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  • "Some are born great,

  • some achieve greatness,

  • and others have greatness thrust upon them", quoth William Shakespeare.

  • Or did he?

  • Some people question whether Shakespeare really wrote the works that bear his name,

  • or whether he even existed at all.

  • They speculate that Shakespeare was a pseudonym for another writer,

  • or a group of writers.

  • Proposed candidates for the real Shakespeare

  • include other famous playwrights, politicians and even some prominent women.

  • Could it be true that the greatest writer in the English language

  • was as fictional as his plays?

  • Most Shakespeare scholars dismiss these theories

  • based on historical and biographical evidence.

  • But there is another way to test whether Shakespeare's famous lines

  • were actually written by someone else.

  • Linguistics, the study of language,

  • can tell us a great deal about the way we speak and write

  • by examining syntax, grammar, semantics and vocabulary.

  • And in the late 1800s,

  • a Polish philosopher named Wincenty Lutosławski

  • formalized a method known as stylometry,

  • applying this knowledge to investigate questions of literary authorship.

  • So how does stylometry work?

  • The idea is that each writer's style has certain characteristics

  • that remain fairly uniform among individual works.

  • Examples of characteristics include average sentence length,

  • the arrangement of words,

  • and even the number of occurrences of a particular word.

  • Let's look at use of the word thee and visualize it as a dimension, or axis.

  • Each of Shakespeare's works can be placed on that axis,

  • like a data point, based on the number of occurrences of that word.

  • In statistics, the tightness of these points

  • gives us what is known as the variance, an expected range for our data.

  • But, this is only a single characteristic in a very high-dimensional space.

  • With a clustering tool called Principal Component Analysis,

  • we can reduce the multidimensional space into simple principal components

  • that collectively measure the variance in Shakespeare's works.

  • We can then test the works of our candidates

  • against those principal components.

  • For example,

  • if enough works of Francis Bacon fall within the Shakespearean variance,

  • that would be pretty strong evidence

  • that Francis Bacon and Shakespeare are actually the same person.

  • What did the results show?

  • Well, the stylometrists who carried this out have concluded

  • that Shakespeare is none other than Shakespeare.

  • The Bard is the Bard.

  • The pretender's works just don't match up with Shakespeare's signature style.

  • However, our intrepid statisticians did find

  • some compelling evidence of collaborations.

  • For instance, one recent study concluded

  • that Shakespeare worked with playwright Christopher Marlowe on "Henry VI,"

  • parts one and two.

  • Shakespeare's identity is only one of the many problems stylometry can resolve.

  • It can help us determine when a work was written,

  • whether an ancient text is a forgery,

  • whether a student has committed plagiarism,

  • or if that email you just received is of a high priority or spam.

  • And does the timeless poetry of Shakespeare's lines

  • just boil down to numbers and statistics?

  • Not quite.

  • Stylometric analysis may reveal what makes Shakespeare's works structurally distinct,

  • but it cannot capture the beauty of the sentiments and emotions they express,

  • or why they affect us the way they do.

  • At least, not yet.

"Some are born great,

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B1 US TED-Ed shakespeare variance principal bard writer

【TED-Ed】Did Shakespeare write his plays? - Natalya St. Clair and Aaron Williams

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    Alice Chen posted on 2015/03/08
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