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AI reveals Shakespeare only wrote half of “Henry VIII”

Contemporary playwright John Fletcher wrote the other half, an algorithm reveals.

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Many scholars believe that Shakespeare didn’t write all of Henry VIII. Now we may have the evidence to prove it. 

Petr Plechac, an academic from the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague, published findings based on computer analysis that suggests contemporary playwright John Fletcher wrote roughly half of the play.

Plechac used an algorithm designed to analyze and recognize an author’s writing style and word choices. He trained the program on four plays written by Shakespeare at around the same time as Henry VIII: Coriolanus, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest. He also trained it on four of Fletcher’s plays: Valentinian, Monsieur Thomas, The Woman’s Prize. and Bonduca. For good measure, Plechac also included scenes written by Philip Massinger, another playwright scholars have cited as a possible Henry VIII co-author. 

Plechac then ran Henry VIII through the program. The algorithm flagged roughly half the play as written by Shakespeare and half by Fletcher. (The program did not identify Massinger anywhere in the text.)

The two playwrights seemed to alternate by scene, with Shakespeare writing the first two scenes of Act I and Fletcher writing the next four, only to have Shakespeare take over once more. The two continue alternating throughout the play, even co-writing a scene in Act III.

Plechac isn’t the first to posit that Fletcher wrote part of Henry VIII. James Spedding was the first to do so in 1850, even going so far as to guess which scenes were authored by which playwright. (The algorithm’s findings roughly line up with Spedding’s guesses.)