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Scientists claim computer has solved mystery of Shakespeare's 'missing play'



13th October 2006



William Shakespeare: Experts say the mystery of the Arden of Faversham play is solved






Scientists claim to have solved a centuries-old mystery by using a computer program to finally prove William Shakespeare did write one of the most contentious works of his time.

Shakespeare's 'missing play' - Arden of Faversham - has divided academics since the 18th century, with many refusing to accept it was written by The Bard.

Furious debate has raged for hundreds of years over the play, which was written in 1592 and does not appear in Shakespeare's 'Complete Works.'

But two esteemed professors claim their computer program proves beyond doubt that he not only wrote that but will end ceaseless speculation over whether he was responsible for some of his most famous plays.

Doubts have raged since the 18th century about whether or not Shakespeare actually wrote works such as Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.

Critics including authors such as Mark Twain and Charles Dickens did not believe that a working class man from rural Staffordshire could have written the plays alone.

Other doubters pointed to the fact that Shakespeare knew little foreign language and couldn't have written passages in Latin or French.

They suggested that a more educated man, such as Edward deVere, who was the Earl of Oxford and a renowned author, or Francis Bacon may have penned the scripts.

But now, using a technique called computational stylistics, that counts the frequency of certain words in the plays, researchers have identified a specific writing style.

They believe this technique, which they have been working on since 2003, proves once and for all that Shakespeare was the author.

By comparing the unique fingerprint on work attributed to Shakespeare with the fingerprints of other major playwrights of the time, researchers believe it proves he did indeed write the works that have been disputed for more than 200 years.

The other writers, including some of those credited with writing or co-writing Shakespeare's plays, are said to have distinctly different styles.

Research director Professor Arthur Kinney says he has now proved that Shakespeare did write the domestic murder play, Arden of Faversham.

And he says he is confident the study will prove that the rest of Shakespeare's work was in fact written by the legendary playwright.

Prof Kinney said: "I have now proven that Shakespeare is the author of Arden of Faversham.

"They guessed that in the 19th century but no-one would believe it in the 20th century. Now we know."

He added: "The Shakespeare 'fingerprint' provides strong evidence that he, and not other authors, wrote the works generally believed to be his.

"Each of the other authors has a unique literary fingerprint that is different.

"Now that Shakespeare's fingerprint has been defined by the team, it can now be applied to a large body of works where authorship is unknown or questioned."

Prof Kinney and fellow researcher Professor Hugh Craig used their technique to analyse the usage, occurrence, spelling and placement of phrases, as well as common and rare words.

For example, the word 'gentle' appears almost twice as frequently in works by Shakespeare than in works by other writers.

Shakespearean drama also frequently finds the word 'farewell' preceded by 'hail'.

Prof Craig said that a computer was needed to crack the code because patterns of simple words would be overlooked using the naked eye.

He said: "You otherwise hardly notice such words but with a computer you can detect patterns of usage and they become important.

"You find that individuals have their own kind of profile."

Prof Kinney is director of the Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies at the University of Massachusetts, USA.

Prof Craig is director of the Centre for Linguistic Stylistics at the University of Newcastle in Australia.
The team is now set to publish a book, 'By Me, William Shakespeare,' which will explain their findings in full.

Arden of Faversham was inspired by the murder in 1551 by his wife, of Thomas Arden, the 1548 Mayor of Faversham.

Arden, who lived in the former Faversham Abbeys guest house (Ardens House, Abbey Street), was killed in his parlour by Alice Arden, and her lover, Thomas Mosby.

For this, Alice was burnt to death at Canterbury and Mosby was hanged in London.

The events, reported in Holinsheds Chronicles, are immortalised in the 1592 play.

Some scholars attributed this to Shakespeare, who had visited Faversham as an actor and who used Holinshed as a source for his English history dramas.

However it has never been formally recognised and many have disputed Shakespeare had anything to do with the work.

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