to throw a wrench in the research design–in my opinion.

    And all of this comes from a guy who really doesn’t like Shakespeare at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ok, I’m going to gloss over you not liking Shakespeare because I think my heart stopped beating for a moment there.

      I completely agree that there are a lot of holes in this research and that this debate has been ongoing for a long, long time. (literally hundreds of years). There was even a (REALLY TERRIBLE) movie about it. What I found particularly fascinating about this turn is that, for the first time (as far as I can tell), a major literary body has accepted and acknowledged that it is unlikely that Shakespeare actually authored all of his plays and they came to this determination through a mathematical algorithm. I think that this approach, rather than being strictly human readers, is a really interesting, if somewhat detached viewpoint on literature. Does this mean that all literature can be plugged into a computer for analysis? Will this impact plagiarism claims for other authors? Do all authors have one distinct style that they don’t/can’t waiver from?

      I also love to debate this kind of issue!


  2. Enter Digital Humanities and what it can do to our accepted truths . . . This big data distant reading experiment is what skeptics of DH might call the Dark Side of DH, but I think it opens up exciting new ways to approach literary study.


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