The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1244  Monday, 23 June 2003

From:           Ward Elliott <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 19 Jun 2003 17:27:17 -0700
Subject:        King John, Peele, Titus

Here's something I wrote before Brian Vickers became the high-profile
fourth man in the tub the other day - or should we properly consider him
the first man?  He needs no introduction, and the rest is still
pertinent, so I'll send it anyway.

I have the feeling that this thread is getting too long, repetitive, and
convoluted for most people to follow much further, and that it has
gotten down to just the three of us, Sean Lawrence, Jim Carroll, and
me.  If so, maybe it's time to start winding down, summing up, and to
give the three men in a tub a chance to introduce ourselves and say what
we had hoped to get out of the discussion, before moving on to other
things.  I don't know either of my tubmates and wonder what they do in
real life, where they live, what teams they root for, how they got
interested in what Shakespeare did and didn't write, and where they
think they are headed.  Which works do they think are Shakespeare's and
which are not, and how do they think you can tell the difference? Do
they care? Have they written, or can they recommend something else on
the subject that we should read? And do they have any other parting
words of wisdom?

I'll start.  In real life I'm a professor of political science at
Claremont McKenna College and live in Claremont, California.  My home
field is Constitutional Law.  My favorite teams are the Red Sox, the
Bruins, and the Claremont Rugby Football Side.  My parting words of
wisdom are "You're only middle-aged once," and "If it's not worth doing,
it's not worth overdoing." I got interested in Shakespeare authorship
because my father, also a professor of political science, was convinced
that the Earl of Oxford was the True Shakespeare.  I wanted to test his
belief stylometrically and found, unexpectedly, that it took years of
analysis by the Claremont Shakespeare Clinic to test it to my
satisfaction.  In the end we concluded that he was wrong, that there is
far too wide a stylistic gulf between Oxford and Shakespeare for him (or
any other Claimant we could test) to be a credible author of any of
Shakespeare's writings.  We also concluded that none of the Shakespeare
Apocrypha poems or plays match Shakespeare and that many plays in the
Canon appear to be co-authored.  We published nine or ten articles in
leading journals, all vetted by presumably competent Shakespeare
scholars, and are now trying to pull them together into a book.  For
further details on me, Valenza, and the Shakespeare Clinic, see my
webpage, http://govt.claremontmckenna.edu/welliott/index.htm

Stylometric study of Shakespeare authorship issues interests me most.  I
do care who wrote what, if Shakespeare is involved. Valenza and I deal
in more in counting and crunching than in reading and rooting in the
archives.  We think that's OK, and that there is a place for both kinds
of approach. Sean Lawrence apparently thinks there is room for his
approach, whatever it is, but not for ours.  Surely reading can tell you
much that crunching and counting can't, including where to start and
stop. But crunching and counting, we believe, can tell you much that
reading can't by itself. It should not lightly be excluded from
authorship studies. Our methodological preferences, explained in
previous postings, and on our webpage are: clean baseline, negative
evidence ("silver bullets"), and block-and-profile testing.

Our substantive conclusions, summarized above, are that no claimant's
tested poem or play matches Shakespeare, nor any poem or play of the
Shakespeare Apocrypha (including the Funeral Elegy); that A Lover's
Complaint is probably not Shakespeare's; and that many plays in the
Canon, including 1H6, 3H6, Timon, Pericles, 1-2, H8, TNK, and, Titus
Andronicus, are other-authored or co-authored. All have too many
rejections on our tests to look like Shakespeare solo.  Further reading:
Our CHum article, 30: 191 (1996) "And Then There Were None;" our SQ
Article, 48: 177 (1977) "Glass Slippers); our LLC article, 16: 205
(2001) "Smoking Guns."  And Brian Vickers' two new books, Shakespeare,
Co-Author, and Counterfeiting Shakespeare (both 2002).

I got into this debate by reporting that our evidence favored
co-authorship of several plays in the Canon, including Titus Andronicus,
more than it favored single authorship by Shakespeare, just as Vickers
argues.  The relative, not absolute, differences of these plays from
core Shakespeare, under a long string of qualifiers and assumptions, can
be in the gazillions.

Let me say a few word in response to Mr. Lawrence and save Mr. Carroll
for a possible future response if appropriate. I don't know what he
thinks is Shakespeare's and what not, or whether he cares; hence the
request for an introduction and orientation.  Does he come out with
different conclusions?  But he is not comfortable with our methodology
because it relies on the known and is therefore supposedly circular and
untested on the unknown, and, because we use statistics, because he
doesn't like our talk about odds being in the gazillions.

I suppose our short answer to Mr. Lawrence, for now, is this.  Life is a
combination of continuity and change, whether you are talking about
hockey, the stock market, or Shakespeare.  Experience, of which
statistics can be a clarifying subset, is better at predicting
continuity than change.  We think we have found enough continuity in
Shakespeare's core poems and plays to calculate Shakespeare ranges which
can distinguish them from those of other writers.

We think the concept of Shakespeare Distance is a valid one; that a play
with no rejections on our tests is much more of a Shakespeare could-be
than one with ten or twenty rejections.  We think these distances can be
quantified and are working on ways to do so.  One such way, conservative
because it averages every test, not just rejections, says that some
plays, let's say, the ones with 15+ rejections, though it's not that
simple, are gazillions of times more distant from Shakespeare's
composite mean than, say, the ones with three or fewer rejections.  If
they do, we think it's OK to mention it to SHAKSPER correspondents.  Mr.
Lawrence, we take it, thinks it's not.

When the talk turns to odds, three kinds of them come to my mind:
absolute odds, the odds of getting hit by lightning; relative odds, the
odds of getting killed by lightning relative to those of getting killed
by eating a Big Mac or smoking a cigarette; and bettor's odds, the ones
you get from Nick the Greek on the Derby.  Bettor's odds are whatever it
takes to accommodate and equalize the amounts offered on both sides

I have always taken pains to say that the odds we are talking about are
the relative, not absolute, and that the astronomical differences we
report are *not* the absolute odds that, say, Shakespeare could have
written the Elegy or the "early stratum" of Titus.  They are a
comparison of the sample text's distance from our pertinent core
Shakespeare composite mean with that of Shakespeare's own most distant
outlier block. Those can and do get astronomical, and we are not
embarrassed to say so. Or they can be non-astronomical.  For Ford, the
Elegy is not just in the ballpark, it's in the infield.  For
Shakespeare, it's in another galaxy.  We're not embarrassed to say that,
either, and we think it gives those who think Shakespeare wrote the
Elegy (if there are any left) much more explaining to do than those,
such as Vickers, Gilles Monsarrat, Richard Kennedy, and Donald Foster,
who think that Ford wrote it.

Mr. Lawrence thinks that our reasoning is circular, too willing to treat
the known as if it could predict the unknown, whereas in fact the known
can never do such a thing.  Everyone knows that statistics can't tell
you whether the market will go up or down or whether Team Canada would
have won the gold in 2002.  I suggested that statistics can, in fact
predict some things, and that style is one such thing.  I went out on
two limbs.  I thought it more likely than not that the Devils would try
their best to play their usual, dead-puck trapping game in Game 5 of the
Stanley Cup finals.  They did. "Tonight's performance," said the
Washington Post, "was vintage New Jersey."  I also thought it unlikely
that Mr. Lawrence could find an untested play by someone other than
Shakespeare that would test out as a Shakespeare "could-be" by our
tests.  I offered him a US$1,000 even-odds bet on the point, high stakes
because editing and testing a new play is a lot of work for me.
Otherwise, our "circular" experience with known Shakespeare and
non-Shakespeare says it's probably easy money.  He hasn't taken me up.

I also asked him if he thought that uneven odds would be more
appropriate, and, if so, what might they be?  He hasn't answered that
one either, other than to say that a gazillion to one would be too
much.  Fine, I think it's too much, too, and haven't offered it.  The
gazillions come in with relative odds for most of the 79 known
non-Shakespeare plays we have tested, and, like Mr. Lawrence, I can only
speculate what a new, untested play, especially one chosen by him best
to support his position, might turn up.  If we are right in supposing
that the plays we haven't tested will probably be like the ones we have
tested, even odds would still be easy money for us.  If he is right that
statistics on the known prove nothing about the unknown, then even odds
should be easy money for him.  If he has to ask for any odds less than
even, he would have to admit, tacitly, that statistics on the known can,
in fact, improve your chances of guessing right on the unknown.

Now let's look at his letter, [6 June 2003],our old posting marked with
angle brackets >, new responses indented and set off with square
brackets [ ].  He writes:

I welcome Ward Elliott's willingness to test his findings against new
data.  I still, though, have a few quibbles:

>--Actually, we were surprised, and pleased, to find that our tests said
>"could be Shakespeare solo" to 100% of our Shakespeare core and
>"couldn't be" to 100% of our plays conventionally ascribed to others.
>Is that a problem?

Well, yes, in that the core is confirmed (or not) by these tests and no
others.  Jim has pointed out some alternative tests:  Do they also
produce these sorts of scores?  If not, then why are you using your 51
tests and not other tests?

[WE: Jim's alternative tests are inappropriate; see our previous
response to him.]

The question remains:  Do the tests show a high level of "could be
Shakespeare solo" because they were chosen to show this (unconsciously,
no doubt) or because everything which they confirm is, in fact, by
Shakespeare alone?

[WE: our initial supposedly clean baseline of 34 "undisputed"
single-authored Shakespeare plays was supplied to us by Donald Foster.
Two of them, Henry VI, Part III, and Titus Andronicus, had 7 rejections
each, and their single authorship turned out to be anything but
undisputed. That put them in the Dubitanda by our rules, not in a clean
core Shakespeare baseline.]

Does this statistical profile constitute a fingerprint, betraying
authorship, or is it only the product of clever choices in shifting
through the data?

[WE: We are the negative-evidence, silver bullet people who generally
pay more attention to rejections than to "smoking guns" or
"fingerprints," haven't found a true Shakespeare fingerprint, and avoid
the term in describing our own methodology. It is true, we believe, that
rejections and non-rejections, aggregated can add up to a more or less
likely ascription.  I would suppose, absent convincing evidence to the
contrary, that every play we've tested with four or less rejections is a
Shakespeare "could-be," and that those with many more rejections than
that are "couldn't-be's" or collaborations. We hope our sifting of data
was clever, rather than stupid or perverse, but await actual evidence
that it was one or the other, not just conjecture.]

It's perfectly possible to come up with 51 tests that accurately
describe every play in the core group, and (pretty much ipso facto)
exclude all others, just as it's possible to produce a series of tests
to describe every stock that's gone up last year, and exclude all that
have gone down.  Our hypothetical formula, however, won't describe every
stock that will go up next year (though I suppose it's better than
guessing), any more than an analogous formula will necessarily identify
a new Shakespeare text.

[WE: I would want more than conjecture than this, and I've offered a bet
that our tests will distinguish a non-Shakespeare play of Mr. Lawrence's

>--Our spot checks are consistent with the common-sense expectation that
>a larger Shakespeare baseline might expand our 51-test profiles enough
>to justify slightly wider safety margins, but not nearly enough to turn
>any of the "couldn't-be's" into "could-be's."  See our previous

Yes, you did, and I acknowledged those responses already.  What you
haven't convinced me, however, is that the spot checks were not
similarly chosen in order to prove the results desired in advance.  Were
the spot checks conducted blind, as are tastings of wine?  That those
undertaking tests for the Duchess scene already seem to know that it's a
candidate for inclusion in the canon does not much settle my doubts.

[WE: More speculation which supposedly requires us to move heaven and
earth before our already-circular conclusions can be considered.  How
about another bet as to whether Mr. Lawrence, either randomly or by
conscious choice, can choose a single play from our Shakespeare core,
besides the two we've already spot-checked, whose removal from our core
baseline would change its test profiles so drastically, or call for so
much wider safety margins, as to bring any non-Shakespeare play within
our composite Shakespeare range? Recall that the safety margins we used
with Hamlet were quite small: extend Shakespeare ranges by 5% each way,
and admit one more rejection.]

>--What more does Mr. Lawrence want, besides a complete, and, in our
>view, unnecessary, play-by-play rehash of the data we have?  As I have
>said, he is free and welcome to try it himself if he thinks it would
>help prove his point.  We would do what we reasonably can to make it
>easier for him or any other interested SHAKSPERian to give us a second
>or third opinion on our methods and findings.

I should think that testing against control data would be your
obligation, as the publisher of these findings.

[WE: See above. It could be easy money for Mr. Lawrence if he is right.]

>--But I suspect that the essential sticking point for him is our belief
>that you can learn something about the unknown by studying the known.
>Mr. Lawrence says no, the players could be having marital difficulties,
>or the coach could tell them to play a different game just for that
>day, or the author was trying something completely new and different.
>As the Good Book says, time and chance happeneth to them all.  He's
>right in a sense; such things do happen occasionally, and statistics
>are often of limited use in answering some of the most interesting
>questions:  who will win the game or the election?  Will the market go
>up or down, and when?
>--But is "which poems and plays could Shakespeare have written?" such
>an unanswerable question, or does it fall into the class of questions
>where the known *is* a good guide to the unknown?  I expect that the
>sun will rise tomorrow at the predicted time, and in the east, not the
>west, because it has done that all my life.

True enough.  There's nevertheless a difference between believing it out
of habit, a sort of blind faith, and actually doing the physics.
Moreover, I don't think that Shakespeare's writing style is as
predictable as the sunrise; in fact, he shows great variance in a number
of areas, such as percentages written in verse or use of internal rhyme,
both of which seem to be highest for Richard II, and trail off as his
career progresses.

>--I'll go out on a limb and say something which will easily verifiable
>or refutable by the time Hardy posts this. I expect, with much less
>certainty than I do the sunrise, but with more than enough to justify a
>$20 bet, that both the Devils and the Ducks will try their best to use
>the trap when they play tonight, especially whichever one happens to be
>in the lead at the moment.  Check the sports pages. Maybe known stats
>can't tell you exactly who will win or lose, but I think they can tell
>you much about how they will play the game.

Sure, but does the manner of play define the team?  Even defensive teams
occasionally play offensively and vice-versa, and coaches occasionally
change playing style on the fly (or at least try).  If you saw a team
use the trap a lot could you tell that they are a million times more
likely to be team X than team Y?  I doubt it, frankly.  And keeping
statistics about how much they use the trap doesn't seem noticeably more
useful than just asking an old hockey fan who appreciates playing

[WE: I.e., a given team's playing style *can* be predicted after all,
but stats don't help?]

For that matter, how much a team uses the trap doesn't really define
them very much.  Since it's a smart move, one would expect every team to
use it at least sometimes.  One might as well try to distinguish teams
by whether they try to make goals.

[WE: I.e., it *can't* be predicted, after all because even the Oilers
might sometimes play the Devils' game and the Devils the Oilers's?
Which is it?  I think most old hockey fans could tell the difference
most of the time. If they can do it with statistics, so much the

>--Now I'll go even farther out on a limb.  I would further expect, with
>about the same or greater certainty that I have for the hockey game,
>that, if a new Shakespeare play or poem of sufficient length were
>discovered, it would fit roughly within the profiles of his known
>plays, and that, if a new play be someone else were discovered, it
>would not. Coming up with a new Shakespeare play, as Mr. Lawrence
>observes, may not be likely. (Or is it?  What about the Countess scenes
>in Edward III, which we are still testing?)  But you don't actually
>need a new play or poem by someone else to test our methods, just one
>which is not in our archive and hasn't been tested already.  There are
>plenty of those. I wouldn't mind betting $20 that it won't fit our
>Shakespeare profile; no, make it $1,000 to justify the trouble it would
>take us to prepare and test a play of his choice, maybe less for a poem
>which is already edited in Riverside spelling.  We're ready.

This wouldn't prove anything, as I think I've made clear, because it
seems quite possible than the tests are chosen in such a way as to
reject everything whatsoever outside the core group of 32 plays.  Just
the same way that you can design an algorithm to describe every stock
which has gone up in the past few months, not because of anything
substantial about the stocks of the corporations they represent, but
simply because it's possible to devise an algorithm to describe any set
of data.

>"Indeed.  You seem to be posting odds so high, however, that any
>reasonable gambler would immediately put his stake on the long-shot.
>In fields where guesses (even informed ones) need still be verified,
>such as the Stanley Cup playoffs or the bourse, nobody makes such bold
>claims.  If they did, the playoffs would not have to be played."
>--See above.  We're ready.

If you're willing to give me 1,000,000:1 that the Devils are more likely
to prove themselves Stanley Cup champions than the Ducks, then I'm sure
that I have a loonie I can spare to make myself a millionaire.  You are,
after all, willing to say that Hamlet is "millions" of times more likely
to be by Shakespeare alone than 1 Henry VI, and that your tests produce
odds in the "gazillions", so I'm not even insisting upon the sorts of
odds of which you seem confident.

[WE: See above, plus my prior remarks about silly premises.  Let's stick
with the sensible terms I have offered, not the silly ones I haven't. I
haven't offered odds of gazillions on an untested play, only even odds
that Mr. Lawrence can't find a new non-Shakespeare play which won't be
rejected as Shakespeare's by our present rules, and that he can't find a
play in our core baseline whose removal would change that outcome.  If
he is right on both counts, that our statistics only tell us what we
already know, he could make some easy money.  My guess is that he is
wrong, and that I am more likely to make the money, though, if I have to
do the laborious testing, I can't describe it as easy.]


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Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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