Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back To Edward III For A Minute


I said I’d come back to this story when I had a moment and could find a good link.  The Time article seems to get all the relevant details, including some examples of the important phrases found in Shakespeare’s work that are also to be found in Edward III.

Don’t get me wrong, the computer geek in me thinks it’s an interesting story.  I just think the reporting on it is a little … overboard.  Look at the title - “How Plagiarism Software Found A New Shakespeare Play”.  Found?  New?  Now look at the very first paragraph of the article:

Yet the software may have settled a centuries-old mystery over the authorship of an unattributed play from the late 1500s called The Reign of Edward III. Literature scholars have long debated whether the play was written by Shakespeare — some bits are incredibly Bard-like, but others don't resemble his style at all. The verdict, according to one expert: the play is likely a collaboration between Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd, another popular playwright of his time.

So how do you find a new play that is centuries old, and long considered to maybe have been Shakespeare already?  And am I the only one that sees that big old likely right in the middle of the last sentence? 

Much of the rest of the article (and the story overall) is directed at the general populace, less so than we geeks.  We know, for instance, and are not bothered by the fact that Shakespeare collaborated with other playwrights.  Yet the article phrases it like, “Why would Shakespeare need to collaborate?”, taking the classic position of Shakespeare as literary god who put perfect pen to page and never blotted lines.

When we start saying that Shakespeare wrote 39 plays instead of 38, somebody let me know.  Heck, I still haven’t read Noble Kinsmen yet! :)


Craig said...

You know how it is--the journalists need a headline that sells magazines.

We have to be very careful in putting too much stock in computer models that "prove" one thing or another. A computer model was behind that terrible "Funeral Elegy" debacle a few years back, in which maybe the dullest and least Shakespearean poem of the entire English Renaissance* was suddenly "discovered" to be by Shakespeare. It even got published in a couple of Collected Works before the whole thing came crashing down.

I'm pretty shy of computer analysis of early modern texts--young field, doubtless lots of pitfalls still out there.

* (Well, there is "Shall I die?" also contending for that distinction.)

Anonymous said...

Definitely a case where editors put a misleading headline on an article for clicks, as the article itself shows that computer programs themselves don’t discover anything.

JM said...

Anonymous wrote..."...as the article itself shows that computer programs themselves don’t discover anything."

You'd think a "professor" might heed knowledge that isn't quite "Caviar to the General", wouldn't you; especially after the SHAXICON debacle. Seems curiously similar to grasping at thin air, claiming there's a bejeweled dagger to clutch. But if it gets your NAME in TIME? Perhaps this time ambition won't " o'er leap itself" far enough to fall on the other...?

American Delight said...

"When we start saying that Shakespeare wrote 39 plays instead of 38, somebody let me know."

Heck, Duane--scientists can't even agree on whether Pluto is a planet. Don't hold your breath!