A Second Opinion on “Shakespeare and Authorship Studies in the Twenty-First Century”


In a review essay entitled “Shakespeare and Authorship Studies in the Twenty-First Century,” published in Shakespeare Quarterly (62 [2011]: 106–42), Brian Vickers makes a scathing attack upon computational stylistics as a scholarly enterprise and as represented by the book he is reviewing. His principal target is the use of word-frequency patterns as evidence of authorship. He argues that his current approach to the attribution of authorship, an approach that deals in collocations of words, is effective and superior. The book in question, Shakespeare, Computers, and the Mystery of Authorship, edited by Hugh Craig and Arthur Kinney (2009) is best assessed by scholars deeply versed in Shakespeare studies; the consensus may be far more favorable than Vickers expects. The main purpose of this “Second Opinion” is neither to defend Craig and Kinney nor to offer a general survey of the field, but to show that such methods are well suited to the work of attribution. The present essay concludes that, when Vickers overcomes several shortcomings in his own new method, it may well become a useful addition to the scholar’s armory. The reason all this matters is that new methods of analysis are yielding very accurate results. As is sometimes the case with advanced bibliographical methods and the close study of printing-house practice, apparent technical complexity is a barrier to their acceptance. But all of these methods should be judged by their results.