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George Chapman, John Davies of Hereford, William Shakespeare, and A Lover’s Complaint


In this essay the author reassesses affinities between the language of the poem and the characteristic linguistic habits of Chapman, Davies, and Shakespeare. He uses a single large corpus of poems and plays by these three writers and a number of their contemporaries, as well as some straightforwardly quantitative measures: a list of words peculiar to an author, a list of words never appearing in his or her work, a list of adjacent word pairs that appear regularly in an author’s work, and a list of pairs appearing rarely in it. The methods are tested by treating a series of samples whose authorship is known as if they were anonymous. The results for Chapman and Davies are stark. Their work can be readily distinguished, and A Lover’s Complaint is quite unlike these authors’ writings. The answer for Shakespeare is less clear cut—“cross-validation” of the results shows that the methods are less successful in providing unambiguous separations - but the poem has some marked affinities with his general practice.