University of Newcastle and UMass Amherst Receive $100,000 Grant to Computerize Analysis of Shakespeare Texts

AMHERST, Mass. – Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Newcastle in Australia have been awarded a two-year $110,000 grant funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Australian Research Council to develop software and to write a book on the use of computerized analysis of the writings of William Shakespeare and other authors.

Lead researchers Arthur F. Kinney and Hugh Craig say they hope to expand the knowledge of Shakespeare and perhaps to gain a refined knowledge of works where authorship is in dispute. They’re also hoping to learn more about Shakespeare: whether, for example, he spent his first seven years as an actor in a troupe, and perhaps which troupe. By searching his writing for rare words, Craig says, it may also be possible to determine what he was reading during specific periods of his life, or what roles he might have been playing. They are also looking to expand their knowledge of what stage properties were used by different acting companies.

Kinney is the director of the Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies at UMass Amherst. The center will be working with the Center for Literary and Linguistic Computing at the University of Newcastle on the project, something Kinney says is a first. "We believe that bringing together the two countries in an international collaborative project is unprecedented," Kinney says.

The two teams of researchers will use a method called computational stylistics to count the frequency of common words, and rare words, to detect writing styles, and to determine if and when there have been collaborations. Craig, who is head of the School of Language and Media at the University of Newcastle, says computers allow researchers to conduct searches of large databases of works such as those of Shakespeare to detect patterns of word use that are specific to each writer. "By using computers to do these searches, which were not possible in the past, it becomes clear that individuals speak differently," Craig says.

The work, begun this fall, will ultimately be chronicled in a book that is to be titled, "Shakespeare: The Early Modern Theater and Computational Stylistics," Kinney and Craig say. They will also develop software that will be available to study other authors. At UMass, six graduate students have been hired for the project, Kinney says.

Arthur F. Kinney can be reached at 413/577-3600, 413/256-8648 or afkinney@english.umass.edu. Hugh Craig can be reached at hugh.craig@newcastle.edu.au.