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Shakespeare mystery

The mystery is already four hundred years old: was William Shakespeare the author of an unattributed play about Edward III, or not? A computer program, first used to detect plagiarism at the Maastricht law faculty, seems to have the answer.

It was the former employee Georges Span (now working at the Erasmus University Rotterdam) who designed the program called Pl@giarism and put it at the disposal of the faculty.

A few years ago, Brian Vickers, a professor at the University of London, first contacted Span by email. But last summer, he asked for a specific adaptation of the software, concerning his research on the Edward III play. He planned to compare the style of the play, which dates from 1596, with Shakespeare’s earlier work.

And what was the outcome? The computer program found two hundred identical word sequences. In other words, enough proof that the master himself had a hand in Edward III, according to Vickers. However, Shakespeare didn’t write the play on his own, but together with Thomas Kyd, a popular playwright in those days.

Why did Vickers ask for Span’s software in particular? “That’s something on which I can only speculate. I think that Pl@giarism is more apt than most other programs when it comes to comparing different texts on word level.”


Maurice Timmermans



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