What is it about?

The Word Adjacency Network method underpinning the New Oxford Shakespeare’s attribution of the Henry VI plays to Christopher Marlowe as co-author has not been independently tested and is only now being subjected to critiques. The response of Segarra et al. (2019) to criticism by Pervez Rizvi (2018) barely alleviates concerns. This article demonstrates that sections of the plays designated as Shakespeare’s were not detected as Shakespeare’s by the method according to the authors’ own definitions, since his “relative entropy” score was often above zero, which according to Segarra et al. (2016) means the play is no more like Shakespeare’s style than it is like the combined style of all six playwrights tested. The disproportionate representation of Shakespeare in the underlying dataset, combined with a mathematical procedure intended to remove “background noise” may explain Shakespeare’s hovering around the zero line. A claimed concordance with the results of other stylometric tests giving parts of 1 Henry VI to Marlowe is demonstrably not present. The high success rates claimed for the method in Eisen at al. (2018) are based on a flawed validation process known as overfitting, an interpretive method altered to improve success percentages, and the effects of disparate canon sizes for which the equations fail to adequately compensate. It is argued that in the light of flaws in the method, and the authors’ misrepresentation of their results, the conclusions of both Segarra et al.’s 2016 article and Eisen et al.’s 2018 study should be set aside.

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Why is it important?

The New Oxford Shakespeare is highly influential. Accurate authorship attribution for early modern plays is difficult. The methods used in the NOS authorship companion for attributing both Early Modern plays to various authors must be scrutinised. This particular method does not do what is claimed.


Although I think it very likely that Marlowe had a hand in the Henry VI, any stylometric method that purports to be able to tell Marlowe's style from Shakespeare needs to be based on sound scientific principles and needs to be shown to work as claimed. In the case of function word adjacency networks, this is not the case.

Dr Ros Barber
Goldsmiths, University of London

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Function Word Adjacency Networks and Early Modern Plays, ANQ A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles Notes and Reviews, September 2019, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/0895769x.2019.1655631.
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