Why Another Book about the Shakespeare Authorship Question?

Because the identity of the author we know as "Shakespeare" remains an open question. Most scholars of English literature maintain that he was a gentleman of that or similar name who was born and who died in the small town of Stratford-upon-Avon in the County of Warwickshire in England. However, there are a growing number of independent scholars who dispute that assumption. The scholastic community has not persuaded the independent scholars to see the error of their ways. But neither have the independent scholars persuaded the orthodox scholars to see the error of their ways. The Authorship Problem therefore remains unresolved.

What are my credentials for this undertaking? A love of poetry and a fondness for attempting to solve problems—be they in mathematics, physics, electrical engineering, astrophysics, or what are euphemistically referred to as "anomalous phenomena"—coupled with a conviction that scientific thinking need not be restricted to scientific problems. It has been a happy adventure to try to apply Bayesian thinking to this great problem of literature.

I have written this book so that any reader can examine the Authorship Question for himself or herself, and hopefully arrive at his or her own answer to the four-centuries-old mystery—Who exactly was the greatest writer in the English language?—a possibly super-brilliant but only lightly schooled gentleman from the provinces who never left England, or a brilliant, exceedingly well-schooled and well-traveled obscure nobleman who was controversial during his lifetime and remains controversial today? Or was it somebody else?

If there is any single argument that yields a conclusive answer to this mystery, the genius who has discovered that argument has not yet presented it to the world. Each side of the debate has many arguments to present—no one of which is conclusive. The procedure here presented for your consideration is designed to hopefully bring some order out of this chaos. As is typical of scientific research, the procedure involves some "number-crunching." However—peace to the Reader—you will not need to do any crunching yourself. The website contains a friendly wizard (affectionately known as Prospero) who will do the work for you.

You may just read the book, or you may participate by expressing your opinions concerning the various questions that arise, which you will find set out in a series of "charts." You will be asked to express your opinions in terms of "weights." Suppose, for instance, that a certain question has just two possible answers. If you were absolutely sure that one answer is false, you would give that answer a weight of zero, and you would give the other possible answer a weight of 1 or 10 or 16—the actual value does not matter as long as it is not zero. If you have absolutely no preference concerning the possible answers, you would give them the same weights—again, the actual value does not matter. But if in your opinion one answer is ten times more likely to be correct than the other, you would give the options weights of 10 and 1 (or 20 and 2, or 100 and 10—the actual values do not matter—only the ratio matters).

Since this project involves the analysis of a number of different items of evidence, we need a way to quantify the evidence—to measure how strong the evidence is in favor of (or disfavoring) Stratford or Oxford or Ignotus—so that all of the evidence can be combined. We use what we call "Degrees of Belief." This concept is explained in detail in the book, but here is a short guide:

A positive value is favorable for a hypothesis. A negative value is unfavorable.

A Degree of Belief of 10 db (20 db, 30 db, etc.) is equivalent to odds of 10 to 1 (100 to 1, 1,000 to 1, etc.), supporting the hypothesis.

A Degree of Belief of −10 db (−20 db, −30 db, etc.) is equivalent to odds of 1 in 10 (1 in 100, 1 in 1,000, etc.), disfavoring the hypothesis.

Prospero will also keep track of all judgments, and in due course provide a summation that shows whether or not readers have arrived at a consensus concerning the identity of the Great Author.

When you have finished expressing your opinions in terms of weights, Prospero will reduce all of your judgments to just three numbers:

The opinions you have expressed lead Prospero to conclude that
  1. Your Degree Of Belief that the author was the gentleman from Stratford-upon-Avon is X.
  2. Your Degree Of Belief that the author was the Earl of Oxford is Y.
  3. Your Degree Of Belief that the author was somebody else is Z.

After we have received input from one hundred or more readers, we plan to publish a summary of their results, such as 95% of respondents consider that the author is most likely to be XXX; etc.

You will find your fellow participants in the Participants page.

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