Friday, 17 July 2009

Was Shakespeare a time-travelling computer?

The question is not as absurd as it may at first appear. For centuries, scholars have wrestled with the Shakespeare authorship question. How ever did the son of a Stratford glover, with limited education, emerge as England's premier wordsmith?

Attempts to uncover his identity as Bacon, Marlowe or Oxford have foundered because they rest upon implausibilities even more absurd than those which suppose Shakespeare to have been a polymath (with no evidence of a library) having unprecedented verbal skills. Indeed, they defy the 'coherence of probabilities'.

First, Bacon was far too busy with civic affairs to churn out - in his spare time - as many as four plays in a year, as Shakespeare attestedly did in 1593-4 and 1599-1600. 'Proofs' of Bacon's signature encoded throughout the works in anagrams are risible. The scripts never stayed the same from one play night to the next, as the many variorium editions of the Folios suggest. For an anagram to be decryptable, it must be encoded in a durable and published text. Shakespeare (or whoever wrote his plays) never showed the slightest interest in publishing his evanescent scripts.

Moreover, the modern Dan Brown craze for finding expedient cryptograms in everything - famously exemplified by Drosnin's lucrative The Bible Code - was laughed to scorn even in the sixteenth century (see Montaigne's Essais, 1580).

Kit Marlowe is a candidate even less plausible. He died on 30th May 1593 yet many of Shakespeare's most famous plays were not only produced up to nine years later but also some, like Macbeth and The Tempest, are indisputably grounded upon contemporary events unknowable to the 16th century Marlowe.

Only Oxford remains a feasible candidate, but he exhibited little wit or genius in those writings attributed to him.

All textual quibbles aside, the clearest impartial evidence that Shakespeare was, well, Shakespeare comes from his close friend Ben Jonson. If someone other than Shakespeare had written the plays (perhaps a Marlowe recidivus lurking in the closet?), Jonson would have known it. So would Shakespeare's early paymaster, Burbage, and all the other major actors like Kemp. (Who fell out with Shakespeare and was not noted for his discretion.) This hints at a massive conspiracy. Yet Jonson gives no hint of it in his candid memoires Discoveries, published 1640 and written in the 1630s, nearly twenty years after Shakespeare's death.

No. Shakespeare was Shakespeare. So how was he able to write so well?

BRUTUS is a software programme developed at MIT that already composes convincing short stories indistinguishable from those written by a human author, but without human mediation. It is not impossible that the recuperation of Love’s Labours Won is next on its agenda.


Just suppose some futuristic university English dept had encrypted BRUTUS into algorithms as small as a virus, and time-flown them back to 1585, and implanted them in Shakespeare when he first left Stratford to make his fortune in London? Time travel? I am not privy to the technologies of future English depts. Unethical? Not for English depts. Trust me. I know these guys.

Suffice to say, this simple explanation entirely clears up the authorship question. In fact, MIT patently acknowledges that its program wrote Shakespeare. Why else would the program have embedded in Julus Caesar the explicit clue: 'Et tu, Brute?'.


  1. Wow! If MIT is sending back time-travelling algorithms to infect our neural pathways, I guess it explains your own genius, John. You're a robot.

    But why did I miss out?

  2. Ho, master. I see you have just started a flame war with the Shakespeare Fellowship! Was it really so wise to suggest that Shakespeare might have been a computer program, when all those Oxfordians light candles to the notion that the Bard was a factoid - the Earl of Oxford?

    Does our august Institute really need a jihad?

    Can the cafeteria cope with 1200 True Believers descending on it, all brandishing the Book of Thomas J. Looney and wearing brown crepe stockings?

    Have a heart, it's not even Halloween yet!

  3. I rarely agree with you, Fergal, but you have a point. Some of those fideists are as fanatical as Jacques Derrida, and as dangerous, though not as handsome.

    They kicked out one transcendental verity in the ugly fat Stratford businessman just so they could worship another in the slimline, cerebral, aristocratic Earl of Oxford. Pure elitism! (I bet they all went to comprehensive schools and have a chip on their shoulders because they never qualified for Oxbridge. Just like Ben Jonson.)

    Oh, it makes my blood boil!

  4. In the immortal words of Jacques Derrida: 'I shall say it once, and once only'. Viz:

    The argument that the Stratford man 'Shakespere' - ill-educated and utterly unchronicled by his peers - could not have written the works attributed to “Shakespeare”, and that therefore the term “Shakespeare” was a dissimulative nom de plume for (say) the Earl of Oxford, defies Eco’s Razor (Eco 1992: 24).

    It is needlessly complicated.

    There is nothing implausible in the supposition that a literary prodigy as precocious as Chatterton yet as sociopathic as Salinger should have remained advisedly reclusive in an age when adventurous playwrights - like Jonson, Nash, Middleton, et alia - were routinely jailed.

    Shakespeare's true genius was evidenced most patently in his obscurity, I contend.

    Thus, do I confute Looney, Ogburn and Greenwood, all of whom I have perused, who collectively reveal, in their morological apercus, more enthymemes even than Stephen Greenblatt.

    I shall now return me to the sanity of Yeoman studies and I trust you will do likewise.

  5. Uh, are you saying that Oxfordians don't have enough IQ points?

  6. Gosh. I've always thought the idea that "sombeody else" wrote Shakespeare's plays was risible practically since the time I first heard about such theories. I mean, really????? But then, I guess I'm a born skeptic. No offense meant to anyone who may disagree or have a different view, though.


Read 'The Apothecary's Tales' now


Many have proposed that The Apothecary's Tales is a detective novel in the genre of historical fiction or fictive history set in the Jacobean and Elizabethan era called the Jacobethan (or the age of Shakespeare). Certainly, its tone of mystery, suspense, humour, comedy and ribald sex might suggest that. However, the mystery, detective and thriller elements merely support its presentation as an historical novel; they do not invaidate the possibility that it is a true account originally written in the language of Shakespeare and revised for the reader of modern historical novels.