Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 127. Monday, 6 May 1991.
Date: Sun, 5 May 1991 20:28:14 -0400
Subject: Statistical Authorship Study
Last year, I responded to a query on HUMANIST about Ward Elliott and his
project. Below is part of that response.
I recently read two articles in the Washington Post on Professor Ward Elliott
of Claremont McKenna College. I've misplaced the first, which concentrated on
Professor Elliott himself, but I have the other: "Computer Test Authenticates
Shakespeare" by Michael Miller of Reuter, April 21, 1990: C3.
The article begins, "A computer program that was fed more than 3 million words
by William Shakespeare and other Elizabethan authors had shown the Bard alone
wrote his works, a university professor said yesterday. In addition, the
computer may have found eight poems previously not attributed to Shakespeare
that were written by the great playwright and poet." Elliott claims to have
"fed the largest collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean texts ever put into a
computer." Elliott is quoted as saying, "We've got the King James Bible,
every poem written by Shakespeare and material from 30 or so claimants [to
Shakespeare's works]." Elliott used a program devised by Rob Valenza, which
"runs a battery of eight tests on every word. The main test, known as modal
analysis, or the Valenza test, looks for interrelationships between
words. . . . Those authors who did pass the Valenza test were subjected to
seven more tests looking for word frequency, words used to begin lines,
metrical ways of ending lines, whether the line was punctuated at the end,
relative clauses, compound words, hyphenated compound words, and frequency of
exclamation marks. These were then compared to Shakespeare's
characteristics." Both Louis Marder of Shakespeare Newsletter and Charlton
Ogburn, an Oxfordian, are cited as dismissing the study. The article
concludes by noting that Elliott nevertheless, "is convinced someone
other than Shakespeare is the true author," citing the elitist argument
that no one from the "rustic backwater" of Stratford could have been
sophisticated and knowledgeable enough to write the plays and poems
attributed to him.
Hardy M. Cook
PS: Elliott's work has only been with the poetry not the whole canon.
There have been several articles in the Shakespeare Newsletter (Spring 1990
and Fall 1990) on Elliott's project. I would be glad to scan these most
recent pieces and email them to anyone who is interested.