Computer lifts curtain on author of 'Henry VI'

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A COMPUTER that mimics the brain has cast further doubt on whether William Shakespeare wrote Henry VI parts II and III. The finding may be the final nail in the coffin of the belief that the plays - which Shakespeare never acknowledged as his - were early works.

A 'neural network' computer that can be trained by experience - much like the human mind - has found Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare's contemporary, to be the most likely author of the two plays.

Researchers taught the computer to distinguish between prose known to be by the authors and then let it loose on the disputed parts of Henry VI. It concluded Marlowe was the original author with Shakespeare later adding some dramatic detail.

The research is published in the June issue of Literary and Linguistic Computing. Thomas Merriam, a literary scholar, and Robert Mathews, a visiting fellow of computer science at Aston University, believe the research demonstrates how the young Shakespeare, who had a simple grammar school eduction, leant heavily on Marlowe's relative sophistication for early inspiration.

Dr Merriam said: 'Although a computer analysis can never give definitive proof, our results certainly support the view of a growing number of contemporary scholars that we should look again at the early plays of Shakespeare. They may hold the key to the development of his


For many years, Shakespearians have argued about the similarity between Henry VI parts II and III and two other Elizabethan dramas, The Contention and The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York. Although they were anonymous, it is thought Marlowe, who wrote Dr Faustus and Tamburlaine the Great, was the author.

The neural network computer analysed word patterns, such as the relative frequency of words like 'so' and 'with', which the dramatists would have used almost subconsciously.

The computer concluded that Marlowe was indeed the author of the two anonymous plays and that they formed the basis of the two contentious parts of Henry VI.