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Machine Learning Reveals How Much of a Shakespeare Play Was Written by Someone Else

By Technology Review

November 22, 2019

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For much of his life, William Shakespeare was the house playwright for an acting company called the King's Men that performed his plays on the banks of the River Thames in London. When Shakespeare died in 1616, the company needed a replacement and turned to a prolific playwright named John Fletcher.

In 1850, a literary analyst named James Spedding noticed a remarkable similarity between Fletcher's plays and passages in Shakespeare's Henry VIII. Spedding concluded that Fletcher and Shakespeare must have collaborated on the play.

Other critics have suggested that another English dramatist, Philip Massinger, was actually Shakespeare's coauthor.

Which is why analysts and historians would dearly love to determine, once and for all, who wrote which parts of Henry VIII.

Enter Petr Plecháč at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague, who says he has solved the problem using machine learning to identify the authorship of more or less every line of the play.

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