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Plagiarism-Detection Software Confirms Shakespeare Play 185

Posted by kdawson
from the our-doubts-are-traitors dept.
mi tips us that software intended to help essay graders detect plagiarism has been used to attribute to Shakespeare — with high probability — a hitherto unattributed play, 'The Reign of Edward III.' It seems that the work was co-authored by Shakespeare and another playwright of the time, Thomas Kyd. "With a program called Pl@giarism, Vickers detected 200 strings of three or more words in 'Edward III' that matched phrases in Shakespeare's other works. Usually, works by two different authors will only have about 20 matching strings."
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Plagiarism-Detection Software Confirms Shakespeare Play

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  • Phony (Score:4, Funny)

    by mykos (1627575) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @02:09AM (#29819945)
    And the evidence continues to mount against him. All lies!
    • So the software was designed to detect bodies of work that contain phrases from other works. ANd it finds a work that is a composite of Shakespear and Kyd. isn't it more likely that someone back then was plagarizing from Shakespear and Kyd? As opposed to them collaborating?

      For example if I turned in a term paper and the plagarism software detected phrases from cory doctrow and thomas pynchon, the conclusion my instructor would leap to is obvioulsy that the three of us collaborated on the term paper right

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MBGMorden (803437)

        I think the idea would be that if it picked up their writing "style" they could then locate the piece that you plagiarized from.

        In the case mentioned, it doesn't seem like there's an original source that was copied. It's an original work, but has the basic style indicative of Shakespeare. If someone plagiarized him then we'd have to assume that whatever they copied from was lost. It's an easier to accept notion that Shakespeare simply wrote this piece himself.

  • by macraig (621737) <mark.a.craig@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @02:15AM (#29819969)

    ... Shakespeare plagiarized himself? Stop the presses!

    • by shentino (1139071) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @03:00AM (#29820167)

      It might be plagiarism but it most certainly isn't copyright infringement.

      At least in theory...the american legal system is convoluted enough that might not be true.

      • by gmhowell (26755) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @03:19AM (#29820229) Homepage Journal

        Shakespeare's stuff is still copyrighted? Damn, these extensions are getting ridiculous.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by wvmarle (1070040)

          According to WP, copyright started with the Statute of Anne in Britain in 1710. International copyright recognition came only later.

          Also according to WP, Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1616.

          So actually I think Shakespeare's plays were never copyrighted in the first place.

          • by Plunky (929104) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @05:02AM (#29820715)

            So actually I think Shakespeare's plays were never copyrighted in the first place.

            Sir, I must point out inconsistencies in your argument. It seems that we have two choices:

            • His works were in fact copyrighted and he lived well from the proceeds.
            • His works were not copyrighted and he starved to death at an early age.

            But records exist that indicate otherwise in both cases. So, my contention is that the records are clearly falsified and we should err on the side of caution. I myself am owner of a corporation that is willing to step up and maintain the legacy of Shakespeare by collecting the royalties for when he returns(1) to claim them. I myself would take no salary for this, only a small(2) annual dividend(3) in order to ensure that the corporation can continue to protect this valuable intellectual property for the forseeable(4) future.

            1. religious freedom cannot deny reincarnation
            2. to maintain myself in the minimum style that the guardian of such a legacy deserves
            3. no income tax to be paid on dividends naturally
            4. lets just call it forever less a day to simplify the accounting
  • Or... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tubal-Cain (1289912) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @02:16AM (#29819977) Journal

    It seems that the work was co-authored by Shakespeare and another playwright of the time, Thomas Kyd.

    Or Thomas Kyd plagiarized Shakespeare's work.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      From TFA there were parts of the text that were very strongly Shakespearian, and parts not. There is no word on whether they did a plagiarism test on this script vs Kyd's work.

      Though it's highly plausible to me that they both contributed. If plagiarized by Kyd from Shakespeare then I think there would be clearer similarities between this and other works by Shakespeare: complete conversations or so. Or complete sentences. If this is plagiarized it is at least seriously rewritten.

      On the other hand it could

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by osu-neko (2604)

        From TFA there were parts of the text that were very strongly Shakespearian, and parts not. There is no word on whether they did a plagiarism test on this script vs Kyd's work.

        Actually, there is, and they did. About 60% of the work does match Kyd's other known works, as well as four other unattributed plays that are believed to be by Kyd as well (and this result would lend further credence to that).

      • Re:Or... (Score:4, Informative)

        by jipn4 (1367823) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @05:44AM (#29820889)

        Or complete sentences. If this is plagiarized it is at least seriously rewritten.

        Yes. People actually rewrote things while copying back then; no cut-and-paste.

        Shakespeare being famous is not necessarily the one being plagiarised. Maybe he is the one plagiarising.

        There was no plagiarism in the modern sense back then. Authors, artists, and scientists copied each others works; that's why we got such a rich cultural heritage. Today, you can get in trouble for a single sentence.

        Imagine how backwards computers would be if you had to write a new kernel, window system, and libraries every time you wanted to write an application.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by KnownIssues (1612961)

          Imagine how backwards computers would be if you had to write a new kernel, window system, and libraries every time you wanted to write an application.

          • Nobody too stupid to use a computer would survive in the world
          • Everyone would have to be skilled programmers
          • All your applications would do exactly what you wanted and only what you wanted so no software bloat
          • Open source would be almost automatic
          • Hardware would have to be universally compatible
        • by sootman (158191)

          Imagine how backwards computers would be if you had to write a new kernel, window system, and libraries every time you wanted to write an application.

          Imagine Disney's state today if they hadn't been allowed to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, or Tarzan, just to name a few.

        • Imagine how backwards computers would be if you had to write a new kernel, window system, and libraries every time you wanted to write an application.

          I don't have to imagine it... you can get pretty close if you go with Gentoo linux
          :-P
  • by HouseOfMisterE (659953) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @02:22AM (#29820011)

    Game Show Host (John Cleese): Good evening and welcome to Stake Your Claim. First this evening we have Mr Norman Voles of Gravesend who claims he wrote all Shakespeare's works. Mr Voles, I understand you claim that you wrote all those plays normally attributed to Shakespeare?

    Voles (Michael Palin): That is correct. I wrote all his plays and my wife and I wrote his sonnets.

    Host: Mr Voles, these plays are known to have been performed in the early 17th century. How old are you, Mr Voles?

    Voles: 43.

    Host: Well, how is it possible for you to have written plays performed over 300 years before you were born?

    Voles: Ah well. This is where my claim falls to the ground.

    Host: Ah!

    Voles: There's no possible way of answering that argument, I'm afraid. I was only hoping you would not make that particular point, but I can see you're more than a match for me!

    Host: Mr Voles, thank you very much for coming along.

    Voles: My pleasure.

    Host: Next we have Mr Bill Wymiss who claims to have built the Taj Mahal.

    Wymiss (Eric Idle): No.

    Host: I'm sorry?

    Wymiss: No. No.

    Host: I thought you cla...

    Wymiss: Well I did but I can see I won't last a minute with you.

    Host: Next...

    Wymiss: I was right!

    • Host: ... we have Mrs Mittelschmerz of Dundee who cla... Mrs Mittelschmerz, what is your claim?

      Mittelschmerz (Graham Chapman in drag): That I can burrow through an elephant.

      Host: (Pause) Now you've changed your claim, haven't you. You know we haven't got an elephant.

      Mittelschmerz: (Insincerely) Oh, haven't you? Oh dear!

      Host: You're not fooling anybody, Mrs Mittelschmerz. In your letter you quite clearly claimed that ... er ... you could be thrown off the top of Beachy Head into the English Channel and then

  • Homage? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by davidbofinger (703269)
    So they've found a play that has some of Shakespeare's pet phrases in it. How do we know Shakespeare wrote it? We need to be able to reject alternatives like someone plagiarising those phrases from Shakespeare, or someone writing a deliberate homage of Shakespeare. Something similar happens in linguistics, where you're trying to tell if two languages are related but you can't tell if a pair of words are cognates or borrowed.
  • !confirmed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @02:26AM (#29820031) Journal

    The work done *suggests* that Shakespeare collaborated with Kyd on the work but it's not the slam dunk that the title would have you believe.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by JunkmanUK (909293)

      Yeah I get that - like the blood stains all over the front of my car *suggest* I was the one who ran over my neighbours dog... Hey it could have been anybody's dog!

    • by jimicus (737525)

      Well, seeing as Shakespeare insists on remaining dead (and has indeed done so for almost four hundred years), I would venture to suggest that it's unlikely you're ever going to get a 100% guaranteed dead-cert answer to the question from a primary source.

      • Well, seeing as Shakespeare insists on remaining dead (and has indeed done so for almost four hundred years), I would venture to suggest that it's unlikely you're ever going to get a 100% guaranteed dead-cert answer to the question from a primary source.

        But what about others who were alive at that time? Surely they can't all be dead!
        Or has there been some mass murder of people who lived 400 years ago?

  • by Renderer of Evil (604742) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @02:28AM (#29820047) Homepage

    Back in college I briefly took a creative writing course which was filled with snobs clutching their leatherbound Infinite Jest copies who used words like "perspectival" and "serendipitous."

    During one of the meetings the lecture focused on poetic expression with an emphasis on sonnets. Homework consisted of writing an abab, cdcd, efef, gg sonnet and reading it outloud to the circle of douchebags who then offered their opinions about the piece. Being an industrious person, I applied my murky understanding of F/OSS principles to the fine craft of poetic expression and forked one of Shakespeare's obscure sonnets, changing some archaic words into more modern form.

    I got a round of faint applause then dropped the class 2 weeks later.

    • by glwtta (532858)
      Wait, "serendipity" is a pretentious word now?
      • by gmhowell (26755) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @03:22AM (#29820235) Homepage Journal

        Wait, "serendipity" is a pretentious word now?

        Sometimes strange, wonderful, coincidental things happen.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Shikaku (1129753)

        It's also a cromulent word.

      • Back in college I briefly took a creative writing course which was filled with snobs clutching their leatherbound Infinite Jest copies who used words like "perspectival" and "serendipitous."

        Wait, "serendipity" is a pretentious word now?

        I see what you did there.

  • hmmm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @02:37AM (#29820097) Journal

    The article mentions the fact that there was very high competitive pressure on writers to compose plays very quickly so I wonder if there actually was plagiarism going on here. How hard would it have been for one of these writers to get at least a fairly crude copy of Shakespeare's work and utilise various elements of Shakespeare's previous plays? Can anyone enlighten us as to the probability of this being the case or for that matter how common plagiarism actually was at the time?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wvmarle (1070040)

      You are the second commenter already who assumes Shakespeare is the victim here. Maybe he's actually the culprit, and plagiarised someone else's play?

    • Re:hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jfengel (409917) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @03:34AM (#29820315) Homepage Journal

      Getting access to the play was easy: admission was a penny. They most certainly did go to each other's works and steal phrases from each other. Shakespeare clearly cribbed from Marlowe, among others.

      They stole stories from each other all the time. Stories were considered common property. Trying to protect them would seem as absurd as many Slashdotters consider software patents.

      But they were fairly protective of the play as a whole. There was just one master copy, and each actor would get a copy literally of his lines, plus the cue that came before each. Saved copying expenses (it's not like they had a xerox) and also protected the plays. And those cue sheets were treated as secrets.

      Eventually the play would be published (and performed without royalties), but Edward III was published fairly early in Shakespeare's career, and it would be hard to gather up enough material from the previously printed plays to make up a new one attributable to Shakespeare.

      Attribution is more art than science, and attempts to do it with software are pretty controversial. Just because this software agrees with the experts this time doesn't fill me with confidence about the software.

      I've looked at it myself, and it definitely fits in with Shakespeare's other early history plays. But it's not his best work. It has a few genuinely good scenes, and it deserves to be studied with the rest of the canon, but it's not exactly Hamlet or Richard III. I doubt most people will ever see it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by jonadab (583620)
        > it's not exactly Hamlet or Richard III.
        > I doubt most people will ever see it.

        MacBeth isn't exactly Hamlet, but that hasn't stopped *it* from being studied. Heck, it gets studied *almost* as much as Hamlet.

        Romeo and Juliet is a *far* cry from Hamlet (frankly, by comparison it's drivel), but if anything it's more famous, having been redone and remade *many* more times, and in fact R&J may even be the most famous work of literature[1] ever written in the English language.

        As for Richard III, most
        • by jfengel (409917)

          I was speaking ironically. Edward III isn't even Henry IV part 1. But it's about on par with Richard II, though it hasn't got anything to compare to the John of Gaunt "Royal throne of kings" speech.

          R&J is better than it's usually given credit for. Shallow adaptations have made it seem like a shallow play, and high school English teachers usually completely miss the pint in an attempt to make it "relevant". It's really quite well-written and far more interesting than that. The Luhrman version isn't

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This software is for detecting plagiarism. In the situation it is designed for, one person uses another person's work but tries not to reveal the fact. The program catches this by noting that the pieces of writing are too similar. If it's well-designed, then it is good at this task, so it should be reasonably sensitive to similarity.

    The "authentication" scenario described in TFA is very different. Assume the play is fake (written by someone pretending to be Shakespeare). Then it is not a case of one person

    • by Plunky (929104)

      Anonymous Coward suggests:

      This software is for detecting plagiarism.

      But could so easily be used to identify anonymous commentary ..

  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @02:50AM (#29820141)

    Another use would be to apply the algorithms to religious books to reveal which parts were really inspired by a divinity, and which parts were simply invented by some random, power hungry, con man, to control his peers.

    They could call it Bl@sphemy.

    • by Shikaku (1129753)

      To lie is to be, to lawyer, bovine.

    • Uuum, that would assume that there actually are parts inspired by a "divinity".
      Are you drunk, or already infected? ^^

  • Shakespeare, huh. That guys works are full of clichés.
  • by jfengel (409917) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @03:18AM (#29820221) Homepage Journal

    This play has been widely attributed to Shakespeare by Shakespeare scholars for some time. It already appears in the Oxford Complete Works, the New Cambridge Shakespeare, and (my favorite) the Riverside Shakespeare.

    Nothing is ever definitive in this line of work, so it's interesting to have the software weigh in on it. But I don't think any scholars would be changing their minds if it didn't.

  • This & That (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mindbrane (1548037) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @03:41AM (#29820347) Journal
    For anyone interested I'd suggest M. Wood's documentary, "In Search of Shakespeare". The four part documentary won't answer any of the more delicious and silly questions about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays but it will give as good an historical insight as is easily available. Thomas Kyd [wikipedia.org] is best known for his play The Spanish Tragedy [wikipedia.org] worth reading for the style. Christopher Marlowe [wikipedia.org] and Kyd were the new kids on the block before Shakespeare made his mark. A famous critique of Shakespeare, mentioned in Wood's documentary attacks Shakespeare as unschooled and not an equal to "university wits" like Marlowe. The problem with attribution is that, likely, all authors of that period plagiarized, (by our standards) , one another. Shakespeare started out as an actor with a traveling company IIRC, the King's Men, who were basically a troupe of government propagandists. Theatre was a relatively new phenomenon and was used in the Elizabethan era as a propaganda tool during the conversion of England from Catholic to Protestantism. Shakespeare stole many of the best plots he studied as an actor with the King's Men. While Shakespeare was known to have co-authored plays with others, the missing play based on the first part of Cervantes Don Quxiote [wikipedia.org] is the most notable example, I know of no evidence, though evidence of any kind is scant, that Shakespeare and Kyd worked together. Kyd and Marlowe were implicated as Catholic agents and Marlowe was likely murdered because he was catholic. IMHO neither Marlowe or Kyd can hold a candle to Shakespeare.
    • by jimicus (737525)

      Thing is, artists of any sort fall in and out of favour over the years.

      Examples abound of people saying similar things to your own comment that "neither Marlowe or Kyd can hold a candle to Shakespeare" about musicians, playwrights and artists many years ago - and in the meantime, the artist being ridiculed has become most famous and the one being revered has fallen into obscurity.

    • by EEPROMS (889169)
      There are other problems with Shakespeare's life that don't gel

      1. Shakespeare had no court experience but wrote about it as though he had (Marlow came from a higher class and was familiar with how the court worked)
      2. Time, Shakespeare didn't have the time to actually write the plays and do the research
      3. When Marlow disappeared all his writings and notes/drafts vanished.
      4. Shakespeare unlike every major writer and artist stopped writing (almost like he ran out of ideas) long before he died. 5. When Sha
  • Now Try This (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @03:50AM (#29820383) Journal

    Get a copy of the Unabomber Manifesto
    http://cyber.eserver.org/unabom.txt [eserver.org]

    Rate the entire work, and each numbered paragraph, for reading level using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Readability Formula
    http://www.readabilityformulas.com/flesch-grade-level-readability-formula.php [readabilityformulas.com]

    Split the work into 2 parts, one with paragraph reading level ratings greater than the overall score, one with the scores less than overall.

    Apply plagiarism testing software to compare these two halves and see whether it says they were written by the same or by different persons.

    Before the creation of plagiarism testing software, we still had several different reading level testing programs available. I did this test using three different programs. They said that at least two people wrote the work. Ted Kaczynski was never considered to have Multiple Personality Disorder, so if the results (still) say two people wrote it, each with their own style, then it's highly unlikely Kaczynski wrote it by himself.

    • lol best quote ever from that manifesto:

      If our society had no social problems at all, the leftists would have to INVENT problems in order to provide themselves with an excuse for making a fuss.

      The same could be said about politicians in general, the news media, and my mom.

      Life isn't as bad as you think it is.

    • that or he plagiarized portions of it from more than one person. Which brings up another question; how does the software handle quotes from other authors?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I don't see any validity in applying the formula to individual paragraphs.

      If I were to say "The cat sat on the mat", this would score pretty low on the scale, but there is no better way to express the cat's location to you. If I were to go on to say "thus was my ailurophilia originally instantiated" this sentence would score considerably higher. However I don't see that this provides any evidence that I didn't write both sentences.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by radtea (464814)

      I did this test using three different programs. They said that at least two people wrote the work.

      This is interesting, but have you validated this method of analysis by applying it to works of known authorship, say on fanfic sites or alt.politics newsgroups, which would be reasonable control sources--unedited outpourings of interested amateurs? That would tell you that works of the same author don't get flagged as different simply due to your reading-level split.

      Ideally I'd like to see a p-value for your c

      • by DynaSoar (714234)

        I did this test using three different programs. They said that at least two people wrote the work.

        This is interesting, but have you validated this method of analysis by applying it to works of known authorship, say on fanfic sites or alt.politics newsgroups, which would be reasonable control sources--unedited outpourings of interested amateurs? That would tell you that works of the same author don't get flagged as different simply due to your reading-level split.

        Ideally I'd like to see a p-value for your claim that "the work was written by at least two people" against the null hypothesis "only one person wrote the work". Without a p-value you really aren't saying anything. Presumably the plagiarism detection software produces a probability of works being by the same author. What you need to do is apply your reading-level split to a bunch of works and generate a distribution (histogram) of the probabilities that the two parts of each work are from different authors. Then ask the question: what are the odds that the probability I get from applying this analysis of Kaczynski was drawn from this distribution? That is your p-value. If it is very small, it is implausible that Kaczynski's work was written by one author.

        There are still problems with your approach, but doing this would bring you into the realm of discourse where people could argue about your method, but not dispute the objectivity of your result given your assumptions.

        Excellent points. In fact it was tested by and on members of several newsgroups, Fidonet echoes, and various members and sources of a university journalism class. The test barrage that resulted was used regularly to perform verbal forensics against some classic usenet trolls. Check usenet history for S.P.(U.T.U.)M.

        A null hypothesis would be simply 'unable to support alternative hypothesis(-es)'. Saying it was shown to be one person would require support for an alternative hypothesis in the form of a correla

  • by dangitman (862676) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @04:25AM (#29820539)

    It seems that the work was co-authored by Shakespeare and another playwright of the time, Thomas Kyd.

    When working together, they were known by the name "Kyd Shakez."

  • by rmc (32254) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @05:34AM (#29820839) Homepage
    Of course, any product that has had @ in the name at any point in the last, oh, decade or so can not by any means be taken seriously.
  • If someone plagiarized Shakespeare, then of course it's going to contain matches because someone is copying his style and turn of phrase. Isn't that the point of this software? I don't see how finding matches allows anyone to say one way or another that the unknown work was authored by the same person. It could well be an imitator, which I'm sure Shakespeare had plenty of during his time and thereafter.
  • >Usually, works by two different authors will only have about 20 matching strings
    Except of course when you compare nsync to backstreet boys, and then you
    get 20,000 matching strings. :P

    • >Usually, works by two different authors will only have about 20 matching strings Except of course when you compare nsync to backstreet boys, and then you get 20,000 matching strings. :P

      Of course you get lots of overlap between nsync and backstreet boys, the actual author of their songs was some software on the Studio's computers.

  • Platgiarism? That's a stupid name for a program.

  • Personally, I've always thought of these plagiarism detection systems as ticking time bombs. The more data they acquire, the less unique each individual work entered into the system becomes. Eventually, a point will come where there will be a near 100% false-positive rate on submitted works that are original, but fail because they are worded too similarly to works already stored in the database.

    For example:

    "With a program called Pl@giarism, Vickers detected 200 strings of three or more words in 'Edward III'

  • seems like a dumb name.

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