SHAKESPEARE MAY BE one of the most famous Brits to ever live, but there's an ongoing suspicion that all the work credited to him may not actually be his. Now AI is on the case, and it seems to have confirmed one of the most widely believed theories: that the bard had a co-author on Henry VIII.
As long suspected, that co-author seems to be John Fletcher. That theory has been around since 1850, but the methods of testing it have been human-based text analyses. Czech researcher Petr Plecháč turned to AI to look for patterns that humans might miss, and although the results confirmed the 169-year-old theory, there were a couple of twists worthy of the man himself.
By feeding his machine learning algorithm eight plays - four by Shakespeare and four by Fletcher - the AI's verdict was that Henry VIII was a near 50/50 production between the two men.
And although most scenes are either one man or the other, it looks like there was mixed authorship going on in places suggesting they actively collaborated. Act 3, Scene 2 is a belter for this: Fletcher seems to starts it off, before the two work together at line 2,081, and then Shakespeare takes over completely at 2,200.
Okay, but does it actively prove that Fletcher was the guy rather than an unknown other? It looks that way, as Plecháč tried feeding the AI three works of another playwright rumoured to be involved: Philip Massinger (not to be confused with former Leeds United striker Phil Masinga, who wouldn't be born for another three centuries). Plecháč's verdict? "The participation of Philip Massinger is rather unlikely." Take that, Phil.
Of course, while AI can make a good fist of spotting these patterns, it's always possible that humans can muddy the waters. If Shakespeare and Fletcher were collaborating closely on works, it's possible they would try and match each other's styles, for example.
Plus there's also the ongoing question about Shakespeare's sole authorship anyway, with Christopher Marlowe getting an extremely belated co-author credit in three of Shakespeare's plays just three years ago - something that really stress tests "better late than never" as proverbs go. µ
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