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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Stylometrics
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0069  Monday, 12 January 2004

From:           Al Magary <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 12 Jan 2004 01:40:56 -0800
Subject:        Stylometrics

For those uninitiated in stylometrics (like me), Science News has a
concise and readable introduction in the Dec. 20, 2003 issue:  "Bookish
Math: Statistical tests are unraveling knotty literary mysteries," by
Erica Klarreich; online at http://www.sciencenews.org/20031220/bob8.asp

Here is an extract, linking Shakespeare to posthumous additions made
Kyd's Spanish Tragedy:

---
Hugh Craig, a stylometrist at the University of Newcastle, has been
pursuing an idea, which he calls "rare pairs." He attributes it to
MacDonald Jackson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Rare
pairs are two words that, taken separately, are nothing special but
which are seldom seen in close proximity.

Craig hopes that these pairs, by capturing something of an author's
favorite phrases, might provide a stronger clue to authorship than
individual words do. "The idea is that authors have certain habits,
maybe even laid down as neural pathways, that predispose them to pair
one word with another," he says.  "Once one word comes into their mind,
they're primed to use a second word."

As a test case, Craig has been studying a collection of scenes that were
added by an anonymous author in 1602 to a play called The Spanish
Tragedy, after its author, Thomas Kyd, was already dead. The added
scenes are of high quality, Craig says, and some critics have speculated
that Shakespeare wrote them.

Craig culled from an online database all the works by dramatists of the
period-a collection containing nearly 17 million words.  He defined a
pair to be rare if it turns up at most 10 times in the database.

One example in The Spanish Tragedy additions is paint and wound, which
appear in the line "Canst paint me a tear or a wound,/ A groan or a
sigh?" In the entire database, Craig found only two other uses of this
pair, one by an obscure author named Sir David Murray, and the other in
Shakespeare's 1594 poem "The Rape of Lucrece": "And drop sweet balm in
Priam's painted wound."

Of course, a single such congruence is evidence of nothing. The idea,
Craig says, is to look at many examples and see whether they point
towards a particular author. Craig is currently working out how large a
database is necessary and how many rare-pair matches are needed to
assert the authorship of a text with confidence.

For The Spanish Tragedy, Craig says, the 78 rare pairs he has tested so
far put Shakespeare ahead of the other favored candidates. "More work
needs to be done before [the scenes] are accepted as part of future
editions of Shakespeare, but I think it's quite possible they will
appear there eventually," he said in a September lecture at the
Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies in Amherst.

conveyed by Al Magary

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