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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: November ::
Sonnets & Stylometry
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1969  Wednesday, 17 November 2004

[1]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 16 Nov 2004 20:21:47 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1962 Sonnets & Stylometry

[2]     From:   Ward Elliott <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 16 Nov 2004 17:31:33 -0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1962 Sonnets & Stylometry


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Nov 2004 20:21:47 -0000
Subject: 15.1962 Sonnets & Stylometry
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1962 Sonnets & Stylometry

Lawrence Hastings writes ...

 >Did Shakespeare write every one of the sonnets ascribed to him? I find
 >this question in publications more than 100 years old.

This shouldn't be too surprising.  Victorians were appalled that the
National Bard had addressed so much love poetry to a young man.

Peter Bridgman

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ward Elliott <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Nov 2004 17:31:33 -0800
Subject: 15.1962 Sonnets & Stylometry
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1962 Sonnets & Stylometry

We have tested 96 3,000-word blocks of Shakespeare verse and found only
four that had more than one rejection in 15 Shakespeare stylometric
tests.  None of these rejections were from the Sonnets.  We also tested
125 3,000-word verse blocks by other poets and playwrights; none had
fewer than 2 rejections.  We would suppose from these results that
Shakespeare's tested works, including the Sonnets, are by a single hand,
not a committee, and that the verses by others are by a different set of
hands.  From the evidence at hand, it looks as though our tests are
something like 96% accurate in saying "could-be" to Shakespeare and
something like 100% accurate in saying "couldn't-be" to non-Shakespeare.
  We attach much more importance to negative evidence than to positive,
but the sonnets do look much more consistent with the rest of
Shakespeare than with our available archive of non-Shakespeare.

What about the possibility that just a sonnet or two, of around 150
words each, might be by someone other than Shakespeare, and the
differences are buried in samples of 3,000 words?  We can't rule this
out, but the shortest block length we have tested systematically is 470
words, and the differences between Shakespeare and non-Shakespeare still
shine through, though not quite as clearly.  Only 3 of 38 such
Shakespeare sonnet blocks had two rejections (8%), while 29 of 40 such
blocks by other poets, 73%, had two or more rejections.  Our best guess,
consistent with what evidence we have, is that all or almost all, of the
Sonnets must be by the same person.

Ward Elliott

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