William Shakespeare has a place in modern literature as one of the most prolific playwrights of his time, but new research coming from the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague shows that he may have had help in at least one of his works. An algorithm trained on the Bard’s previous plays spotted unique differences in style and wordplay in the script of Henry VIII. There has been an ongoing debate as to whether Shakespeare was responsible for the entirety of the play or if he had help. The algorithm seems to suggest that John Fletcher, his successor at King’s Men theatre company, was responsible for a significant amount of the play’s text.
The Methodology of Training
Petr Plechac, the researcher responsible for the find, did the training on the algorithm. He first showed the machine the Shakespearian works of The Tempest, Cymbeline, Coriolanus, and The Winter’s Tale. He then went on to let the AI engine ‘read’ Fletcher’s works of Bonduca, The Woman’s Prize, Valentinian, and Monsieur Thomas. The algorithm then pored over the text of Henry VIII and concluded that Shakespeare was responsible for the first two acts of the play, and had a hand in part of acts four and five. The rest of the script, including Act II Scene III, was the work of Fletcher.
Not a Brand-New Claim
In 1850, scholar James Spedding called into question whether Shakespeare was solely responsible for the production of Henry VIII. Since that time, numerous studies have been published, both supporting and denying the supposition that Shakespeare had help. Another piece of computer-generated evidence from 2000 suggests that Shakespeare was the sole author. The latest addition to the mountain of proof for collaboration is unique, in that it doesn’t read the entire script, but focuses on parts of the text explicitly, offering a better gauge of authorship than the 2000 analysis. Until more evidence comes to light, we may have to accept that Shakespeare might have had significant help in producing at least one of his plays.