Ox­ford says Shake­speare will share credit for Henry VI

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - By Danica Kirka

LON­DON >> The Bard was not a solo act.

Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity Press’ new edition of Wil­liam Shake­speare’s works will credit Christo­pher Mar­lowe as co-au­thor of the three Henry VI plays, un­der­scor­ing that the play­wright col­lab­o­rated with oth­ers on some of his most fa­mous works.

Mar­lowe, a play­wright, poet and spy, will share billing in the lat­est ver­sion of the New Ox­ford Shake­speare be­ing pub­lished this week. While schol­ars have long sus­pected that Shake­speare’s plays in­cluded the work of oth­ers, new an­a­lyt­i­cal meth­ods helped re­searchers con­clude that sec­tions bore the hall­marks of Mar­lowe’s hand.

“Shake­speare, like other ge­niuses, rec­og­nized the value of other peo­ple,” Gary Tay­lor, a pro­fes­sor at Florida State Uni­ver­sity and the prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor of the new work, said Mon­day. “What is Shake­speare fa­mous for? Writ­ing di­a­logue — in­ter­ac­tions between two peo­ple. You would ex­pect in his life there would be di­a­logue with other peo­ple.”

A team of 23 in­ter­na­tional schol­ars looked afresh at the man many con­sider the great­est writer in the English lan­guage. The chal­lenge, put sim­ply: If one is go­ing to com­pile the com­plete works of Shake­speare one first has to de­ter­mine what they are.

Five of the world’s most se­nior Shake­speare schol­ars —Tay­lor, Hugh Craig at the Uni­ver­sity of New­cas­tle in Aus­tralia, MacDonald P. Jackson at the Uni­ver­sity of Auck­land in New Zealand; Gabriel Egan at De Mont­fort Uni­ver­sity, Le­ices­ter and John Jowett of the Shake­speare In­sti­tute at the Uni­ver­sity of Birm­ing­ham — had to be con­vinced of the is­sues of au­thor­ship in the works.

The ed­i­tors con­cluded that 17 of 44 works as­so­ci­ated with Shake­speare had in­put from oth­ers. The schol­ars used com­put­er­ized data sets to re­veal pat­terns, trends and as­so­ci­a­tions — an­a­lyz­ing not only Shake­speare’s words, but also those of his con­tem­po­raries.

In Shake­speare’s time, there was an in­sa­tiable de­mand for new ma­te­rial to feed the ap­petite of the first mass en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. A rel­a­tively small group of peo­ple — a ca­bal of sorts who knew one an­other — worked fever­ishly to meet this de­mand. Tay­lor com­pared them to screen­writ­ers in the early days of Hol­ly­wood.

To study them, the team of schol­ars used what Tay­lor de­scribed as the an­a­lytic equiv­a­lent of com­bin­ing voice recog­ni­tion, fin­ger­prints and DNA test­ing — look­ing for pat­terns to see how var­i­ous au­thors and play­wrights wrote and worked.

“Shake­speare has now en­tered the world of big data,” Tay­lor said, adding that while the bard’s work has been stud­ied in­ten­sively, that’s not al­ways the case in the same mea­sure for other writ­ers of his gen­er­a­tion.

Still, he was adamant that this wasn’t just a case of “com­put­ers telling us things.” One needs to ask the right ques­tion.

“What you need is a method that treats all the writ­ers as the same and try to iden­tify in an em­pir­i­cal way what dis­tin­guishes him as a writer — what makes him dif­fer­ent than the oth­ers,” he said.


This is a Tues­day file photo of 17th cen­tury edi­tions of plays at­trib­uted to Wil­liam Shake­speare at the Bos­ton Public Li­brary.

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