So last week, the hot Shakespeare news was the announcement by the Oxford University Press that their New Oxford Shakespeare series would include updated authorial credits based upon recent scholarship. The news release previewed these updates with an attribution for the three Henry VI plays to Christopher Marlowe, with an accompanying announcement that 17 of the now 40 plays that Oxford feels Shakespeare played a part in composing had other writers involved as well.
I’ve been asked on a number of occasions in the last two weeks about my take on all this…
I think it’s great. I love the fact that they used a mixture of scholarly expertise and some “big data” crunching. Using what is called “word adjacency network” analysis, University of Pennsylvania School of Engineer and Applied Science information scientists found similar linguistic fingerprints between some of Shakespeare’s plays and those of other credited writers of the period.
For those interested in the science, this article from U of Penn does a great job of describing the methodology, which I find sound (that this touches upon my tech-lovin’ geek side, I’m sure, makes this an easier pill to swallow).
But doesn’t this dilute Shakespeare, some argue.
Well, I guess that depends on how you look at this. If you’re invested–intellectually or emotionally–in the Bard of Avon as a person, a playwright…then yes, sure, this is a blow, especially if it comes to pass that the sections newly attributed to others are the ones that we appraise as being the higher quality content within the plays in question.
However, if you’re invested in the plays themselves, I think this news diminishes their stature not at all. Even the text we see today as Shakespeare is a modification, an editorial creation, so the attribution of a play really doesn’t make that much of a difference.
At least, not to me.
I guess that makes me more of a member of the “Shakespeare-academic” complex than a Bardolator.